Washington is a well-oiled machine. A town that follows a pattern and runs like clockwork. The president is elected every four years in November. Congress begins a new session in January. The White House Correspondents’ dinner is held every spring.
And just as everyone in D.C. knows when to expect those events, everyone knows that as of Thursday, Aug. 1, we enter the dog days of summer — as if with the turning of a calendar page, news suddenly slows.
But does it really? It is true that Congress is out. There are no hearings. And even the president can be expected to leave town for a while. But just because there isn’t much news, doesn’t mean there is no news.
According to longtime CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who keeps extensive notes on presidential happenings, many newsworthy events have popped up in August, including several important events in every presidency.
And even though the news media have dutifully covered these events, they are also the ones maintaining the dog days myth.
When August news does happen, it is often handled differently, Knoller observed. With fewer events to cover, what does take place during the dog days is magnified. And the way the president handles his duties while on vacation becomes of increasing interest to the press.
“As soon as something happens it is, ‘Was the president told about this? What time was he awakened?’ ” Knoller said.
World history never stands still, of course. On Aug. 14, 1945, President Harry Truman announced victory over Japan in World War II, so we get V-J day as a mid-August marker. And this year marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, proof that hundreds of thousands of people made news and witnessed civil rights history during these dog days.
In recent years, the slow weeks of late summer have featured plenty of political news, Washington-related pop culture and even a few events that demand a presidential response. A look at Augusts past proves that while everyone might try to head to the beach, news can often interrupt.
Aug. 2, 2011: The country avoided a debt-ceiling crisis when, after an Aug. 1 vote in the House, the Senate passed the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Aug. 4, 1999: The comedy “Dick,” starring a young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams, told Washington the “real” story behind who broke the Watergate scandal.
Aug. 5, 2010: The “Real Housewives of D.C.” premiered on Bravo, a show that brought fame to several D.C. residents, such as the infamous White House gatecrashers, Virginia socialites Tareq and Michaele Salahi.
Aug. 6, 2001: While at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., President George W. Bush was briefed on a memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” just over a month before September 11.
Aug. 6, 2009:Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court, won Senate confirmation to her post. }
Aug. 7, 1990: Five days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush ordered Desert Shield.
Aug. 8, 1974: Richard Nixon gave his public resignation from office in a televised speech, becoming the first president in U.S. history to resign.
Aug. 17, 1998: President Bill Clinton admitted to the nation that he had a relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky that was “not appropriate.”
Aug. 22, 1978: Congress approved the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, which would have given District residents voting representation in the House and the Senate. (That didn’t quite work out, of course, since the proposed constitutional amendment wasn’t ratified by the necessary number of states.)
Aug. 29, 2005: Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, bringing President George W. Bush back to Washington from Crawford.
Aug. 31, 2010: President Obama announced an end to the combat mission in Iraq with a speech from the Oval Office.