Howard Kurtz’s recent claim that black female reporters are having difficulty covering the first lady because she is also a black female is a worthwhile topic of discussion, but his focus on "objectivity" misses the point. THE BUZZ has a pretty good summary of Kurtz’s analysis, and at TAPPED, Adam Serwer makes a characteristically smart critique:
the issue of reporters empathizing with their subjects is one that goes far beyond race—politicians who have failed to earn the empathy of their press corps (see Gore, Al) have done far worse than politicians who have (see Bush, George W.) so this shouldn't be a racial issue.
I agree. And I am, after all, a black female reporter that covers the White House and Congress—and as such am intimately acquainted with the reporters Kurtz mentions and our mutual, daily struggle to cover Michelle.
The real story is that there are an extraordinary number of black reporters who, like those who cut their teeth during the Jesse Jackson campaign, followed candidate Barack Obama around the country and are now on the White House beat (see here).
The other story is that it's tough as hell covering Michelle Obama—not because she's black, but because she's off-limits. She has an army of protectors who want to keep her “brand”—as social secretary Desiree Rogers has put it—pristine. As I discovered while investigating the Obamas’ last Thanksgiving in Chicago (before Michelle even came to Washington), finding out what her family is up to can be a daunting task. And reporting this recent story on how the Obamas went on their first date to see “Do The Right Thing” necessitated an unreal amount of snooping around the tightly managed East Wing apparatus.
However (contra Kurtz) I have no compunction about crossing the FLOTUS—whether it's knocking her kitschy, dated “poetry slam” at the White House or the women-unfriendly nature of her husband’s stimulus package. THE ROOT even made fun of Michelle here—a move that I can report prompted instant blowback from the first lady’s team.
Additionally, the media story Kurtz missed is really how few black females merit any kind of coverage aside from fashion and entertainment. There is an increasing literature of black, male, upwardly mobile politicians, from Artur Davis to Anthony Woods. Yet even a professional, Harvard-trained lawyer like Michelle Obama gets more focus on her outfits and her physique than on her subtle flacking for health care. Krissah Thompson's recent story on the new class of black female power in DC was all "sistah girl" and hair care. For shame!
As a Washington correspondent, I’ve interviewed Reps. Barbara Lee and Donna Edwards, and talked urban policy with Valerie Jarrett, but seriously: Where are the black female politicians for the black female reporters to cover? Cynthia McKinney isn’t going to cut it.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.