CNN's Soledad O'Brien had an extremely tense conversation on Friday's "Starting Point" with the author of a controversial new book about the Obamas.
Jodi Kantor, who wrote "The Obamas," has had to push back against attacks from the White House and skeptical questions from many in the media ever since the book was published. (Her work has also received positive attention, and at least one study has found that the reporting in the book mostly stands up.)
Kantor started by saying that she was very surprised by Michelle Obama's reaction to the book, especially her contention that it portrays her as an "angry black woman."
"The book never describes her as an angry black woman," she said. "It describes her as a strong woman ... so what I assume is that she's reacting to some of the more sensational coverage around the book, which is really distorted in the reporting of what this book is."
O'Brien wasn't having that. "She may not have read the book but I read the book," she said, adding that she felt Kantor described Obama as "being stuck on a chain gang or something." O'Brien read the end of several chapters, each of which she felt ended on a downbeat note.
"Your portrait ... is the tone is sort of a sense of a woman who is frustrated, unhappy, and a little bitter about having the privilege of being the first lady," she said. Kantor fought back. "I think that words like bitter are coming from you, not from me," she said. "I definitely never used that word." She also said that O'Brien had "misrepresented" her reporting on a White House Halloween party from 2009.
"The story I tell is more uplifting than the one you're describing," Kantor said. "...The surprise of this story is that by this summer what White House aides were telling me was that the first lady was actually sort of more content with this life than the president was."
O'Brien then turned to another objection she had with the book: the fact that Kantor did not interview either or the Obamas directly while writing it. (She did talk to them in 2009.) She asked Kantor whether writing a book about a marriage was fair in such circumstances. Kantor said the book was not meant to be about "the secrets of the Obama marriage," and that some of Obama's most trusted confidantes such as Valerie Jarrett had talked to her for the work.
O'Brien was still not satisfied with this response. She said that even the front flap of the book made Michelle Obama sound like "an angry black woman who is now in the White House, kind of frustrated and unhappy and a little bit pissed off" in her role, and told Kantor that she could understand how Obama would feel to "have [her] relationship...deconstructed in the book from someone who hasn't really done an interview with the two parties involved."
"I spent 40 minutes talking to the two parties involved [in 2009]," Kantor shot back. "...Why do you think the White House cooperated with this book?"
"I have no idea," O'Brien said. "I don't have the slightest idea."
Michelle and Barack Obama together over the past few months:
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