woody_zimmerman_118_2007My readers (hopefully) know that I generally don’t waste this space on trivial things, so they might wonder why I am spending any time on Tareq and Michaele Salahi – the couple who apparently crashed the White House state dinner for Indian glitterati on November 25. The whole affair does seem silly and unworthy of serious attention at first glance, but I suspect that we’re missing something here.

In the Sherlock Holmes mystery, “The Adventure of Silver Blaze,” a champion racehorse somehow goes missing from its stable in the middle of the night. The famous detective alerts the police inspector to the “curious incident of the dog in the nighttime,” to which the inspector replies that the dog did nothing in the nighttime. “That was the curious incident,” observed Holmes. In the story, it turns out that the dog had failed to raise the alarm because it knew the person who had taken the horse. It was an inside job.

This fictional incident came to mind when I began to reflect on the fact that several questions remain unanswered about the Salahi-incident, including some distinctly dog-in-the-nighttime items that deserve a look. Perhaps the most remarkable of these is the fact that the Salahis had the temerity to approach a White House gala with no written invitation in hand. Ask yourself, “Would I do such a thing?” If you’re a normal person, you would undoubtedly answer, “Certainly not!” Few people would attempt such a thing. Why, then, did the Salahis do it? Are they really so unusual?

Much has been made of this couple being “ambitious social-climbers,” aspirants to a TV reality show, etc., by way of explaining their boldness in trying to crash a state affair. So far, the Mainstream Media seem incurious beyond these allegations. But ambitious or not, trying to enter a White House party, sans invitation, seems totally amazing to me. It makes no sense unless… unless the Salahis did have an invitation. My research hasn’t been exhaustive, but at this writing I have seen no suggestion that perhaps they had been invited verbally. If so, that would explain a lot.

Evidently, the Salahis had attended high-level events before, and were well known to Joe Biden and the Obamas. So it’s not a stretch to imagine a last-minute phone call from White House Social Director Desiree Rogers to the Salahis, perhaps saying that they had been added at the last minute, that their names would be on the guest-list, and that they would be waved through a particular entrance.

As it turned out, the Salahis were waved through, although perhaps not in the manner they had anticipated. Knowledgeable people say that every entrance to any White House affair is guarded by a member of the Social Director’s staff who knows exactly who has been invited and can recognize each person on sight. Only after an attendee passes that sharp-eyed scrutiny does the Secret Service make its security check to ensure that the guest carries no weapons or explosives, etc.

In the Salahis’ case, however, there seems not to have been any check by a member of Miss Rogers’ staff – no obvious check, at least. The question is: Why not? I have seen various explanations – most notably a cock-and-bull story that Miss Rogers was at this dinner as a guest, but was not working it in her role of Social Director. (Excuse me, but at that level, you’re always working.) Thus – the account goes – her staff must have slipped up by not seeing that the Salahis were not on the guest-list. In other words, this was just a simple staff error. Or maybe it was the Secret Service’s fault.

Indeed, the Service has been taking heat for admitting the Salahis, but it is not their job to know who the invited attendees are. Evidently they passed the Salahis through their physical security checkpoint in the expectation that Miss Rogers’ staff would check them against the official list. Or perhaps that check was made unobtrusively by a staff member who did not speak to the Salahis personally, but knew them.

If this were true, wouldn’t it be a simple matter for Miss Rogers to make a public statement, thereby ending the controversy? Some inquiring members of Congress have asked her to do exactly that before a congressional committee, but Miss Rogers has declined, citing executive privilege. A few words from her could clear the whole thing up, but she remains adamantly silent. Executive privilege? For a social director? EP typically applies to legal matters and privy consultations within the White House. Why would a social director claim it? Remarkable. (The dog did nothing in the nighttime…)

Equally curious is the Salahis’ refusal to appear before a congressional committee. They can’t invoke executive privilege, of course, but they have simply said, “No thanks.” Did you know you could say that to a congressional committee or subcommittee? I didn’t. In fact, I rather thought you could be held in contempt of Congress if you failed to appear when summoned.

In my lifetime, powerful mafiosi have feared to defy a congressional summons, yet the Salahis have blown off a congressional invitation and nothing seems to have happened to them. Why is that? The only plausible answer is that they have high-level juice, and someone has sent down the word that they should say nothing to Congress or the Media about what really happened. Notice how Congress has backed off from the whole thing, too? Curious, isn’t it?

Did you notice Michaele Salahi’s comment that their lives have been “ruined” by all the publicity? Yet I read that the Salahis will sell their story for hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Does that sound like ruin to you?) Wouldn’t plenteous publicity just make you a hotter property? Or is it possible that all the uproar about crashing the party is something that the Salahis never expected? That would certainly be true if they thought they really had an invitation.

We’ll probably never get the answers to these questions. Obviously, no one is talking. (Did the Salahis get a horse’s head in their bed as a warning not to spill the beans about the verbal invitation?)

But even if my theory – i.e., that the Salahis had a verbal invitation and were waved into the party, after which it was leaked that they had “crashed” – is true, what could be the purpose of this elaborate charade? Where is the value, and who benefits from it?

To attempt to answer this question, let’s look at the fallout from the incident. For two weeks, the media have been entirely captivated by reports about the “lady in the red dress” and her escort – showing clips of them strolling through the White House and photographs of them posing with the president and the vice-president, obviously on familiar terms. (Did you catch Joe Biden with his arm around the lissome Mrs. Salahi?) We’ve had puff-pieces on the Salahis and endless speculation on their ambitions. Their story has led the nightly news numerous times. We can’t get enough of it. The Salahis are more famous than the Indian dignitaries for which the state dinner was ostensibly held, of which I can’t name a single one. (Is this a great country, or what?)

Well, so what? Who cares if the media (including Fox News) has chased this quirky event? The public has an unlimited appetite for stories like this. Perhaps it adds color to the lives of the hoi polloi. Where’s the harm?

The harm, it seems to me, is that valuable broadcast-time and print-space have been wasted on an incident that might very well have been contrived by an administration that sees value in diverting the media from momentous events that are occurring in the country. As I write this, the United States Senate is debating a bill that will affect 1/6th of the nation’s economy and fundamentally change the way we receive medical care – indeed, how we conduct our lives.

Unless you’re a real news junkie who looks for stuff, how much have you seen or heard about that debate during the Salahi “diversion?” You probably know more about Mrs. Salahi’s dressmaker than you do about Harry Reid’s 2000-page monstrosity. OK – let's specify that Mrs. Salahi is a nice-looking babe, but how much do we really need to know about her or her husband? Do you know how the Reid bill to reform our nation’s health care will affect you and your family? That may not be sexy, but it will cost you big bucks – maybe even your life. Yet we’re obsessing over who crashed a White House party.

Since taking office, Mr. Obama and his people have learned something valuable about the media – i.e., that they can be manipulated by creation of events that appeal to their salacious and sensational instincts. Probably Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett already knew this, before coming to the White House. From my vantage point it looks like they are playing the media and the gullible American public like a violin – doing a pretty good job of it, too. Watch for the next breaking news…