New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas has generated controversy over its descriptions of occasional tensions between the first couple and the White House staff. But that debate aside, the book is actually full of colorful details about the Obamas’ last four years.
Here are six interesting tidbits from the book:
1. Some of Obama’s longtime friends from Chicago weren’t exactly sure how to address him in the early days of the presidency. They got some advice from a close friend of a previous Democratic president: Vernon Jordan.
“You have to have that reverence for that office,” Jordan told Obama’s friends, urging everyone to refer to him as “Mr. President.”
2. The president eventually had tensions with his first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, but initially wanted his allies to embrace the decision. According to Kantor, Christopher Edley, a top aide in the Clinton White House and a friend of Obama’s, sent Obama a note in late 2008 criticizing the selection of Emanuel.
Obama called and rebuked him, and the two have not spoken since.
3. The Obamas had a plan to visit Chicago frequently, but quickly had to bow to the reality of the logistics of such travel.
“A weekend trip to Chicago would require weeks of preparation by staff members, another set of staff on the ground, a virtual blockade of the neighborhood, and considerable outlays of personal and federal funds,” Kantor writes.
Susan Sher, who was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, told the author that she advised the first family, “if you really want to just rest, it’s easier to go to Camp David.”
4. The White House had an internal debate about whether Michelle Obama should appear on the cover of Vogue magazine. According to Kantor, the debate divided along racial lines, as the first lady’s white advisers worried Vogue is simply a fashion magazine, while Jarrett and others noted how few black women are on the covers of such magazines.
“There are young black women across this country and I want them to see a black woman on the cover of Vogue,” Michelle Obama told aides, according to the book, standing firm with her decision to appear on the cover.
5. According to Kantor, the Rev. Al Sharpton helped convince the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. to calm down and stop making inflammatory statements after Wright became the center of controversy during the campaign and Obama distanced himself from his one-time pastor.
6. Michelle Obama largely rejects the notion she should take either the Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton model to being a first lady.
“When Michelle heard the media questioning whether she was more like Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush, she just shrugged, Sher said,” Kantor writes, referring to Michelle Obama’s one-time chief of staff. “She didn’t consider herself terribly similar to either woman.”