'Gold Star' for Michelle: Robin Givhan Leads WaPo's Flailing Olympic Spin Team

Say what you will about the Obama delegation to the Olympics bid in Denmark, Michelle Obama did not set foot in Europe without Robin Givhan of the Washington Post, frantically running in front of her with baskets of flower petals to scatter lavishly at her diva’s feet.

In the stench of defeat and embarrassment, Givhan on Saturday brought her overbearing pro-Obama spin to both Page One and the front of the Style section. The Style piece was gushier. It was headlined "First Lady's Olympian Effort Falls Short: But Her Impassioned Appeal Earns Plaudits." Let’s start at the story’s end, since its ooze is representative. Each finalist received a "diploma" of appreciation:

The certificate was approximately the size of a large traffic sign and came framed. The only word legible from a distance was "THANKS." President Obama accepted the diploma on behalf of Chicago2016.

The first lady could just as easily have received a gold star.

Urp. Givhan found Michelle outshined her husband and Oprah Winfrey, too:

In the end, the failed bid notwithstanding, not even the leader of the free world managed to outshine the first lady. Officials who met with her were impressed, particularly with her ability to quickly shift gears as she chatted with everyone from up-and-coming athletes to heads of state.

This passage is another "God, I Admire You" paragraph:

Obama addressed the IOC members wearing a shimmering chartreuse dress with an oversize bow at the waist and a matching short-sleeve cardigan. The rest of the delegation, including the women, was dressed in the group's team uniform: dark suits with powder blue shirts. The first lady stood out like a star in front of a backup chorus.

Someone outside of Givhan’s entranced circle might wonder if Michelle Obama insists on standing out like a diva.

It really makes you wonder if the First Lady's own press aides would be too embarrassed to write the kind of saccharine copy that Givhan shovels for free.

Givhan also went looking for others to sing Michelle’s praises:

"I found Michelle Obama brilliant. She was emotional, her story really hit home -- the openness about her father and the strength of the Paralympic Games," said Erwin Roth, who has been involved with the Olympics since Lake Placid in 1980 and has written a history of the Games.


"I had the privilege of being with Mrs. Obama for a day and a half and she was incredibly effective," says USOC International Vice President Bob Ctvrtlik, a former Olympian. "She was truly elegant, articulate and persuasive. The emotions I saw in those meetings were not conjured up."

Mr. Buy-a-Vowel was used to back up Givhan’s enthusiastic assertion that "The first lady did not bring home a victory, but she was her team's most valuable player."

He also appeared in the front-page story (co-written with Amy Shipley from Copenhagen), alongside top NBC Sports producer Dick Ebersol, saying the Obamas had nothing to do with the agony of defeat:

[T]he decision reflected not on Obama's stature but rather on the reputation and perception of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Members of the IOC have called the USOC's share of Olympic television and sponsorship revenue "immoral," and relations between the bodies were further enflamed recently when the USOC announced plans for an independent television deal, which was scuttled in the contentious aftermath.

IOC members "don't hate America, they hate the USOC, and with good reason," said Dick Ebersol, who controls the Olympic operation for NBC, the biggest Olympic rights holder. "Congress doesn't need to do any new reform. The USOC just needs new leadership."

Ebersol and USOC International Vice President Bob Ctvrtlik speculated that the USOC's failure to connect with the Olympic world at large hurt the bid. The USOC recently changed its president and chief executive, and the United States has not had a seat on the IOC's executive board for years.

"The U.S. Olympic movement hasn't engaged with the IOC in a long time," Ctvrtlik said. "I don't think it's anti-American, but we still don't have the horsepower to do the politicizing."

Givhan and Shipley included Republicans who criticized the Obama campaign, but the story was dominated by excuse-makers like this:

"I know in the U.S. it's going to be all, 'Barack Obama failed,' but he and Michelle were the highlight," said Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, who attended this week's session. "What people in America might not realize is that IOC politics are much bigger than the United States."

This question was left unasked and unanswered: if it was such a difficult morass, why did the Obamas assume that their star power would be a slam dunk?

(The Post also didn't explain that Wallechinsky is a big Obama fan, expressing his ardor for Obama on The Huffington Post, with a a cartoon on "Obama's Secret" here and in his post on his list of the "11 Best Obama Songs.")

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis