In a recent column for the Washington Post’s Media Notes, Howard Kurtz describes the many black female reporters who cover the First Lady and wonders how their ethnicity affects their coverage. He specifically talks about Rachel Swarns of the New York Times, the Post’s Robin Givhan, Newsweek’s Allison Samuels, Darlene Superville of the Associated Press and Politico’s Nia-Malika Henderson.
While Kurtz tries to cover his back end by stating that “no one raises questions when an Irish American male reporter covers a pol named Murphy,” it still doesn’t stop him from delving into the racial side of these black reporters’ works.
(M)ost write with enthusiasm, in some cases even admiration, about the first lady as a long-awaited role model for black women.
“Without a doubt, I identify with her as a brown-skinned African American woman,” Samuels says. “Now we have Michelle and see her as a mother, a lawyer, a wife, and she’s doing it fabulously.” Samuels got to interview Obama during the campaign and “we had a girlfriend-to-girlfriend moment. We did connect.”
At one point, Kurtz wonders if these reporters are overly invested in Michelle Obama’s success to make their mettle, recalling how Jesse Jackson’s two runs for president helped gain access for black journalists who in the past were non-existent in the largely white Washington Press Corps.
But the reporters interviewed all argued that while they did identify with Obama as a black woman, they insisted that does affect their coverage.
“We all bring the full depth of our experiences to the facts we emphasize, the questions we ask, the stories that get us excited,” says Givhan, who was a year behind Obama at Princeton, although their paths did not cross. “But in the end, news is news.”
Givhan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer, moved here from New York last month to cover the beat, which she describes as “really rich because there is that element of race that has not been there before.” At the same time, she says, “no one noted all the white chicks covering Laura Bush.”