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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 03:08 PM ET, 01/12/2012

How did the Tennessean scoop the White House press corps on the Johnny Depp Halloween party?

In her new book “The Obamas,” Jodi Kantor of the New York Times started a fight with the White House when she wrote of a big-time Halloween party in 2009:

White House officials were so nervous about how a splashy, Hollywoodesque party would look to jobless Americans — or their representatives in Congress, who would soon vote on health care — that the event was not discussed publicly ...

The “Hollywoodesque” element here came courtesy of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, whose film “Alice in Wonderland” was close to release. In the book, Kantor describes how Burton decorated the State Dining Room in the theme of the production. It was all fancy.

Kantor claimed that “Burton and Depp’s contributions went unacknowledged.”

In a campaign to discredit the book, the White House scoffs at the notion that anything about the event was either “not discussed publicly” or “unacknowledged.” It points out that reporters were invited, pictures were taken and stories were written. Even so, those stories mostly omitted mention of the headliners, Burton and Depp.

Except, that is, for the Tennessean.

This Gannett-owned Nashville daily preserves the distinction of beating the entire White House press corps to the party’s Hollywood connection. How did it pull off such a stunt?

Through its local ties: A woman in the paper’s coverage area, Angel Gwartney Noble of Thompson’s Station, Tenn., had a unique view of the White House festivities. She’s a performer, and her thing is to pose as a 10-foot-tall tree, complete with stilts and a costume heavy on real-looking foliage. Her persona goes by the name “DiVine.” (See video above of a tree act, though it’s not confirmed that this is Noble; it could be another tree impersonator.)

Noble formerly worked as a sales rep at the Tennessean and keeps in touch with people there. After she returned from her tree performance at the White House, word spread among Tennessean staff about the cool event, according to Mark Cook, general manager and editor of the paper’s Williamson County bureau.

Time to fire up a story. Tennessean reporter Jill Cecil Wiersma wrote the piece, which quotes Noble as saying, Obama “told me I was a very elegant tree and that he doesn’t know how I do what I do.” (A link to the story is now available.)

This being a short profile, the Tennessean didn’t quite tout the news that no one in the Beltway media had figured out — namely, that Depp and Burton were lurking in the White House that day. The presence of the stars didn’t get mentioned until the story’s penultimate paragraph:

Even though she was working, Noble got to enjoy some of the entertainment while she was at the White House. She just missed getting to see Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, who were there promoting Burton’s new film, Alice in Wonderland, but did get to take in a performance from magician Kevin James.

Did the Tennessean realize at the time how explosive was this information? “No,” says Cook. “Since she was the only person on the scene, she didn’t speak to whether any media was there, and I guess we just assume that there usually is media there. As I recall, there already was publicity about ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ so it didn’t really trip any news alarms.”

Not that it should have. You’d think that if the White House was throwing a party with such luminaries in attendance, it would have been common knowledge by then. Consider, too, that the Tennessean’s news-breaking human-interest story didn’t appear in print until Nov. 10, 2009, 11 days after the party. (JohnnyDeppnews.com did have an item earlier, though the details were sketchy.)

Another point for the suppression/conspiracy crowd is that Noble’s persona is something of a stealth act. “She had a great observation point at the White House,” says Cook. “Many of them didn’t even know she was a real person standing there.” Aha — a tree with eyes: Just what we need to monitor this White House!

By  |  03:08 PM ET, 01/12/2012

 
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