SHE appears the epitome of an American First Lady, slow to react whatever the provocation, aware that she is a vital component in the presidential public relations’ machine.
However, Michelle Obama let the mask slip after she was heckled during a fundraising speech.
Mrs Obama even left the podium and confronted gay rights activist Ellen Sturtz, after she interrupted her talk to Democratic fundraisers on Tuesday night in Washington DC.
Speaking into the microphone Mrs Obama said: “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving.”
“You all decide. You have one choice.”
The crowd of 200 at the event, who had paid up to $10,000 (£6,500) each to attend, made it clear who they preferred and Ms Sturtz was led away.
The incident was one of those rare moments when the curtain comes back from the White House PR machine and the public gets a hint of what Mrs Obama is really like. But in the aftermath she is likely to see it as an error since she has in the past told of her frustration at being portrayed as a stereotypical “angry black woman”.
Some have also jumped on the fact that in the White House version the exchange was listed as an “inaudible audience interruption” in what they claim was an attempt to hush it up.
Instead it fell to a lone reporter – Amanda Terkel of the Huffington Post – to record what happened during the speech at a private home of a wealthy lesbian couple. The official White House transcript stops at the point where Mrs Obama, in an apparent reference to dealing with hecklers, pauses mid-speech and says tersely: “One of the things that I don’t do well is this. Do you understand?”
According to Ms Terkel’s pool report, Mrs Obama was given a round of applause as she left the lectern and moved directly over to the protester.
She told her: “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”
The audience responded by shouting that they wanted Mrs Obama to stay. A woman near Ms Sturtz told her “you need to go” and she was led away, shouting that she was a “lesbian looking for federal equality before I die”.
Ms Sturtz paid $500 to attend the event and spoke out on behalf of gay rights group GetEqual whose members have heckled president Barack Obama during his speeches too.
She said she wanted Mr Obama to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
Speaking afterwards Ms Sturtz said Mrs Obama “came right down in my face” and that she was “taken aback” at her hostility. Miss Sturtz, 56, said that she spoke up because she “simply couldn’t stay silent any longer”.
Two weeks ago Mr Obama was heckled by anti-war protester Medea Benjamin during a speech about security. In a sharp contrast to his wife, he allowed her to talk and even though she interrupted him, he told her that her “voice … is worth paying attention to”.
In an interview in January last year Mrs Obama said she was frustrated people thought she meddled behind the scenes in White House business. She said: “That’s been an image people have tried to paint of me, that I’m some kind of angry black woman.”