Do media treat Michelle Obama like the new Jackie Kennedy?
Not since Jackie's Camelot days in the Kennedy administration has a first lady so captured public attention and respectful coverage by much of the press. Unlike Jackie, Michelle Obama has got social media.
Will history judge first lady Michelle Obama to be a social media pioneer? We ask that because either Mrs. Obama herself or someone on her staff is doing a good job using new networked forms of communication to create positive publicity that reflects back on the White House itself.Skip to next paragraph
Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.
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Case in point: On Thursday, the first lady’s FLOTUS Twitter feed joined in the popular meme #ThrowbackThursday and tweeted out an arresting photo of Michelle and Barack in their early days together. The pair is hugging; she’s staring directly at the camera, while he’s sort of squinting and looking aside, as if he’s thinking about stuff, like becoming president, or maybe how long it is 'til lunch.
Retweets piled up. The photo went up on her Instagram account, too, where it was a huge hit, with more than 50,000 “hearts” in a day.
Yes, Ann Romney Instagrams, too, and did so during the 2012 campaign. It isn’t as if Michelle Obama is the only spouse of a national politician to venture into the world beyond Facebook. But she works them all together, linking it up with her appearances on non-hard-news television shows such as “Ellen" to produce an overall media strategy that bypasses the traditional media filter.
Even headlines about her are acquiring a new media sheen. On Friday, Politico’s Jennifer Epstein wrote a piece titled “Michelle Obama’s YOLO moment." (That’s “you only live once," in Twitter-speak.) The story’s premise was that the first lady, with her husband reelected, was enjoying lots of seize-the-moment experiences, such as lunching with U-2 frontman Bono, scolding hecklers, and posting decades-old personal photos.
“For this first lady, the second term is YOLO territory,” writes Ms. Epstein.
But here’s another question: Is Michelle Obama able to do all this without real scrutiny because the media are too easy on her?
In this regard, Politico’s “YOLO” story may have been the last straw for some conservatives. They feel it symbolizes the light-weight and credulous approach of much coverage of Mrs. Obama and her activities.
“Has any First Lady since Jackie Kennedy received press coverage as worshipful as Michelle Obama?” tweeted the plugged-in, right-leaning Byron York, chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner, on Friday.
Mr. York linked to a Politico slide show of first-lady magazine covers that showed Mrs. Obama in glamorous poses.
Others on the right grumbled about the uncritical reception of the first lady’s “Kids’ State Dinner” this week, where she entertained winners of a school lunch healthy recipe contest.
It’s one thing to cover an event where one category of winner seemed to be “lettuce cups," and another to ignore that many kids just don’t want to eat that stuff, in this view.
As a “Daily Caller” story noted earlier this week, one New York State school district has decided to withdraw from a first lady-backed national school lunch program because the nutritional guidelines resulted in hungry students.
"The high schoolers especially complained the portion sizes were too small, and many more students brought in lunch from home," said Nicky Boehm, food service manager for the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school district, according to the Daily Caller.