Psst...The President Ate Here Last Night
The word first got out via a text message sent with great urgency on Friday night. The president of the United States had stopped in at a neighborhood chili joint in Bethesda. Barack Obama had taken his children to an event at the Imagination Stage children's theater and then "came across the street to visit Hard Times Cafe, where he had chili and wings," according to an email that repeated the text message.
That email begat another email and onward through the ether. Obamamania being what it is in certain circles, pretty soon a couple of Washington Post reporters were on the case.
The sources looked reasonably credible. Here was an email from Anne Robbins, an elected member of the Rockville City Council. Robbins got the news about the president's dinner from her daughter, who in turn got it straight from Chris Mack, who works as a manager at Hard Times. "Chris watched as the president, Malia, and Sasha came in," the email said. Mack "was really pleased to talk to the president about Hawaii, since Chris is from there. Chris immediately texted Brennan [Robbins' daughter], because she is a great Obama person; I talked to both of them, and they were 'over the moon.' By the way, Chris told me that he told the president to come to Hard Times because the chili is as good as [at] Ben's Chili Bowl."
Robbins told me she volunteered to let the press know about the visit and the restaurant manager heartily endorsed the idea.
But over the weekend, Post Reliable Source columnist Amy Argetsinger checked Robbins' account against the White House press corps pool report, the minute-by-minute diary of the president's public movements:
"The president and first lady made an unscheduled trip to Bethesda for an extracurricular school recital at Imagination Stage, a facility that specializes in kids' events. No deets on which daughter was performing, or what the show was about."
So far, so good. But the pool report petered out after that:
"Small groups of onlookers gathered on sidewalks around the venue. Pool didn't see any of the Obama family at any point in the evening; held at a nearby Lebanese restaurant for about 45 minutes, back at the White House by 8:30 p.m."
Could the prez have snuck in for a quick bowl of chili without drawing the attention of the reporter who drew the short straw and got stuck doing pool coverage of a kids' event on a Friday night in Bethesda? Conceivable, but looking doubtful.
Argetsinger checked in at the restaurant and talked to Mack, who gave it up: Yes, the Secret Service had camped out at the restaurant while the president was at the show, and that got everyone joking, hoping, wishing about how Obama was going to come in for food. From there, the manager said, people starting spreading the word about the presidential visit on Facebook and Twitter. (Mack didn't return my calls or messages.)
We couldn't find hard evidence that the rumor traveled very far, but it did at least zip around Montgomery County. "The story's gone everywhere," Robbins told me. "I went to the Hard Times in Rockville over the weekend and everyone was talking about how the president was at their restaurant in Bethesda."
As late as Monday morning, when Robbins got an email from a friend who expressed skepticism about the chili story, the council member responded that it simply had to be true.
But it didn't take long for me to persuade Robbins that she had fallen for a hoax. "I thought it had to be true," she said. "I'm mortified."
Robbins is chagrined that she fell for the false report, but she understands the desire to get close to a charismatic president. Her first job in Washington was a White House internship during the Kennedy Administration and "my feet never hit the floor the whole time I was here," she said.
We agreed that stories like this are likely to pop up all around town in the coming years--a result of the popular fascination with this president and the fact that he seems intent on being more of a local presence than his two predecessors ever were. In the past week alone, Obama has dined at Citronelle in Georgetown and Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington--the latter just yesterday at the lunch hour, with the vice president. And those meals really happened--you can check the pool report.
By Marc Fisher |
May 6, 2009; 7:55 AM ET
Previous: Study: Md., Va. Prep Kids For Success. D.C. Doesn't. | Next: Honest Bet: Put Slots At Mall, Not Horse Track
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: dbkirby | May 6, 2009 4:34 PM
Posted by: JohnnyReb1 | May 7, 2009 9:37 AM
Posted by: DadWannaBe | May 7, 2009 5:32 PM
Posted by: bigcmack | May 9, 2009 2:47 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.