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Chicago connections helped Ebony snag Obama interview

By Carol Eisenberg

December 3, 2008 at 3:41pm

Some see President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to sit down for his first print interview with Ebony magazine as a symbolic nod to the readers of the historic black magazine.

But the fact that Ebony got the first post-election print interview is probably as much about the power of an old Chicago network, as it is about the signficance of Obama’s election as the nation’s first African-American president.

Obama is on the cover of the January Ebony - out next week - as the magazine’s first-ever ‘Person of the Year’ - complete with the Nov. 13 interview and new photos of him and Michelle Obama.

Several pundits theorized that the Obamas granted their first print interview to the magazine, which was founded by John Johnson for African-American readers in 1942, as a way to acknowledge the election’s significance to African Americans, and to continue their outreach to that group.

And while that may be true, it is also undeniable that Linda Rice Johnson, the CEO of Johnson Publishing Inc. which owns Ebony, is a longtime friend of Valerie Jarrett, one of the Obamas’ closest advisers who was tapped to be a senior White House aide, as well as of Desiree Rogers, recently named White House social secretary.

The close friendship among the three powerful Chicago women was described as “The Sisterhood,” in a Chicago magazine profile of their friendship in 2000.

Jarrett and Rice grew up in Chicago, and their parents knew one another. They attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School together. One of their best friends from that time is John W. Rogers Jr., now the president of Ariel Capital Management, an investment firm, who is also a close friend of the Obama’s and who became a major fund-raiser.

Rogers, in turn, married Desiree, bringing her into the group in 1988. (They divorced several years ago.)

Through that web of connections, both Obamas have socialized with Linda Rice Johnson for more than 15 years.

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