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 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2014

The End of Retirement

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Octopus and Its Grandchildren

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Francis and the Nuns

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Return of the Strongman

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Seductive Catastrophe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The world’s leaders were moved by a populace fused into a forward phalanx, were shaken by a tidal wave of militancy jubilantly united.”
Photograph courtesy Mary Evans Picture Library
Article
What the Camera Saw·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“They shot him behind the left ear, and he fell.”
Post
The Glitch in the Video-Game Graveyard·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“From the nerd squabbles of Internet discussion threads rose an urban legend that culminated in a film that hinges on digging through my town’s trash.”
Illustration (detail) by Timothy Taranto
Article
Me, Myself, and Id·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The one defining trait of the narcissist is that it’s always someone else.
Painting (detail) by Gianni Dagli Orti
Post
The Many Faces of Boko·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“People want education. Open a school and they will rush.”
Photograph © The author

Rolls of toilet paper Chicago’s city government has produced this year from recycled City Hall wastepaper:

19,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Russia lost, then regained, contact with a satellite carrying five geckos sent to copulate in zero gravity.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today