potential public relations crisis involving the first lady, exploded when presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett told him the first lady had concerns about the White House response to the flap. The initial commotion had been over an alleged remark by Michelle Obama to French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that living in the White House was “hell.”
Gibbs cursed the first lady, who was absent. Kantor writes that Gibbs later said his anger was misplaced and that he blamed Jarrett for creating the confrontation. Kantor writes that Jarrett appeared to have been too quick with her criticism of Gibbs and that two aides to the first lady later said Jarrett had misspoken.
The White House had a cold reaction to the book, calling it an “over-dramatization of old news” and emphasizing that the first couple did not speak to the author, who last interviewed them for a magazine piece in 2009.
“The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the president and first lady, reflect little more than the author’s own thoughts,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “These secondhand accounts are staples of every administration in modern political history and often exaggerated.”
The book, in an array of reconstructed anecdotes, depicts a first couple often wishing they could escape the confining White House life more freely; a president who at times gets deeply frustrated by how the press covers him; and a former chief of staff, Emanuel, who let loose with profane outbursts on staff members. All of those themes have been presented in some form in other publications.
One incident recalled that Jarrett used a phone aboard Air Force One to call a New York Times reporter. The reporter was pursuing a story about how Obama’s West Wing was essentially a big boys’ club, and Jarrett was calling to argue that the premise of a male-dominated operation was overblown. The book says even though Jarrett was the one making the call, it was Obama himself who was managing the response to the Times’ story even before it came out by “personally dictating talking points to the aides who would speak to the reporter.”
But despite the White House pushback to the book, Kantor also includes many positive portrayals of both Obamas as committed parents and a down to earth power couple who have not lost their perspective.
Other revelations in the book include: as the first African-American first lady, Mrs. Obama wanted to make sure that when it came to White House decor and entertainment she wanted to display sophistication, creating anxiety with Obama advisers who wanted to make sure the White House did not appear to have a tin ear to the nation’s struggling economy. She also is now “an increasingly canny political player eager to pour her popularity into her husband’s re-election campaign.”