Michelle Obama Plays Santa Claus - Rachel Swarns Gifts Her With Gushing Coverage

Rachel Swarns continues to adore the first lady and her pet causes, filing two celebratory nytimes.com pieces, one calling Michelle Obama Santa Claus, the other celebrating the White House's "Winter Garden."

Reporter Rachel Swarns showered adoration on first lady Michelle Obama and her pet White House projects in two postings on the paper's "Caucus" blog Wednesday afternoon. First up, the first lady as Santa Claus in "First Lady Lauds Toy Donation Drive." Swarns was effusive:

Michelle Obama got to play Santa Claus on Wednesday, bringing a vanload of toys to a Virginia warehouse for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program.

By contrast, when then-first lady Laura Bush participated in a Toys for Toys event December 12, 2005 in Metairie, La., months after the area was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the Times only mentioned it in the last lines of an unflattering report by Richard Stevenson, "Race Not Factor in Aid, Bush Says." Stevenson focused on the political controversy, not the first lady's Santa Claus impression:

Laura Bush visited New Orleans on Monday, and said rebuilding would take time.

"And so I want to encourage families to try to settle where they are, to try to make the best of what they have right now," Mrs. Bush said after a Toys for Tots event in Metairie, La., "but with the goal of moving back to New Orleans, because I know most people want to do that."

Just hours after Swarns' celebration of the first lady's Toys for Tots event, she filed a story on one of the first lady's pet causes that read even more like a chirpy press release, "The White House Winter Garden."

It's December and at the White House garden, people are ... planting?

That's right. The White House gardeners have been busy over the past few weeks, preparing for and planting the first winter garden. They have planted spinach, lettuce, carrots, mustard greens, chard and cabbage.

The White House has been able to extend the planting season by building hoop houses over the crops - simple, energy-efficient greenhouse-like structures with metal bars set in a row over the plants with fabric or plastic pulled tight across the bars. The fabric traps the heat from the sun, keeping the plants from freezing overnight. To catch a glimpse of the hoop houses and preparations under way in the garden, take a look at this new video released by the White House today.

Swarns' story is a follow-up to her March 11 scoop , which featured gritty, hard-news tidbits like this:

In her first weeks in the White House, Mrs. Obama has emerged as a champion of healthy food and healthy living....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.