White House

Content Section

From Newsweek

Social Secretary Steps Out: Four Observations

White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers told Lynn Sweet from the Chicago Sun-Times this afternoon that she would be stepping down from her role. White House watchers pointed the finger of blame at Rogers during last year's media circus over the Salahis, a Virginian couple who crashed the State Dinner for India's prime minister. I've got four relatively unrelated thoughts on this:

1. Timing: Conservatives were crying for Rogers's scalp after the silly Salahi fiasco, but the Obamas stood by her, at least at that moment. (Rogers is a friend of both Obamas, but she's technically employed by the first lady's office.)  In waiting a few months to step down, she didn't hand a victory to the screaming bloggers and talk-radio hosts, who'd earlier chased environment adviser Van Jones out of the administration. The resignation is in part a reflection on the Salahi failure, but it wasn't a direct response to right-wing outrage.

2. Bitchiness: Rogers's mishandling of White House security was a big screw up, but she may have been less of a target for outrage had she kept a lower profile. Except she's not that sort of person. She's unashamedly glamorous and ambitious, and her entree to the D.C. social scene was not only highly visible, but hugely anticipated. When she arrived in D.C., reporters and the establishment couldn't get enough of her, enamored of the notion that this young, gorgeous, successful black woman was the one holding the keys to the Obama social calender. But Washington friends are fickle, and soon after the party was crashed, Maureen Dowd and Robin Givhan unsheathed their knives. Dowd said that the fashionista had been be cruising for a bruising all year, while Givhan implied that she'd spent more time attending parties than organizing them, portraying her as a brazen self-promoter. A town that welcomed Rogers with open arms seemed pretty quick to turn on her for exactly the reasons we were excited about her in the first place.

3. Palace Intrigue: Although rumors have circulated for weeks about a breakdown in Obama's inner circle—is Rahm becoming a liability? Is Axelrod to blame for Obama's message problems? —it seems that the real action is in the first lady's office. Rogers is the second senior staff member to leave Mrs. Obama's orbit. Her first chief of staff, Jackie Norris, was replaced by Michelle's good friend Susan Sher in June.

4. Predictability:  I interviewed Rogers early last year for this article. She's impressive. Stylish and cool, she didn't seem to fit my image of stuffy East Room events. That's exactly what she was trying to change, and to some extent she did. She had events with performers like Stevie Wonder and Sweet Honey in the Rock, she opened the White House kitchen to reporters, and livened up events like the Easter Egg Roll and the July 4 party. Still, the White House is a pretty buttoned-up place. Rogers told Sweet she wants to pursue corporate opportunities. I can't help but think she'd be happier there, unshackled from the anachronistic demands of White House protocol and able to be as glamorous as she likes, without being attacked for it.

View As Single Page