Kantor doesn’t mind that she didn’t interview Obamas for her book?
New York Times Washington correspondent Jodi Kantor interviewed the Obamas for a 2009 story about their marriage, but she didn’t talk to them for her new book “The Obamas,” which delves into how their lives have changed since moving into the White House.
“The story I wanted to write was never going to come from the Obamas’ lips. There’s so much they can’t say,” Kantor tells Chicago magazine’s Carol Felsenthal. “I interviewed 33 White House staffers, most of them many times. I wouldn’t trade that for a quick interview with the president, because I’m not sure he’s at liberty to discuss the real questions I asked in this book.”
It was reported earlier, like in 2009, before this book came out, that then 34 year old New York Times Washington correspondent Kantor had -- with the help of her agent, of course, and at auction as well, natch -- done a stunning seven-figure book deal with Little, Brown to write the book. That's one million dollars plus. US$1,000,000 +. Of course, the agent gets 15 percent, too. And Uncle Same the taxman gets a cut, too.
It was a heated Publishers Row auction in 2009, brokered by independent literary agent Elyse Cheney. It came on the heels of Kantor's New York Times [Sunday Magazine] cover story that year on the Obamas’ marriage, which argued that “the Obamas mix politics and romance in a way that no first couple quite have before.”
So on the basis of one good magazine article and some good quotes in the piece, the deal was inked. At the time, of course, there was no way to know if Kantor has secured the Obamas’ cooperation for the book -- she hadn't, it turns out -- and while the fact that her story featured an extensive interview with the two of them, Mr and Mrs, in the Oval Office, seemed to indicate that Kantor was going into the project with a good working relationship with them. But that indication was wrong, and she never secured their cooperation for the book.
There will be a price to pay for this, likely a bit less than the seven figure deal, but newsworthy at some point, too.
Btw, Kantor’s book was edited by Little, Brown editor Geoff Shandler, who is also a longtime friend of hers.
With her new book, Jodi Kantor, now 36, delves into the lives of The Obamas (US$30). It’s billed as a penetrating, gossipy page-turner of a biography about their time in the White House. No advance copies were sent out — the pubication date is January 10 — and Kantor shared some insights with ''Chicago'' contributing editor Carol Felsenthal, also a lifetime friend of hers. Here is an edited excerpt.
The Obamas didn’t talk to you for the book. So, um, er, like, how did you get your, um, er, information?
The story I wanted to write was never going to come from the Obamas’ lips. There’s so much they can’t say. I’d [previously] interviewed each of them on different topics, from religion to parenting to their marriage. I interviewed 33 White House staffers, most of them many times. I wouldn’t trade that for a quick interview with the president, because I’m not sure he’s at liberty to discuss the real questions I asked in this book. In a way, it goes to Barack Obama’s own predicament as president: He’s such a gifted storyteller. Yet can he really tell his own story anymore?
When the Obamas left for D.C., they said they would come home to Chiacgo about every six weeks. Yet they’ve hardly been back at all.
They did not have a clear idea of what the presidency was going to be like. Look at the contrast between George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Bush’s father was the president and before that was the vice president, so the Bushes spent holidays in the White House; they knew the staff, the routines, the traditions. The Obamas didn’t have any of that. Four years before the Obamas went to the White House, they were living in this condo apartment in Hyde Park here in Chicago, which I’ve been in; fairly small, has a very small closet, so it’s hard to figure out how Michelle Obama’s clothes, even her more modest wardrobe back then, fit in there.
Are they close to any former presidents or First Ladies?
They have never had the Clintons over to dinner in the White House, which to some people speaks to the fact that the Obamas have not been schmoozers at all. In Washington, they are considered quite removed and introverted.
Would the president be more outgoing if Michelle were not there to restrain him?
You could say the opposite. Michelle Obama is the real politician in the family in the sense she is more effusive, better at connecting instantly with people. A good source of mine once said to me, “Here’s what you have to remember: She is Bill Clinton, and he is Hillary.”
What if there is, um, er, like, no second term?
Could happen. The Mormons arise. Eric Whitaker told me that the president has a very unrealistic fantasy. [He] thinks that once he’s out of the White House he’s going to be able to walk around like a normal person again. But their South Side Chicago house is very exposed, not really a great place for an ex-president to live. It’s hard to imagine them going anywhere but Chicago. Everyone I’ve talked to thinks they’ll come back and yet lead a very different life from the one they’ve led here so far.