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Interview with Diane Dimond on “White House Gatecrashers”

November 1, 2010


The ongoing story of the Salahis, the so-called White House gatecrashers, appears on the surface to be a tabloid story about some social-climbing status seekers who, with the help of the Bravo Network, were able to crash President Obama’s first White House state dinner last November. But as I pointed out in a special report last December, there was much more to the story. Could the Secret Service have been so incompetent or careless to allow people into such an event who were not on a list? Why was President Obama contradicting his pledge of transparency by exercising executive privilege to keep the key people in a position to know from testifying before a Congressional committee looking into the affair? And were the media once again covering for Obama by viciously going after the Salahis, who were easy targets because of their style of living large while stiffing a number of small businesses, as was well documented at the time.

Now they have become Reality TV stars, being one of five couples featured in Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of DC,” which mercifully ended last week. The show was painful, and embarrassing to watch, but it did contain some of the most beautiful high definition video images of the Washington DC area ever shot. The final episode (not counting two mud-slinging “reunion” shows) included the first video the public got to see of the actual events of that night last November when the Salahis managed to get into the White House reception, past the checkpoints, and were introduced as they entered. It was highly edited, and thus still ambiguous as to what actually happened. But it was clear that someone, presumably from the Secret Service, couldn’t find their name on the list, but sent them on anyway to the next checkpoint.

Veteran journalist Diane Dimond, who has been an anchor at National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, a White House and Congressional reporter for RKO Radio Network, and a highly acclaimed celebrity author and journalist with shows like Hard Copy and Entertainment Tonight, has recently come out with a book on this whole affair, called Cirque du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. She spent a lot of time with the Salahis while writing this book, with the understanding that they would have no say in what was eventually published. And as Ms. Dimond tells Accuracy in Media in this exclusive interview, the Salahis were not very happy about some of the things she reported on. But in fact Cirque du Salahi provides a balanced, inside look at who these people are, and how this story unfolded, and saves its sharpest criticism for the White House and the media.

In many ways this is a story unique to these times. It is about a less-than-transparent White House combined with the intersection of Reality TV, celebrity journalism, and a failure of mainstream journalism to get the story right.

The following are excerpts from my interview with Diane Dimond. You can listen to the entire interview or read the transcript here.

“First of all, nobody “crashes” the gate at the White House. You give your ID to the Secret Service many days ahead of time—which the Salahis did, I write about that in the book—then you show up with your passport or your driver’s license. They were cleared through not one but two Secret Service checkpoints—I mean, what part of that sounds like “gatecrashing?” None! “That was the first mistake. The second mistake was, Michaele Salahi was not “auditioning” for a reality show—she was already signed, for eight months! She had signed a contract with Bravo eight months earlier. So this wasn’t some stunt—this was two people who felt they were invited, whose invitation was set up by their entertainment attorney, a guy named Paul Gardner, and his liaison with the White House, a woman named Michelle Jones. So they just show up, and they’re waved right in.

“…after this event burst into the public domain, the White House, instead of grabbing hold of this situation and saying, “No, no, wait a minute—these people are not ‘gatecrashers,’ in fact they’ve been donors to the Democratic Party for years and years, stop this right now,” they don’t say anything. Eight days go by. Finally they issue a statement, under Michelle Jones’s name, saying, “I never told the Salahis I could get them tickets for the dinner. I don’t have authority to get them tickets for the dinner.”

“…only recently—ten months after the fact did Bravo actually show the video of that night. They had a camera on the sidewalk watching them go in. You see the Secret Service agent, with her clipboard, say to them, “Well, gosh, I don’t see your name on the list here, but come on in. Just come on in and go down there. Go wait over there at the next checkpoint.” So they were clearly waved right in. Now, I’ve watched that piece of video over and over—first of all, I’m astounded that Bravo kept it private for all this time, because by keeping it private—to me, it’s the alibi tape. They didn’t crash any gate—they were waved right in!

“The Secret Service—if you ever read any Ronald Kessler—has long had staffing problems, recruiting problems, budget problems. There weren’t enough agents at that checkpoint. There wasn’t any light at the checkpoint. And there was, most importantly, nobody from the Social Secretary’s office there. Which is why Desirée Rogers took a hike a few months later. There should have been somebody there from the Social Secretary’s office to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. You’re not on the list. Goodbye”—and the Salahis would have turned around and gone away, no harm, no foul.

“But the media did not grab that very important, great story—What about national security? Does the Secret Service have enough money? What would have happened if Michaele Salahi had anthrax powder in her compact and blew it at the President? They didn’t follow any of that very important pathway to this story. What they followed was what she did or did not eat for lunch, or how many debts they had from the past, what’s the name of their polo pony—these silly, facetious details that, really, honestly, meant nothing to the security of the country. That’s where I had a problem. That’s why I wrote this book.

“…there’s all sorts of really bad reporting that I just—again, it’s why I wrote the book. I just felt that somebody needed to set the record straight. Are these people angels in waiting? No, they’re not. Did they get a raw deal? Yes, I think they did—and I think the raw deal came under the guise of journalism. And it was bad journalism.

“So they [the Salahis] are unhappy about the dissection of some of their debts. She is very unhappy with the way I unraveled her story that she was a Redskins cheerleader. I don’t believe she was at all. I think that was a ploy.

“…the fact of the matter is, they had been supporters of the Democratic Party for most of the 2000s, they met Tim Kaine, they had been involved in events with the previous Governor—Warner—of Virginia, they knew Terry McAuliffe from the social scene at Café Milano and other places for years and years, they sponsored this Rock the Vote event at which Barack Obama was one of the premiere people that they trotted out—he was a Senator at the time. Terry McAuliffe said, “You’ve got to come and help us support this—this guy Barack is going to be the President some day!” So they did. They were longtime Democratic Party supporters, which makes me wonder, why didn’t the President do something the day after this dinner? He surely remembered shaking hands with that beautiful woman in the see-through red sari.

“On one hand, they told me, with tears in their eyes, they would love it if Michaele could be a spokesperson for multiple sclerosis, for the Society, for the Association—yet, on the other hand, I believe, it was he who pushed the whole idea that she should pose for Playboy. Well, what part of your brain thinks that the MS Society would want to have a Playboy Playmate on their spokesman’s roster? They’re a co-dependent couple who seem to be relatively happy together, but if someone told me in the future that Michaele Salahi had kicked him to the curb, I wouldn’t be surprised as to why.

“There were members of that committee—now think about this, this is the Homeland Security Committee, set up to keep this country safe after 9/11—two members, at least two members, before any facts were known, before any subpoenas were issued, before any testimony was taken, were smearing the Salahis. Whether you like them or not—put yourself in this position: They were calling them “the crooks” and “the perpetrators.” Wait a minute! They showed up for a party, and they got let in! They’re the crooks and the perpetrators?! This is not the way America is supposed to treat people. It’s Innocent until proven guilty, and here’s two members of Congress already calling them vicious names. And then everyone wonders why they didn’t want to come up and testify.”

Copyright ©2010 Roger Aronoff

 


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