Michelle Obama's eyes flicker tentatively even as she offers a trained smile. As her campaign plane arcs over the Flathead Range in Montana, she is asked to consider her complicated public image.
Conservative columnists accuse her of being unpatriotic and say she simmers with undigested racial anger. A blogger who supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton circulates unfounded claims that Mrs. Obama gave an accusatory speech in her church about the sins of "whitey." Mrs. Obama shakes her head.
"You are amazed sometimes at how deep the lies can be," she says in an interview. Referring to a character in a 1970s sitcom, she adds: "I mean, 'whitey?' That's something that George Jefferson would say. Anyone who says that doesn't know me. They don't know the life I've lived. They don't know anything about me."
Now her husband's presidential campaign is giving her image a subtle makeover, with a new speech in the works to emphasize her humble roots and a tough new chief of staff. On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama will do a guest turn on "The View," the daytime talk show on ABC, with an eye toward softening her reputation.