Real Housewives Crashes the White House
In an unprecedented convergence of reality TV and national news, the finale of The Real Housewives of D.C. will show the Salahis’ alleged gate-crashing. Nicole LaPorte talks to the scandal-ridden couple.
For months now, or at least since Bravo’s reality TV show The Real Housewives of D.C. debuted in early August, alleged White House “gate-crashers” Michaele and Tareq Salahi have had “nothing but love”—as Michaele has cooed—for their numerous detractors.
But with the much-anticipated Housewives finale airing Thursday—which will show the couple arriving at President Obama’s first state dinner last November and managing to get past security—the air kisses have come to an abrupt halt.
In a telephone interview with The Daily Beast, the Salahis, who said they have been through “a living hell” ever since the “media shit storm” hit last fall, were quick to turn on those whom they think have wronged them in what they see as a malicious pile-on that has portrayed them as delusional grifters and deadbeats.
First there’s castmate Catherine “Cat” Ommaney (one of the most outspoken Salahi haters), whom Tareq described as “an actress” who was having “sex issues” with her husband Charles while the Housewives was taping. (The Ommaneys have since separated.)
Then there was the media, which was being run by “junior journalists” when the White House incident occurred, seeing as more senior reporters were apparently all out on Thanksgiving break.
But Tareq’s most virulent outpouring was aimed at the Washington Post, which first broke the Salahi scandal, and later ran a series of investigative pieces about the couple that revealed inter-familial lawsuits, bankruptcy filings, and unpaid debts.
“First of all, they never really did a full disclosure, because we owed them tens of thousands of dollars in advertising money for our winery and the Polo Cup,” said Tareq, who, despite the subject matter, sounded as jovial as he does on TV when he’s explaining how to hold a polo mallet or stomp a wine grape. “No. 2, you’ve got [Washington Post reporter] Amy Argetsinger dating a polo buddy of mine, who’s a competitor, fueling the fire. Obviously, we had issues with them, and they had issues with us. It was completely personal.”
When questioned about these claims, a spokeswoman for The Washington Post emailed: “Those assertions are not even worthy of a response.”
The Salahis did not cooperate with the Post for the stories. Yet Tareq still, perversely, maintains that, “No one wanted to hear the truth.”
But what, exactly, is the truth? The Salahis alleged party-crashing instantly became a global news story, alternating headlines with the similarly-timed Tiger Woods scandal. Nearly a year later, they remain a source of media fascination—their Real Housewives antics have only provided more fodder for a site like Jezebel to do this week’s exhaustive post “ Salahi 101: A Guide to the Lawsuits and Lies.”
“It was international news!” recalled Stacie Turner, another Housewife, who in one episode took a Champagne-fuelled trip to Paris with the Salahis to see her brother-in-law, a France-based rapper, perform. “Even Jason’s brother in Paris called us” the day the news broke. “He was like, ‘Oh my God, those people you came to my concert with—they crashed the White House.’ It was totally surreal.”
Indeed it was. Photos of Michaele in a red sari, posing with Vice President Joe Biden became infamous last year—watching her put the outfit on in last week’s episode, in a protracted getting-ready sequence, was nothing short of bizarre, representing an unprecedented convergence of national news and reality television. The Secret Service came under fire. Congressional hearings were called. President Obama’s social secretary, Desirée Rogers, ended up being fired. This was in no way your typical, drunken, wig-pulling drama that viewers have come to expect from a franchise that has made its name on the never-dull antics of middle-aged-ladies gone wild. Nor was it a typical bid for 15 minutes of TV fame, turned into more lasting celebrity-of-a-certain-kind of the sort enjoyed by Jon and Kate Gosselin, who, after Jon & Kate Plus 8, became Us Weekly regulars and, in the case of Kate, a contestant on Dancing With the Stars.
The Salahis, after all, were already rather sensational—a dashing Barbie and Ken couple who zipped around town in their ostentatious white limo and hosted polo events. They were easily the most spectacular characters on what has been a relatively banal season—unlike the stars of the New Jersey or Atlanta-based shows, the D.C. cast has been shockingly normal and well-behaved. Although plenty of Chardonnay was poured and barbs traded, the Salahis aside, “drama” came in the form of McLean matriarch Mary Amons’ twenty-something daughter breaking into her biometrically-locked closet and snatching designer clothes.
But rather than feed their fame, being on reality TV only underscored the shady underbelly of the Salahis’ fairy tale veneer, a surface that was steadily chipped at as the season went on and even foreshadowed events to come.
In an early episode, well before Obama’s state dinner, Jason Backe, the husband and business partner of celebrity stylist Ted Gibson, tells other castmembers that he and Gibson were invited by the Salahis to attend the Congressional Black Caucus dinner—and then, midway through the event, were asked to leave because the Salahis were not invited.
And in another episode, when Michaele and Tareq went with Turner, a real-estate agent, to look at homes to buy (Michaele says their price range is between “$100,000 and $12 million”), things got strange when Stacie asks about their finances.
“It was becoming obvious that they were trying to not show me their financial information,” recalled Turner in an interview, who added that, “combined with the fact that articles started showing up, made me think that something is just not adding up here. I was like, ‘These people seem to be really something different than the image they’re portraying.’”
Whatever the other housewives are sniping, in Thursday’s finale the Salahis look forward to vindication. After all, they have still not been charged with any crimes.
“We’ve been saying publicly all along that we never lied and never snuck in, and the film and video will show what we’ve been saying,” Tareq said. “With all the words exchanged with our limo driver and the Secret Service—they capture everything on film, so it’s very dramatic.”
Asked whether they think the episode would clear their record once and for all, Michaele said: “From your words to God. We sure hope so!”
But a source close to the production was dubious: “If you watch it, it really doesn’t.”
The future of the D.C. version of Housewives is unclear at this point—a representative from Bravo said the network has not begun having conversations about its renewal. Perhaps because the show went in an overall less zany direction than the franchise’s other series—which bred instant, mass followings and stars such as Bethenny Frankel—its ratings suffered in comparison. And at least one cast member (Cat) has said that she won’t do the show again so long as the Salahis are involved.
“They both made me sick,” Ommanney said in an interview. “I’m just very pleased to be able to finish Real Housewives and be able to keep my sanity. I find them insufferable.” Ommanney’s hatred of the Salahis turned to something worse when she was uninvited to a White House Christmas party last December, due to her association with them.
But at least for some, it’s made for entertaining viewing. Michaele said that she’s been on “the edge of my seat” watching the aired episodes. Though she admitted that the “hardest part was seeing the other women all jumping up and clapping and wishing harm to us—especially to me.
“I’ve been very good to all of them. The only negative thing I ever really said to them was that they were like a Disney caricature—the wicked step-sisters,” Michaele continued. “But I never used a foul word. And to see people wishing harm on you—that made me sad. That was hard to see. That’s barbaric.”
“That,” she said, “set Washington, D.C. back.”
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.