Who is Desiree Rogers? Why do we all know her name?
Why does the name of this two-time queen of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club draw more hits on Google than that of Vice President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon? Who is this woman so notable as to be listed alongside Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright on Wellesley’s “notable alumnae” webpage?
Until her resignation last Friday—the fallout of the notorious party-crashing of a White House gala by Tareq and Michaele Salahi—she was President Obama’s White House social secretary—the nation’s highest-ranking party planner.
It’s not as if the position of social secretary boasts any historical import—Rogers’ predecessor Amy Zantzinger wasn’t exactly a household name, and comparable oblivion likely awaits Rogers’ successor, Julianna Smoot. Rogers may be the first black social secretary, but it’s probably safe to say that, with the election of the first black president, African American children can aspire to higher callings than arranging tea parties for the First Lady.
And yet, in the wake of Rogers’ resignation announcement in February, the media has been wallowing in a prolonged and farcical state of grief and lamentation. The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan, for one, bewailed how “Rogers’s departure has the fashion industry practically in mourning. No one has expressed a whiff of excitement over her replacement, Julianna Smoot. Instead, there’s concern that Washington might end up in cultural retreat.”
Givhan’s Post colleagues Anne Kornblut and Krissah Thompson, likewise, absurdly injected race into the Rogers saga by noting how “…some of those who admired Rogers as a trailblazer said they were sorry to see the first African American social secretary also become the first high-level departure from Obama’s senior staff.”
But no pundit articulated a more appropriate response to this circus than blogosphere banshee Michelle Malkin, who wrote simply,“Three words: Boo-freaking-hoo.”
Three things and three things alone differentiate Rogers from social secretaries past: her race, her chic, and her bungling of the Salahis affair. None of these three traits justify the grossly excessive media coverage that she has received, and this ailment, this risibly misguided belief that ethnicity and fashion sense can render even the White House social secretary relevant, plagued not only the Washington media establishment but also Rogers herself.
Almost from the minute she stepped foot into the West Wing, Rogers began posing for magazines like Vogue and the Wall Street Journal magazine, antics one can hardly envision the dourer Zantzinger or Smoot emulating. An inside source told Politico that at one point, Rogers wondered why, as social secretary, she did not have her own driver. Eventually, David Axelrod had to warn Rogers to stop parading around in expensive clothes and talking up the “Obama brand” in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
We are all quite used to the media trumpeting the trivial, be it Anna Nicole Smith or Chesley Sullenberger. But this latest obsession with a heretofore irrelevant and obscure White House staff position—the White House social secretary—is simply product of another vice: the delusion harbored by Washington media types that the trifling goings-on of their city matter to those who live beyond the Beltway. This media elite is easily distracted by bright, shiny objects, and the fact that anyone outside the White House has ever heard of Desiree Rogers is an indictment of the media’s skewed priorities.
Dhruv K. Singhal, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is an English concentrator in Currier House.