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Michelle Obama: Do the Media Go Too Easy on Her?

Michelle Obama: Do the Media Go Too Easy on Her?

Michelle Obama may well be the most admired person in the nation — and deservedly so.

The First Lady Stands out as a role model as a wife, mother, high-achiever and American. 

Her devotion to worthy causes has sparked universal admiration. Her stirring and entirely winning speech last year at the Democratic National Convention promptly sent her soaring into the political stratosphere. Her poise and natural charisma reflected her self-confidence.

And guess what? Pundits, eyeing the 2016 presidential election and beyond, are more than happy to offer up Mrs. Obama’s name as a contender.

The First Lady has received almost continuously glowing media coverage to boot. Journalists were a little late to the party during the first presidential campaign in 2008 in appreciating Michelle’s inherent people skills, strength of purpose and obvious intelligence. At first, you will recall, the focus on her was whether she might play the highly-protective-wife role and push Barack Obama not to run for president, fearing for his public safety.

It is almost inevitable that journalists should play catch-up and now give the appearance of going easy on Michelle Obama. After all, she represents what we love in our profession. She was not too long ago a relatively unknown person whom WE in the media discovered, nurtured to a positive public image and finally anointed with angel’s wings.

It’s not that people should find reasons to criticize the First Lady. But in any situation — such as when a heckler confronts her, like the other night — the media’s immediate reaction is to express disgust that someone had the audacity (while showing questionable manners and respect for protocol) to bother Michelle at all?  

Michelle Obama is a certifiable celebrity, a Rock Star. And you know who made that possible. We know who made it happen. Me. Us. The Media. 

Unfortunately for Mrs. Obama, once you have reached this cherished status, you have nowhere to go but down (she can ask her husband about this predicament)). Reporters get bored by you after a while. Either someone else comes along or we pick that person out of the crowd. 

You have done nothing differently — or even wrong — but there you are, with a reduced status in the world. Any of your foibles become magnified. Is it fair? Heck no. Is it inevitable? Naturally.

Mrs. Obama was the easy target of a dogged heckler the other night. Journalists seemed outraged. They described her as a victim of the heckler though, fortunately, it amounted to nothing more than a verbal joust. Journalists seemed angry that someone dared to get in Michelle’s face and unload on her.

The media had to face up to a task of how how to deal with the blow to the privacy of one of our icons, remembering that the icon happened to be one of the most recognizable and respected people on the planet.

Do we automatically diminish the heckler and her cause because she simply dared to confront Michelle in an uncalled for manner? By covering the interloper at all, do we run the risk of dignifying the protester and giving her what she wanted — a media spotlight, deserved or not? Should we treat it like a special event in Michelle’s life? Do we instead shrug off the disturbance as One of Those Things, the pitfalls of being famous in Washington?

Now that Michelle is widely acclaimed as a major political asset, journalists seem to work hard not to shake up her positive image. Journalists had a challenge when she was hassled by a heckler the other night in Washington.

Mrs. Obama herself handled the fracas with aplomb, immediately drawing the audience to her side. She dealt with it like a true pro.

Anna Holmes wrote thoughtfully on Time’s website about the intersection of Mrs. Obama and Ellen Sturtz, a LGBTQ activist. Sturtz interrupted a speech given by the First Lady at a private Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Washington D.C. on Tuesday evening. 

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Politicians and public figures quickly get used to the vicissitudes of their celebrity status. They are easy targets for anyone who opposes their political views. The media have the problem of recognizing how legitimate the protest is or how much attention to give it at all.

Holmes wrote for “Despite her considerable public profile, high favorability ratings and activism on behalf of military families and American youth, Michelle Obama is not an elected or appointed official. Nor is she obligated to answer to anyone on matters of national politics and policy.” 

Holmes goes to to ask if the protester or her cohorts “who have defended the activist in the days since the event really believe that hollering at the First Lady would result in anything meaningful or impactful? That there is a straight line from the ears of the chief executive’s wife to the muscles of her husband’s dominant hand and his fountain pen?”

Ah, but this point raises another discussion: What does Mrs.Obama represent today, beyond obviously having the ear of the most powerful person on the planet?

Is the First Lady a quasi-private/public citizen whose husband happens to be the POTUS? Or is Michelle a political heavy hitter in her own right who may well have serious White House ambitions of her own?

How should the reporters balance their admiration for Mrs. Obama with the notion that she is also a public citizen who must get ample scrutiny? 

One way or another, the First Lady – and the media in tow — will have to figure it out before long.

MEDIA MATRIX QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do the U.S. media go too easy on their heroes?

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