Michelle Obama: Why is she going on Jay Leno?

Michelle Obama visits Los Angeles Tuesday and Wednesday. Besides two TV appearances, she’ll be at a pair of fundraisers and spotlight a program bringing fresh and healthy food to urban places.

By , Staff writer

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    Michelle Obama speaks at the Labor Department in Washington, Monday. The First Lady is scheduled to appear on 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno' on Tuesday.
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Hollywood is getting ready for an Obama sighting.

This will advance the president’s agenda, political analysts say, as well as bring in money for his campaign, amass much-needed face time beyond the Washington Beltway, and help sell the Obama brand name.

The sighting will come in the form of wife, Michelle, appearing on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Tuesday. She’s also taping a segment for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which will air Thursday.

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The ostensible reason for her visit is to celebrate the second anniversary of “Let’s Move!,” her campaign against childhood obesity. But the appearances will have a large spillover effect, many say.

"It's always helpful when a First Lady appears on television in an election year – especially when she's as articulate and passionate in her causes as Michelle Obama,” says Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson in an e-mail.

“Whether she talks about the dangers of childhood obesity or any other public interest issue, the First Lady's appearance on television will only help the President, by reinforcing his image as a committed family man, and showing he's not just a politician but a real person just like everyone else,” writes Professor Levinson, who is also the author of “New New Media.”

In addition to those appearances, Mrs. Obama is scheduled for two fundraisers, in Beverly Hills and Hancock Park. The thousands of dollars that people like George Clooney and Steven Spielberg can drop for such an event are pocket change to them. No word on exactly who the glitterati will be at Nicole Avant and Ted Sarandos’s private home in Beverly Hills, but Ms. Avant raised millions for President Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Moreover, on Wednesday, Mrs. Obama will be featured at a nonpublic event at a market to help spotlight the California FreshWorks Fund, which has provided $20 million to bring fresh and healthy food to urban communities not served by supermarkets.

While some caution that political wives have to be cautious on a late-night comedy show for possible gaffes that can go viral on the Internet, most feel that Obama is right in her element.

“These are fluff interviews with audiences that are totally simpatico with Michelle’s activism and as a bright, charming person in her own right,” says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “There is zero downside to this for her and the White House. None.”

This will be an opportunity, she says, to counter several depictions advanced about Obama in the recent book “The Obamas,” written by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor. The book portrays Mrs. Obama as awkwardly accommodating of Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff, and as competing with cabinet members for influence over her husband.

“She is totally convincing and charming in settings like these,” says Ms. O’Connor of the talk-show format. “She shows exactly how smart and articulate she can be.”

Others see more to look for in such an appearance.

“Michelle Obama appearing on Ellen's show reflects how far the US has come,” says Ben Agger of the University of Texas at Arlington, in an e-mail. “A smart and fit black woman hosted by a smart and funny lesbian should give us hope that the politics of hate are behind us.”

Dr. Agger, who is director of the Center for Theory in the sociology department, also writes, “[T]he ratings won't hurt a certain someone's reelection campaign.”

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