Politico reporter Amie Parnes is a watchdog, but not in the traditional journalistic sense. Critics say Parnes is a vigilant protector of Michelle Obama’s public image, a beat reporter who acts as a press agent for the official she covers.
Parnes’s fawning coverage of the first lady has inspired Betsy Rothstein of FishbowlDC.com to launch a “Parnes-o-Meter,” which ranks Parnes’s pieces about Michelle Obama on a scale of 1 to 10 kisses. “People have asked me, over and over again, for the past three weeks, ‘Why do you hate Amie Parnes? Why do you have such a personal thing against her?’” Rothstein told The Daily Caller. “The fact is that I’ve never met her. I don’t know her and this isn’t personal. It’s totally professional. I’ve watched her work, I’ve read her work, day in and day out, and there is never anything, not even slightly, critical of the first lady. It’s absurd coverage. As a media reporter, I don’t know how I couldn’t point that out.”
Parnes’s latest piece, which ran as the lead story on Politico’s website last Friday, frames the first lady as a victim of conservative attacks from figures like Andrew Breitbart, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. This criticism from the right, Parnes suggests, is hard to understand, given that Michelle has spent the last two years “primarily focusing on childhood obesity, military families and the arts.” Parnes makes no mention of the first lady’s many and varied political activities. She does point out that, “for conservative critics, it is open season on the first lady.”
As an example, Parnes points to remarks the first lady made about breast feeding. “The next day,” Parnes wrote, “Bachmann took the first swipe, criticizing Obama for trying to implement a ‘nanny state’ based on her push to get mothers to breastfeed their children in order to help combat childhood obesity.”
Bachmann’s office vigorously disputes Politico’s characterization. Spokesman Doug Sachtleben told TheDC that Parnes never tried to contact the congresswoman for comment. He also said the way the Politico reporter framed Bachmann’s response was misleading. “Congresswoman Bachmann was clearly not criticizing First Lady Michelle Obama, but was offering a straightforward critique of Obama Administration policies that the First Lady has touted,” Sachtleben wrote in an e-mail to TheDC. “The Congresswoman is concerned about the government using its power and its tax code to create a nanny state. It’s not an attack when you point out that the Administration is using the tax code for social engineering.”
In the same piece, Parnes holds up Michelle Malkin as an especially virulent – and by implication, unreasonable – critic of the president’s wife. “In a column, Michelle Malkin also chimed in, saying that the first lady and her ‘food cops’ aren’t ‘interested in slimming down kids’ waistlines but rather ‘boosting government and public union payrolls,’” Parnes wrote.
Yet according to Malkin, Parnes never bothered to contact her directly, though “she had plenty of time to quote sympathetic academics who lend an air of supposed gravitas to the piece.”
“The entire premise of the piece is wrong,” Malkin said. “Mrs. Obama has exercised a significantly more aggressive role marshaling a wide swath of government agencies in support of her policy/legislative agenda than other first ladies since Hillary Clinton.”
At one point, Parnes seems to drop even the pretense of journalistic objectivity, straightforwardly defending the first lady against an unflattering cartoon that appeared on BigGovernment.com. “Her [Michelle Obama’s] athletic physique is something to be lampooned on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government website, which posted a cartoon showing her as overweight and eating a plate full of hamburgers,” Parnes wrote.
Breitbart’s response: “Manufactured poppycock,” adding that Parnes never tried to contact him either. “This is an attempt to try and manufacture a bogeyman,” he said.
In a phone interview, Breitbart went on to point out that mocking public figures in editorial cartoons has been “standard practice” for centuries. As long as the first lady remains involved in policy discussions, Breitbart said, “she’s open to criticism.”
Parnes did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.