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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 03:38 PM ET, 01/11/2012

White House Halloween party coverage splits the middle

With the Colbert Report video above, the story of the 2009 White House Halloween party has completed its trip across the politico-media spectrum. The story emerged with the pre-publication disclosure of tidbits from “The Obamas,” a new book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor. The author wrote about the festivities, which included appearances by Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, not to mention an
Alice in Wonderland theme and drinks served in blood-vial look-alikes. Military families were invited to the shindig.

“White House officials were so nervous about how a splashy, Hollywood-esque 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 and Burton’s and Depp’s contributions went unacknowledged,” writes Kantor.

Conservative media loved the alchemy: Tough economic times, a lavish affair, topped with a scramble by Obama officials to keep things under wraps. Rush Limbaugh bit: “The White House went out of its way to cover this up, to keep this quiet.” A commentator on Fox News called the thing a “mini-coverup.”

The White House, practiced in shouting down emerging literary look-backs, protested, suggesting that the affair was a model of transparency. “If we wanted this event to be a secret, we probably wouldn’t have invited the press corps to cover it, release photos of it to Flickr, or post a video from it on the White House website,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

When the right wing froths about something like a Halloween party, and its opposition has a convincing comeback, you can bet that the 80-person staff of the Colbert Report is paying heed. They put together a laugh-inducing presentation, one whose satire rested on a wholesale purchase of White House rhetoric. In his sum-up of the affair, Colbert proclaimed:

If any Obama voters are still clinging to their support of this man, consider this: Your president used his Hollywood connections to throw a Halloween party for our troops’ kids and then told us about it.

Hahaha.

Some interesting facts came out of a piece of reporting on the Halloween party. WaPo’s Reliable Source noted that, indeed, the White House had a pool reporter at the event, yet mentions of the celebrities were scarce. The pool reporter, Richard Wolf of USA Today, insists he never saw the Hollywood stars at the event. Here’s how he recalls it, in a discussion with me:

We didn’t get to see State floor in the middle of the building. It looked like the area was set up for this Halloween party but we were only brought into the East Room, where there were 50 or so kids with some of their parents.

The Hollywood actors didn’t turn up in the White House visitor logs, according to Politico.

The evidence yields the possibility that the White House was fine with reporters taking note of the goings-on, with an accent on the celebration of military service. But not too eager to see the names of Hollywood stars attached to the festivities. Perhaps they saw how President Clinton got hammered with that mallet. Schultz says this about the celebrities: “We may not have alerted folks that Johnny Depp was coming, but we didn’t announce Chewbacca was coming either.”

Whatever the case, the story is not definitive in either direction. There’s no large-scale coverup here; nor is there a White House eager to share every last detail of the evening with the public. Just like real life, it’s complicated. The two Americas will come away with two impressions: Watchers of Limbaugh will convince themselves of a sinister suppression by the White House; watchers of Colbert will convince themselves of utter White House forthcomingness. The truth will stand in the middle, craving attention.

By  |  03:38 PM ET, 01/11/2012

 
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