New book on Obamas says there were clashes between Michelle and aides

The White House says 'The Obamas' by Jodi Kantor "reflect[s] little more than the author's own thoughts."

Haraz N. Ghanbari/STF/AP
The new book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor says the first couple is often frustrated by the restrictions of White House life. White House spokesman Eric Schultz called the book an "over-dramatization."

A new book about the Obamas by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor is creating controversy for its portrayal of the president and the First Lady as well as sections of the book the White House says are inaccurate.

The book, titled “The Obamas,” is set for release this week. Kantor’s book says there were clashes between Michelle Obama and Rahm Emanuel, the White House’s former chief of staff. There were disagreements between Michelle Obama and Robert Gibbs, who served as press secretary and adviser to the president, says "The Obamas."

The president and Michelle Obama declined requests to be interviewed for the book. Kantor says the book came from talking with 30 aides who have worked or are currently working at the White House.

Eric Schultz, spokesman for the White House, said the book is an “over-dramatization.”

“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,” Schultz told the Associated Press. “These secondhand accounts are staples of every administration in modern political history and often exaggerated.” 

“The Obamas” depicts Michelle Obama as being sometimes frustrated with the restrictions of life as the First Lady, and Kantor says Michelle Obama considered remaining in Chicago until the two Obama daughters finished that portion of school in 2009. Kantor also describes a scene in which Gibbs cursed when Valerie Jarrett, a presidential adviser, told him that Michelle Obama was unhappy with the way he responded when he was told that Michelle Obama was supposed to have said that living in the White House was “hell.” According to Kantor, Gibbs later said that his cursing had been misdirected anger and that he believed Jarrett had deliberately instigated the situation. Aides to Michelle Obama stated that Jarrett had spoken incorrectly. 

Another incident Kantor writes about is a 2009 White House party with an “Alice in Wonderland” theme created to celebrate Tim Burton’s movie. In the book, Kantor says the Halloween party that was decorated by Burton and featured an appearance by Johnny Depp was not publicized because the White House staff was worried what the public would think about such a lavish party in a time when America was struggling economically. Kantor says the White House took care not to mention Burton and Depp’s participation.

Schultz says the celebration was a party for military families and students from Washington and that the White House did not attempt to conceal Depp and Burton’s involvement.

“If we wanted this event to be a secret, we probably wouldn't have invited the press corps to cover it, release photos of it to Flickr, or post a video from it on the White House website," said a statement from Schultz. "Even Johnny Depp’s fans knew about it and posted on their website. Just goes to show you can't believe everything you read in books these days.”

A Johnny Depp fan website posted at the time that Depp and Burton were attending the event, and at least one newspaper had an article at the time saying that the director and star were at the party, according to Politico.

Kantor’s book also states that Michelle Obama has said in the past that she was unhappy with the White House’s treatment of some of the president’s initiatives, including his health care reform. Emanuel said he would resign when articles appeared in the media about his displeasure with the health care initiative, says Kantor's book. The president would not accept his resignation, but later on, Michelle Obama “made it clear that she thought her husband needed a new team,” Kantor wrote.

Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times that he and his wife are "proud to call [the Obamas] friends."

"[I have a] great relationship with the president and First Lady," he said.

Kantor’s book depicts Barack and Michelle Obama as frequently wanting to escape the pressures of White House life but as caring parents to their two daughters.

In his statement, Schultz stressed that the Obamas had not been interviewed for the book.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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