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Miss Rogers's neighborhood

At President Clinton's state dinner for then-South African President Thabo Mbeki, White House Social Secretary Capricia Marshall made a very gracious offer. For dessert, she would swap places with my mother, who was seated in another part of the tent. Marshall's name was not on the official guest list. Perhaps she was filling in for a last-minute no-show. But I bring this story up because folks are now asking why current White House Social Secretary Desirée Rogers had a seat at the state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It's an unfair question since others have done it. But it's still an appropriate one for people to ask.

In her excellent, if devastating, piece on Rogers, Post writer Robin Givhan made a very important observation. "[Rogers] was not the first social secretary to be seated at a state dinner," she noted, "although others typically pulled up a chair only after they'd mastered the role." While Rogers has been in the job for nearly a year, this was the Obama administration's (and Rogers's) first state dinner. Marshall, now the U.S. chief of protocol, defended Rogers in the story, saying, "Having observed Desirée that evening, she sat for a total of about five minutes....She worked around the clock; she did what she needed to do."

But Givhan had another interesting insight. Rogers came to the White House from Chicago, where she had social stature and wealth that far exceeded that of her friends formerly of the South Side. Rogers is a long-time friend of the Obamas, but she is staff now, and that requires a quieter mien. "In recent years," Givhan noted, "social secretaries had always quashed their own public profiles, demurred from seeking the limelight, in service to their position and in deference to the first lady." That might be tough for Rogers. She's no diva. But as one friend put it, "She is a star who has taken a gig in the chorus."

The Secret Service has fallen on its sword more times than necessary for the breach of security that allowed Tareq and Michaele Salahi to crash the Nov. 24 dinner. The latest mea culpa occurred before the House homeland security committee on Thursday. Noticeably absent were the Salahis and Rogers. I understand the administration's invocation of executive privilege. There's the whole separation of powers issue. Also, this doesn't rise to the level of, say, who knew what about the nefarious activities at Abu Ghraib. But I wish Rogers would work something out so that she could voluntarily go to the committee to discuss social secretary's office, what happened the night of the state dinner and how things will change.

By Jonathan Capehart  | December 4, 2009; 2:41 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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what a joke.

Posted by: mock1ngb1rd | December 5, 2009 2:26 AM | Report abuse

Not everybody is suited for every job. In this case, I suspect that Ms. Rogers' administrative assistant or social secretary -- and you can bet she had one in Chicago -- would have been a better choice as White House social secretary than the doyenne herself.

A major problem with America's current celebrity culture is that we tend to forget how much we depend on humble, behind-the-scenes people, ranging from corporate managers below VP rank to film editors to politicians' legislative aides to now-laid-off newspapers editors who once made sure the news was accurate and that spelling and grammatical errors were rare.

I'm a laid-off editor myself, and I am saddened to watch my former employers' decline, which is now accelerating since they laid off most of the people -- including me -- who did the actual Work, while keeping the VPs who made the bad decisions that started the company on its downward spiral in the first place.

Quiet competence and a willingness to work hard behind the camera can be more valuable than flash and glamor in front of the lens. I worry that, in the White House, same as in many businesses, President Obama seems to have forgotten this fact. Sadly, I don't think Sen. McCain understands it, either, so he would have been no better.

Hubris and self-promotion have taken over our society. This is why a Bernie Madoff can bilk people out of millions while honest and competent (but quiet) investment advisors have trouble finding clients, and why Dubai World could rise to an unparalleled height, then fall from it.

It is time for those of us who work quietly in the background to take the world back from the peacocks. I'm doing my part in this effort with my humble video production startup -- -- and I see other people who have never had (or wanted) any fame or notoriety doing similar things.

Some of our ventures will succeed, and some will fail. But in the end, "we are the nation, we will survive," as John Stewart sang in this lovely song:

(Sorry about not providing hyperlinks; the Post's comment system doesn't allow them. But the John Stewart song' YouTube URL is well worth pasting into your browser manually. It is "the" anthem for all of us who Work while others flutter and preen and get most of the rewards from our labors.)

Posted by: roblimo | December 5, 2009 8:02 AM | Report abuse

It is completely the fault of the secret service. A bouncer at a club would have done a better job. You are not on the list, you do not get in, period, end of discussion.

They should all shut up about this now, my elected officials are like a weird circus.

