- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
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.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Number of free condoms handed out by the Brazilian government in advance of Carnival this year:
The best way to measure happiness is simply to ask people how happy they are.
Following three weeks of clashes between protesters and government forces that killed at least 17 people, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro announced a two-day extension of Carnival. “Happiness will conquer the embittered,” he said during an appearance at a recreation center.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”