Camille Johnston knows how to spin it.
Ronda Kaysen: It's no accident that Bo Obama is the most popular puppy in the world. Nor is it a fluke that most Americans know what time the Obama girls go to bed (8 PM) or that Malia isn't a fan of spinach. The Obama family -- the one the public sees on the covers of magazines -- is a carefully choreographed package distributed in bite-sized nuggets to a hungry audience. The brains behind the Obama family PR machine is nestled in an office in the East Wing, making sure the world has a very favorable view of the new First Family.
Her name is Camille Johnston and she's worked as an executive in the entertainment and magazine industry. She was also an aide to the Gore family and, until recently, headed up the Dodgers' communications department. Now she is a new aide to Michelle Obama and plays a key role in making sure that the image of the Obamas that the world sees is a favorable one.
"The Obama team has been masterful in the management of the image and the allocation of stories," Angela Burt-Murray, editor of Essence magazine, told the Los Angeles Times. "There's definitely a science to the way they're approaching this."
The East Wing has carefully doled out private photos of the family and tidbits of gossip to media outlets. Their thinking is that with a few good morsels of information and family pictures, the media will be satiated enough to keep the paparazzi on a leash. Give the public nothing and they'll dig for whatever information they can get, give them too much and the family loses all privacy.
This new approach is an effort to avoid a repeat of the Access Hollywood debacle when the Obamas let interviewers talk to their daughters at length. Later, Barack Obama described the interview as a mistake and since then has made greater efforts to shield his daughters from the press.
But he hasn't kept the girls entirely under wraps. There were the first day of school pictures and promises that the girls would make their own beds in the morning. And Michelle, of course, has graced the cover of numerous magazines, including Vogue. The Obamas want to project an image of their family as a typical American family that just happens to live a very untypical life.
Which brings us back to the flawless unveiling of Bo. It was apparently a last-minute decision. Originally, an aide planned to introduce the pup to the press, reports Richard Wolffe. But then Michelle and Barack decided to take part. Just before the cameras rolled, the girls asked to be front and center. So there it was: a perfectly choreographed, yet unscripted portrait of the First Family.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer, and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|