Posted by: honeybee1 | December 5, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

roblimo is absolutely correct.

In addition, if Ms. Rogers had any class, style or honor, she'd have fallen on her sword, instead of leaving it to some underpaid, underappreciated Secret Service guys to to do the Ajax thing and take the blame. Sorry, but she's staff, not elected by anyone.

What caused me to even care about this story is the more than a hint of entitlement culture that we had all hoped was shed when the Bush administration left. Sadly, that sense of entitlement never really goes away, does it?

Posted by: kaf1 | December 5, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

roblimo is absolutely correct.

In addition, if Ms. Rogers had any class, style or honor, she'd have fallen on her sword, instead of leaving it to some underpaid, underappreciated Secret Service guys to to do the Ajax thing and take the blame. Sorry, but she's staff, not elected by anyone.

What caused me to even care about this story is the more than a hint of entitlement culture that we had all hoped was shed when the Bush administration left. Sadly, that sense of entitlement never really goes away, does it?

This is not here sword to fall on. White House will man the gates as a curtosy simply to greet guests. It is up to the SS to man and verify who gets inside the gates 24/7. If there is a question the guests are to be PULLED from the LINE, a phone call is made until verified. In this case the SS wisked them to the next check point unverified. This is the SS's sword. Why should the SS push security off on WhiteHouse staff?? All those who don't know the differences in job function between the SS and the Soc. Secretary Staff needs to look it up.

Posted by: matrox | December 5, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Desirée Rogers not only had a "seat" at the state dinner, she had her very own table for her very own guests.

Apparently, it was more important for her to be entertaining her own guests at the event than to be at the front door greeting legitimate guests and screening out potentially dangerous "crashers".

She should be the one to be suspended from her job, not the secret service agents who had no definitive guest list but still insured these two media hoors were not a danger.

Posted by: spamsux1 | December 5, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Jon boy ... there ya go again, ever the giddy sycophant. Please tell me you wrote this column while wrestling with a champagne hangover.

If dear sweet Desiree can't deal with workin in the shadows then she needs to pack her bags and make a bee-line to Reagan National.... there's flights leaving every hour for Chicago's Midway Airport. (the airport of convenience for South Siders).

The real question should be, "why it took a Washington gossip columnist to first "question" the Salahis' attendance at the State Dinner before the security breach was detected by White House radar ?"

Posted by: Spartann | December 5, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Gosh - I feel like I fell down the rabbit hole.

Remember Jeff Gannon? The male prostitute that was in the White House to see people no one could identify; as the quasi reporter for some right wing screed when there were no press conferences.. signed in under the watchful eye of the SS, and no one knew who he was there for, or in what capacity.

Then... there is the little matter of an outed CIA agent.. no one ever admitted it, no one ever suffered for it, and no one cared who did it, least of all the post turtle.

So, for the Obama's first State dinner, something went awry, and the press and the SS, and the White House, and the folks what's supposed to keep the electorate informed so we can make decisions about our self governance, alla sudden get REAL interested in a social secretary's role...

The hypocrisy is stunning.

Posted by: dutchess2 | December 5, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I really don't understand the assault on Rogers. Her job is not the security of the president; it's party planning, invitations, centerpieces, menus. It is a childish, politically motivated absurdity to suggest that this woman shares ANY responsibility for the party-crashers.

The trashy, crashy couple were not invited. The Secret Service let them in with no invitation. It is their fault, not hers.

The only motivation for the attacks seems to be that a lot of people don't like Rogers. Well, stuff it. You don't have to like her; only the president does.

Posted by: Casey1 | December 6, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

That others lost their jobs over her mistakes is the issue here.

Posted by: citizonic | December 6, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

I totally do not see why Ms. Rogers should be required to testify at a Senate investigation of the Salahis trespassing of a State Dinner. She is not on the payroll of the Secret Service. I am not blaming the Secret Service, although they are ultimately in charge. It would be nice if our Secret Service had not been gutted by budget cuts that went to serve Homeland Security. It would be nice if we fully funded the Agencies that see to the protection of our First Family be they Democratic or Republican. It would be nice if we would stop swallowing the rhetoric about reducing government and drowning it in a bath tub. It would be nice if the Salahis' did not survive this days news cycle. It would be nice if they went to jail for being the liars that they are. IMO.

Posted by: fabricmaven1 | December 7, 2009 12:19 AM | Report abuse

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