Michelle, My Belle

Reporter Rachel Swarns has pumped out four flattering pieces on the first lady in a month: "Michelle Obama, who has juggled news conferences and parent-teacher conferences..."

Reporter Rachel Swarns, former Johannesburg bureau chief for the Times,is now working hard on the Glorify Michelle Obama beat, pumping out four flattering pieces in the last month.

Her latest entry is a brief in Thursday's edition, "A White House Effort to Aid Women and Girls," celebrating an executive order from President Obama creating a White House Council on Women and Girls. Swarns didn't challenge the liberal myth about women being paid 78 cents for every dollar men make (in that case, why don't companies only hire women and reap the savings?). Swarns "reporting" could have come straight off a press release:

The White House celebrated women on Wednesday.

President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Council on Women and Girls, to help eliminate the challenges faced by women and girls and to ensure that cabinet level agencies coordinate their policies and programs that affect women and families...Mr. Obama described how his grandmother hit a glass ceiling at the bank where she worked and how his wife, Michelle, struggled to balance family and career. He said that women still earn just 78 cents for every dollar men make and that one in four experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. And while women make up 49 percent of the workforce, they account for only 3 percent of the Fortune 500 chief executives, he said.

A shortened version appeared in Thursday's print edition.

Yesterday, Swarns praised the first lady in the Dining section for fighting the "obesity epidemic" in "Michelle Obama's Agenda Includes Healthful Eating." (I didn't know obesity was contagious.)

The television cameras were rolling, the journalists were scribbling and the first lady, Michelle Obama, was standing in a soup kitchen rhapsodizing about steamed broccoli. And homemade mushroom risotto. And freshly baked apple-carrot muffins.

Mrs. Obama was praising the menu last week at Miriam's Kitchen, a nonprofit drop-in center serving this city's homeless. And she seized the moment to urge Americans to provide fresh, unprocessed and locally grown foods to their families and to the neediest in their communities.


In her first weeks in the White House, Mrs. Obama has emerged as a champion of healthy food and healthy living. She has praised community vegetable gardens, opened up her own kitchen to show off the White House chefs' prowess with vegetables and told stories about feeding less fattening foods to her daughters.

White House officials say the focus on healthy living will be a significant item on Mrs. Obama's agenda, which already includes supporting working families and military spouses. As the nation battles an obesity epidemic and a hard-to-break taste for oversweetened and oversalted dishes, her message is clear: Fresh, nutritious foods are not delicacies to be savored by the wealthy, but critical components of the diets of ordinary and struggling families.

To Swarns, Ms. Obama is like Goldilocks porridge: not too hot, not too cold, but just right:

In fact, Mrs. Obama cheerfully admits to an occasional hankering for fast food. It's all about eating in moderation, she said, emphasizing the kind of flexibility that might make it easier for people to relate to her message.

On March 9, Swarns gave Ms. Obama indirect praise by profiling her policy director Jocelyn Frye for "Friendship Born at Harvard Goes on to White House."

And she and Mrs. Obama share a passion for policies that affect women and families, and an easy camaraderie born of many late-night, heart-to-heart talks at Harvard. In law school, "they could almost finish each other sentences," said Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Harvard law professor and mentor to Ms. Frye and Mrs. Obama.

A February 11 story by Swarns, "Michelle Obama Extends Vogue Tradition," set the theme of Michelle Obama, Superwoman. The intro:

Michelle Obama, who has juggled news conferences and parent-teacher conferences, will appear on the March cover of Vogue, a spokesman for the magazine said Tuesday.

Mrs. Obama, who was photographed wearing a sleek and sleeveless magenta silk dress designed by Jason Wu, is the second first lady to appear on the cover. Hillary Rodham Clinton was on the cover in December 1998.

Swarns' glorification began Inauguration Day, in a profile that skimmed over Michelle Obama's notorious comment on the campaign trail in Wisconsin, "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country."Swarns didn't even spell out the phrase, merely calling itone of her "rhetorical stumbles."