Sunday, December 14, 2008

Julie Bosman vs. Rachel Swarns: Who Wrote The Puffier Desiree Rogers Puff Piece?

If you don't know yet that Desiree Rogers has a Harvard M.B.A., hosted a Valerie Jarrett birthday party in her Chicago Gold Coast condominium or will soon become the nation's first blsck White House social secretary, then you're just not reading the paper.

Start paying attention, please. The Times has told you those facts twice in the last three weeks, in two separate but nearly identically fawning profiles before Rogers has even started her job.

The first, by Julie Bosman -- a 29-year-old former assistant to columnist Maureen Dowd -- appeared on November 25, the day after Rogers's appointment to the post. It covered Rogers's friendship with the Obamas, her celebrity in Chicago, and her penchant for stating the obvious:

“Wonderful picnics outside, tree decorating, inviting military families over,” DesirĂ©e Rogers, the White House social-secretary-in-waiting, said Monday in a telephone interview. “One of the things that is particularly important for this administration is that we continue along this vein of making it everyone’s America. We are inviting all of America and all of the world to share in that splendor.”

But apparently that story failed to satisfy hungry Times editors, who yearned for more cheesy details about the future White House party planner. The Styles section assigned Rachel Swarns, the paper's former Johannesburg bureau chief (and an African-American graduate of Howard University) to profile Rogers. Swarns dug a little deeper than Bosman, and learned that Rogers gave $2,000 to Bush's re-election campaign (an odd fact left unexplained), and prefers designs by Valentino, Toledo and Carolina Herrera -- although, in seeming defiance of her own scoop, Swarns reports that Rogers wore an Oscar de la Renta dress to a recent Washington party.

Rogers declined to comment for Swarns's piece. Could that be because her quotes in the Bosman article didn't exactly fit the image of a sophisticated social secretary? “You will definitely see some new things,” Rogers told Bosman. “We’re not going to be superpredictable, where everything looks the same.” Sounds like a plan!

Both stories provided quotes from the usual Washington suspects, warning Rogers that she's about to be descended upon by those wanting White House access -- as if we didn't know that, and as though that's any different from past incoming administrations:

From Bosman's story:

“The toughest thing is going to be the four million people descending on her and wanting to be invited to the next White House party,” said Letitia Baldrige, the former social secretary and White House chief of staff for Jacqueline Kennedy. “She’s going to be deluged with people trying to get on the guest list.”

From the Swarns account:

But Ms. Rogers has quite a job ahead, [Washington socialite Sally] Quinn warned. The White House social secretary must turn down requests from powerful people, who are often dying for a seat at the president’s table. “She’s going to have to have nerves of steel,” Ms. Quinn said.

Both stories have in common a recurring theme in Times coverage of the Obama transition: an obsession with the inner circle of friends that the president-elect keeps. Rogers even made a cameo appearance in the paper's page-one story by Jodi Kantor on Barack Obama's personal posse this morning. The sense of wonder and amazement over Obama's team pervades the Times's continuing coverage to the point of near-nausea. Consider this snippet from Swarns's swoon over Rogers:

She certainly has a flair for the unconventional.

How many White House social secretaries can say they regularly hosted a lottery game show on local television, as Ms. Rogers did in the 1990s? (This was one of her efforts to promote the state lottery she was running.) How many have appeared at $1,000-a-ticket fund-raisers for inner-city schools in black short-shorts, a white tuxedo jacket and sky-high sandals? (The answer to both questions: none, until now.)

How many Presidents-elect have inspired so much sappy, sychophantic journalism from the newspaper of record in so short a time? The answer: none, until now.


Peter S. Green said...

You wrote: How many Presidents-elect have inspired so much sappy, sychophantic journalism from the newspaper of record in so short a time? The answer: none, until now.

In reality: Almost every president. There will always be journalists and editors who suck up to the powerful and lose perspective.

Anonymous said...

Rachel Swarns attended Howard University, not Harvard. Check your facts.


Thanks to Anonymous for pointing out the error; Rachel Swarns did indeed go to Howard, not Harvard. It has been corrected above.