Kantor on the First Family's Private Quarters, Encounters with Sasha and Malia, and Laura Bush's Tip for Michelle
For almost five years, Jodi Kantor has covered politics, including Chicago’s most famous couple, for the New York Times. She has peeked inside the Obamas’ marriage, traced the First Lady’s roots back to slavery, and explored the president’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She has been in the White House too many times to count, she told me in a telephone conversation from her apartment in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, Ron Lieber, and their daughter, who turns six next week. Because Leiber, who grew up here, writes the Times’s “Your Money” column—and has to work out of New York—her editors allow her to commute to D.C. Kantor, 36, also traveled often to Chicago to research her forthcoming book, The Obamas (Little, Brown, $29.99). She spent most of her time in Hyde Park interviewing the First Couple’s friends—some, such as Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker, who remain very close—and many more who were once friends but now seldom, if ever, see the Obamas.
In 18 months of work, Kantor conducted 200 interviews, many with high-level West Wing aides—repeated interviews with Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, for example. Unprecedented access to the East Wing, Kantor says, came compliments of Michelle Obama. “I’m the first book author to have access to what really happened inside the East Wing.”
Kantor’s advance is said to be in the seven figures, boosted by a 40-minute Oval Office interview with the First Couple on the subject of their marriage that resulted in a much-discussed October 2009 New York Times Magazine cover story. The Obamas did not speak to her again for the book, but they did not stop people close to them from talking.
The book is out January 10. Until then, Little Brown has embargoed it, but, embargo notwithstanding, Kantor gave me some fresh insights and anecdotes. The first part of my interview with Kantor is in Chicago’s January issue and can be found here. Below, you will find more from our conversation, including Kantor’s take on the Obamas’ private quarters, her encounters with the president’s daughters, the relationship between Michelle and Laura Bush, and more. And check back next week for the final part of our interview, in which Kantor discusses the Desiree Rogers controversy, Barack’s time at Columbia University, and the role that Valerie Jarrett plays in the First Family’s lives.
Full piece here.