Reid Cherlin, a former West Wing assistant press secretary, is happy to have moved on from his former position working closely with first lady Michelle Obama. Writing in The New Republic this week, Cherlin said that the East Wing of the White House has become the “worst wing.”
“Perhaps no first lady in recent memory has entered the stately recesses of the East Wing under a higher burden of expectation than Michelle Obama,” Cherlin wrote. He noted that the strains on the first lady would also place great burdens on her communications staff. But Cherlin and his colleagues were unprepared for how grueling the post would become and said that the first lady’s office evolved into a “confining, frustrating, even miserable place to work.”
“The First Lady having the wrong pencil skirt on Monday is just as big of a f–k-up as someone speaking on the record when they didn’t mean to or a policy initiative that completely failed,” Cherlin noted, quoting an anonymous co-worker.
He revealed that staffers gauged their value based on how often they were granted access to the first lady. When a staffer was invited to attend a meeting with Michelle Obama, it became a “vital status symbol, a way for staffers to measure their worth.”
“Every meeting was like an identity crisis, whether you got invited or not,” another former East Wing staffer was quoted.
They don’t want to work for her; they want to be friends with her,” another said of the first lady.
Cherlin closed by remarking on the promise that Michelle Obama’s ascension to the White House represented for so many. He recalled one particular campaign appearance in 2008 in which the first lady moved a young African-American girl to tears when she reinforced the notion that she could be whatever she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I went back and searched for coverage of the rally but found only one brief clip on YouTube,” Cherlin concluded. “There was a short story in The Cincinnati Enquirer, but it is locked away in the paper’s archive. Otherwise there is nothing, as though the event never happened.”
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