Reagan taped a video message for the Oscars in 1981, but of course Reagan had a Hollywood pedigree — actor in more than 75 films/TV shows, SAG president for eight terms, governor of California for two terms. The ’81 Oscars were held just two months after he was inaugurated, too; his acting career was a more prominent part of his public image at that point than it would be eight years later. So when President Clooney strolls out to award Best Picture 15 years from now, don’t make a fuss. There’s precedent for that. For this, though? Hmmmm.
If you believe Deadline, it wasn’t the White House’s idea. It was Harvey Weinstein’s:
Afterward, the Obama staff put out a statement on how it came together: “The Academy Awards approached the First Lady about being a part of the ceremony. As a movie lover, she was honored to present the award and celebrate the artists who inspire us all — especially our young people — with their passion, skill and imagination.”
The idea of getting the First Lady on the show first came from Lily Weinstein, who mentioned it to her big Obama contributor dad Harvey, who suggested it to the Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and Academy president Hawk Koch. The group flew to DC a week and a half ago to put the logistics together with the White House. The Oscar producers told Deadline’s Pete Hammond earlier this week that they “were being like the CIA” about a couple of surprises on the show, keeping things top secret. In towns like Hollywood and DC where people love to talk, they pulled it off. There was no indication on the show’s rundown and most of the people on the Oscars had no idea who the secret guest would be. “I knew we could do it and we did it,” Koch told Deadline tonight about keeping Obama’s name under wraps.
I believe it. I’d bet this is less about The One trying to insinuate himself into the Oscars than about some sort of ego match between the Golden Globes and Academy Awards generally and, maybe, Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein specifically. Spielberg, remember, got Bill Clinton to introduce “Lincoln” at the Globes. How do you top an ex-president? With a sitting president, of course — or the next best thing, if the president’s unavailable. In fact, the surprise isn’t that FLOTUS agreed, it’s that Weinstein couldn’t get Obama himself to do it. I’m sure that idea was floated; for all the heat O takes about dodging the press, he makes an exception every year for an interview during the Super Bowl pre-game show because it earns him face time with a gigantic audience. The Oscars was another opportunity for that, but in the end I assume his team decided that there simply wouldn’t be enough political bang for the buck. He’s not running again, he wouldn’t have much of a chance to push his talking points on guns or whatever if he’s simply presenting an award, and he’d surely take heat the next day for reducing the presidency to some sort of glorified emcee for film-industry jackholes. (If they had asked him last year, before the election, who knows what he would have said?) And yet, it’d be a shame to pass up a chance to remind America that their president is A Very Big Deal, enough so that he not only gets to announce Best Picture but gets Jack Nicholson to introduce him. Solution, then: Let Michelle do it. The public likes her, and insofar as Weinstein and the Oscars were interested chiefly in having their own importance affirmed with this stunt, a reigning First Lady will do nearly as well as the big O.
If nothing else, FLOTUS’s cameo managed to annoy Iranian media, which is always gratifying.
Update: Are those service members behind Michelle, by the way? Were they given a choice about whether they wanted to appear?
Update: Too much overexposure at last?
When Michelle Obama was introduced by Jack Nicholson most of the reporters in the media room groaned….loudly
— stevengregory (@stevengregory) February 25, 2013
Update: On second thought, was this a quid pro quo? Stephanie Cutter goes to bat for Weinstein’s pet Oscar-bait project and in return FLOTUS gets a big cameo at the end of the show?