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Wagging the Dog: Michelle Obama’s Soft Media Campaign Continues

The speech the First Lady delivered last night in Charlotte elevated motherly grace and concern into a force of political action. But Mrs. Obama didn’t simply earn the title “mom-in-chief” overnight. Crafting her role as America’s mater familias has taken time, a smart P.R. strategy, and a lot of hugs. (A gushing letter of support from new mother and certifiable pop goddess Beyoncé didn’t hurt, either.)

In the last few weeks in particular, Michelle has been on a soft-media campaign blitz, granting full access to such paragons of hard-hitting journalism as Ladies Home Journal, Entertainment Tonight, and the Sunday-edition magazine Parade. Speaking to Parade, the First Couple fielded questions about Congressional gridlock, their marital quarrels and the pangs of a temporarily empty nest. (Michelle related the President’s feelings about his kids going to sleep-away camp thus: “What [Barack] said this morning is that life is less sparkly and twinkly with them not around.”)

But there’s something even fluffier in the wings: An exclusive Michelle Obama interview in the dog enthusiast magazine Bark. If this interview were a breed of canine, it might be classified as a poofy Pomeranian—three softball questions about the Obama’s relationship with their Portuguese Water Dog Bo, and three on-message responses offering few revealing personal or policy details. Here’s a sneak peek of the September/October issue special:

Q: Many studies have looked at the health and social benefits to dog ownership, including that walking with a dog increases the time spent in that activity and the degree of commitment to it, have you seen evidence of this in your own family?
A: Bo has been such a positive addition for our family. I think of him as my third child because we all love him so much. Whether we’re teaching him how to roll over, swimming with him in the summer, or watching him greet kids who are visiting the White House, he constantly keeps us smiling.


Excuse my disappointment, as a big fan of both puppies and our First Lady, but the most interesting thing to me about this interview was the salacious, Cosmo-style cover line—“EXCLUSIVE: MICHELLE OBAMA TELLS US WHO BO SLEEPS WITH.” (Alas, Bo is chasing no one’s tail but his own, it seems, at least in this PG-rated interview.)

Of course, I understand the political logic underlying this kind of interview: Any exposure that presents the First Family as more relatable than the notoriously stiff Romneys is a political boon for Obama. (As is anything that triggers memories of Mitt Romney’s history with dogs.) Who knows, maybe dog lovers are a previously unrecognized bloc of swing voters.

But from a First Lady who has always seemed her husband’s match when it comes to political prowess, it’s hard not to recognize the Bark interview (hitting newsstands this week!) as a new low. I wasn’t expecting a tell-all, but a tell-something would have been refreshing.