WaPo Leads with Gooey Story on 'Dear Mr. President' Letters Lovingly Answered

March 31st, 2010 8:23 AM

The Washington Post rendered itself indistinguishable from the White House publicity effort on Wednesday. At top center of its front page was an article by reporter Eli Saslow -- the man who hailed Obama's "glistening pectorals" in 2008 -- on the letters President Obama reads from, and writes to, average Americans.

Under a photo of unemployed Michigan woman (and Obama voter) Jennifer Cline, the gooey headline was "Dear Mr. President...A Michigan woman wrote to Obama about her life. And he responded."

Saslow underlined the usual Obama trope about how he reads 10 letters from Americans every day, and they are considered "among his most important daily reading material, aides said." Cline found out just how wonderfully responsive the president was:

Obama's face appeared on the screen. It was a holiday special of some kind, featuring the first family, and Cline set down the remote. She had voted for Obama, and she liked him even more now on TV, glimpsing his life inside the White House. He had two young daughters; she had two young sons. He had a dog; she had a dog. It occurred to Cline that Obama seemed normal somehow, like the kind of person who might want to read a letter.

Inside the paper, the letters-to-Obama story covered the entire page of A-4 complete with a photo of Cline in a psychology class and a large photo of Obama reading a letter to insurance company executives. In large type, they put this sentence from Cline's letter:  "I lost my job, my health benefits and my self worth in a matter of 5 days."

Obama sympathetically replied:

"Thanks for the very kind and inspiring letter," he wrote to Cline. "I know times are tough, but knowing there are folks out there like you and your husband give [sic] me confidence that things will keep getting better!"

He signed his name in the bottom right corner, with a sweeping "B" and "O." Then he set Cline's letter aside and moved on to the next.

Saslow and the Post ended the story with their subject, still dealing with skin cancer, screaming in joy that the sensitive, in-touch president had replied:

She walked out to the porch on a freezing weekday in January, feeling nauseated from the latest round of chemo, or maybe from the diet of scrambled eggs and Twizzlers, which had become the only foods she could keep down. Inside the box was a big yellow envelope, stamped first class from the White House, and Cline immediately thought: How did I get in so much trouble that now the president is involved?

She opened the envelope to find two pieces of cardboard taped together. Protected in between was another envelope, much smaller, and inside that envelope was a notecard adorned with the presidential seal.

Cline remembered the letter she had written to Obama three weeks earlier, and her hands started to shake. She carried the notecard into the kitchen and held it under the light: cursive handwriting, a grammatical error and small smudges of black ink.

Was it real? She thought so. She started to laugh, then scream.

"Jennifer," the letter began, and this one was not from a bill collector.