By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Aspiring made-for-TV celebrities Michaele and Tareq Salahi premiered their own reality series, "The Publicity Hunters," with a live appearance Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, where they explained to America's Sweetheart Matt Lauer that the brouhaha since they penetrated a White House state dinner has been the "most devastating thing that's ever happened to us."
"We are greatly saddened by all the circumstances that have been involved and portraying my wife and I as party crashers," continued Tareq who, like his wife, was dressed for a funeral in a somber suit and Sad Face.
The foul scent of filthy lucre hung in the air. Matt immediately wanted to know: "Are you appearing here today in any way because of any financial deal that you have made with this network? Are we paying you for this appearance in any way?" (We can't help wondering whether this question might not have been better put to his bosses.)
Michaele informed Matt that he had not paid them for the interview, which we're sure was a load off his mind.
The question was no doubt in response to reports that the Salahis canceled on CNN's "Larry King Live," which had booked them first, in order to seek the highest bidder for the interview. The Salahis' wrangler would not tell CNN why King had been jilted, so the dumping of Larry in favor of Matt must remain forever a mystery. Except, oh wait, Michaele is the leading candidate to become Supreme Diva on the Bravo network's upcoming "Real Housewives of D.C." And Bravo, like NBC, is owned by NBC Universal. Strangely, Matt forgot to disclose the connection. But NBC News corrected that oversight later Tuesday in a statement: "Bravo had nothing to do with this booking, they were not involved at all. That the Salahis chose to go on the number-one-rated morning show should not come as a surprise."
Denial of goof-up and big fat plug in one statement -- well played, NBC News!
Bravo, meanwhile, was issuing its own statement, denying a Gawker report that the Salahis were forced to give their first interview to NBC because of the terms of their contract with Bravo. Tuesday was a busy day for The Publicists of the Networks of NBC.
Even if their Bravo contract did not stipulate that the Salahis are exclusive to NBC's networks, Bravo has not yet decided whether Michaele will make the "Real Housewives" cut. So we're left wondering -- and we're sure you are, too -- whether that connection wasn't making its way around Michaele's dazzlingly blond head as she was deciding to shaft Larry for Matt.
But instead of dancing the happy dance over the millions of dollars in free publicity that last week's alleged security breach and the "Today" interview have lobbed in the direction of the new "Real Housewives" spinoff, Bravo suits have been undergoing paroxysms of grief.
On the one hand, here they are, sitting on a ratings mother lode. On the other hand, Bravo is owned by NBC Universal which, at press time, is still owned by General Electric, which does not necessarily want to embarrass the White House, the Secret Service or, for that matter, any division of the federal government with which it does business -- particularly for the sake of a little reality series about Ladies Who Lunch in Washington.
Let's get back to Matt "Kill 'Em With Kindness" Lauer, lobbing softball questions at Michaele and Tareq (which, turns out, was just the warmup act for the "Nightly News" revelation of e-mail exchanges the Salahis gave NBC that apparently show the Pentagon official, yes, tried to get them into the White House, but never actually landed them that invitation they told Matt they'd secured.
Lauer, one of infotainment TV's greatest dramatists, sets the scene:
"So, the state dinner is over, you've gone there, you've had your photos taken, you've shaken hands with the president. And now you wake up on Thursday morning to headlines that say 'White House Party Crashers.' What was your reaction when you saw the headlines?"
Michaele is ready for her close-up:
"It's been really unbearable to go through," she wailed from the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, where she had arrived nearly two hours earlier so people could put on her perfect makeup and dress her spectacular hair.
"Our lives have been destroyed," she added blondly.
"Everything we worked for, Matt -- for me 44 years just destroyed," concluded Michaele, whose career apparently started at birth.
At this point, Matt threw off his America's Sweetheart tiara and got down to business:
"Were you or were you not invited to attend that state dinner? How do you answer that?" he demanded to know.
"Well, we were invited, not crashers and there isn't anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that. The White House is the House and no one would do that," Michaele huffed.
Then Matt reached into his back pocket and pulled out a report of yet another clambake the Salahis allegedly crashed, the Congressional Black Caucus dinner in late September.
"Reports are, you were uninvited to that and were escorted out. . . . Were you invited?" Matt goaded.
"This is the first time I've ever heard another false accusation against my wife and I, saying that we weren't invited there," Tareq replied. "We were invited there by the Gardner Law Group," he said, adding, "That's another gossip rumor."
FYI, the Gardner Law Group of Baltimore is the practice of Paul Gardner, who has been representing the couple since the Great White House Dinner Caper. But Lance Jones, a spokesman for the Black Caucus foundation, told The Post's Amy Argetsinger on Tuesday that he had no record of Gardner Law Group or Paul Gardner purchasing a table or tickets -- which doesn't rule out the possibility that another table-buyer gave Gardner tickets to distribute. However, Jones said that when he and two security guards approached the Salahis after a corporate sponsor complained that strangers were at their table, the Salahis didn't say anything about being invited guests -- they just picked up and left.