Washington Babylon — March 1, 2010, 10:05 am

Desiree Rogers and the Danger of the Beat Sweetener

Poor Desiree Rogers. A victim of the Salahi State Crashing affair, she’s now out as White House social secretary, replaced by fundraiser Julianna Smoot. When she took the job a year ago, press accounts treated Rogers as a social phenom and a rising star within the Obama administration.

No one was more glowing in their praise of Rogers than the Washington Post. An item in the newspaper last year described her as the “most influential event planner on the planet, a woman empowered to use 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to set the cultural tone for the Obama era.” Her great strength, the article noted (insert ironic eye wink here), was that “No detail escapes her eye.”

That was then. Now that Rogers has been shit-canned there’s no point in wasting time currying favor with her in hopes of getting a good quote for your next story (a process known as the “beat sweetener”). So a new Post story, announcing Smoot’s appointment, says that “Roger’s departure had been widely expected after the fallout from the state dinner incident. Rogers had been criticized for paying too little attention to the specifics of party planning and for viewing herself as a participant, rather than as a member of the staff.”

Of course, Smoot now gets the royalty treatment, with reporter Anne Kornblut writing, “former campaign aides said they expected Smoot to fit more easily into the role. In the appointment announcement, Susan Sher, the chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, said Smoot brings ‘extraordinary organization and people skills’ to the job, as well as ‘sharp attention to detail.’” Sound familiar?

The most egregious beat sweetener of the Obama years was also written by Kornblut, a love poem in honor of Jim Messina, deputy White House chief of staff. Messina, Kornblut wrote, was “a key ‘fixer’ in the operation — both because of his extensive ties to political operatives and lawmakers, especially in the Senate, and because of his relentless focus of purpose that mirrors that of his immediate superior, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.”

The story was one of those classic Washington suck-up pieces that get written about political operatives dating back to Lee Atwater, through James Carville and Karl Rove, and continuing with Rahm Emanuel, which invariably attributes near superhuman powers to these partisan functionaries. Kornblut’s piece on Messina cited a series of friendly sources raving about Messina’s genius and even credited him with single-handedly bringing down the Bush administration:

Messina’s most renowned feat on Capitol Hill was straight out of Emanuel’s no-holds-barred playbook, and it came shortly after President George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. With Democrats still in the minority and frustrated by their inability to block the Republican president or his congressional allies, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) tapped Messina’s boss, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), to run a strategic effort to defeat a top legislative priority of Bush’s second term, the partial privatization of Social Security.

As Baucus’s chief of staff, Messina helped craft a message that was simple and straightforward, arguing that the Bush plan was risky and would cut benefits. His critics in the opposition party saw it as misleading at best, but it worked. The plan stalled quickly, and its defeat was credited by some for setting the Republicans on the path to losing control of Congress in the next midterm elections. “Messina stepped in and delivered a beat-down sandwich, and in my view, it was the beginning of the end of Bush’s approval ratings,” said Barrett Kaiser, Baucus’s communications director and a close friend of Messina.

Yep, if not for Jim Messina Bush might still be president.

Like other profiles of Messina, the story practically made a virtue out of the fact that Messina is universally regarded as nasty, mean, and vindictive. It said he “has a long memory for disloyalty — and does not tolerate ineptitude, or being crossed,” but softened that by talking up his loyalty “and soft-spot” for friends.

According to a source who knows Messina well, he actually kept an “enemies list” on an external hard drive when he worked for Baucus. Just the sort of guy you want in charge of White House personnel decisions.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
New Television·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Season 5 of Louie (FX), Louie is a new kind of superhero. Like Wonder Woman, the canonical superhero he most resembles, Louie’s distinctive superpower is love.”
Illustration by Demetrios Psillos
Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.

In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today