New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor has set Washington atwitter with an "explosive" and gossipy new book about Barack and Michelle Obama's relationship, and how it affects the White House. (The White House has pushed back, calling Kantor's work "an over-dramatization of old news," focused on "a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years.") The Obamas hits stores Tuesday, and plenty of critics and political insiders have already gotten a sneak peek. Here, four revelations they're buzzing about:
1. Michele Obama clashed with the West Wing
The 330-page insider glimpse of the Obama administration depicts "a first lady who is much more influential than the public has known," says Carol E. Lee at The Wall Street Journal. Consider the revelation, says Erik Wemple at The Washington Post, that "the first lady had something approaching a freak-out over the failure of the White House to thwart the election of Republican Scott Brown to a Massachusetts Senate seat in January 2010." According to Kantor, Mrs. Obama also finds her husband's advisers "too insular and not strategic enough," particularly finding fault with Rahm Emanuel's push to scale down the president's health-care reform effort, tainting Obama's image as a transformational American leader.
2. The Obamas hosted an extravagant party — and covered it up
The Obamas may not be Tea Partiers, says The Daily Beast of another Kantor revelation, but they did allow "Johnny Depp and Tim Burton to throw an Alice in Wonderland costume ball at the White House in Halloween of 2009." Burton, who directed Alice, turned the State Dining Room into an over-the-top Mad Hatter's tea party, with a costumed Depp as host. The Beast notes that "the White House anticipated the controversial nature of the bash and moved — hitherto successfully" — to cover it up. As Kantor says, "White House officials were so nervous about how a splashy, Hollywood-esque party would look to jobless Americans — or their representatives in Congress, who would soon vote on health care — that the event was not discussed publicly and Burton's and Depp's contributions went unacknowledged."
3. Rahm Emanuel offered to resign
Here's a blockbuster: Former chief of staff Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, offered to resign in the winter of 2010, says Marcus Baram at The Huffington Post. His offer came "after a series of columns appeared depicting him as the lone element keeping the Obama presidency intact." While Obama was convinced that Emanuel had been the main source of the columns, Kantor says, he wasn't about to let Emanuel go while health-care reform was facing attacks on Capitol Hill. "I'm not accepting it," Obama replied, according to the book. "Your punishment is that you have to stay here and get this bill done. I'm not letting you off the hook."
4. Robert Gibbs was furious with the first lady
Former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs "had a tense relationship with Mrs. Obama and with Valerie Jarrett, another adviser," says Kantor in The New York Times. In one of "the book's most provocative anecdotes," says Toronto's CP24, Gibbs loses his cool over an incident involving a French book that claimed Michelle Obama told Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that life in the White House was "hell." Gibbs scrambled to get a denial from the first lady's office, but when he couldn't track Mrs. Obama or her advisors down, he got the French government to refute the story. The next day, Jarrett, a longtime Obama ally from Chicago, said the first lady had concerns about the way the issue was handled, and Gibbs went on a tirade, going so far as to curse Mrs. Obama, who wasn't present. Later, he reportedly said "his anger was misplaced and that he blamed Jarrett for creating the confrontation."