It’s been another busy few days for the Obama administration, which the news media has faithfully cataloged.
The Politico broke the story that the president’s aides sang “Happy Birthday” to the assistant press secretary, Nick Shapiro, and surprised him with a chocolate cake!
The Wall Street Journal scooped the nugget that the White House Office of Management and Budget chief, Peter R. Orszag, likes Diet Coke!
The Washington Examiner reported that the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was spotted “getting money at the SunTrust Bank in the Safeway on the corner 17th St. and Corcoran St. NW.”
Are any of these items newsworthy? (It’s not as if the country is facing two wars and an economic crisis or anything.). Well, yes, they are — a lot of Web sites, bloggers and Twitterers have deemed these developments so. While there has always been a hearty appetite for stories — and trivia — about the people in a new administration, today’s White House press corps (competing for up-to-the-second news) has elevated the most banal doings to a coveted “get.”
“It started as sort of a joke to treat official Washington as a celebrity culture,” said Ana Marie Cox, who helped create the genre in starting the Web site Wonkette five years ago.
“Now it seems that a lot of the irony has been lost and the joke has turned real,” adds Ms. Cox, who now blogs and Twitters about the White House for Air America.
In the Obama era, even junior and largely anonymous White House aides have become minor sensations. To wit, Washington awoke Thursday morning to the news — courtesy of Mike Allen’s “Playbook” column in the Politico — that the deputy White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, “was in her pajamas” the night before when her fiancé made dinner for her and proposed marriage.
On Wednesday, Reggie Love, Mr. Obama’s personal aide, was declared the winner of The Huffington Post’s “Who’s the White House’s hottest employee?” contest (not to be confused with the “Hottest Obama” contest that ran on Gawker.com in January in which Mr. Emanuel triumphed). Mr. Love barely prevailed over the speechwriting phenom Jon Favreau — the buzz-cut, written-about-to-death Red Sox fan known around the White House as Favs.
Early in the Bush administration, reporters churned out stories about how, for instance, the top aide Karen Hughes was having difficulty adjusting to Washington; eight years earlier, top Clinton aides like George Stephanopoulos and James Carville also drew a great deal of attention.
But it was generally not remarked upon in real time if Mr. Stephanopoulos was, say, sporting a new tie or if Mr. Carville was seen dining at the Monocle on Capitol Hill (as Mr. Axelrod was on Thursday night, The New York Times has learned).
“There is certainly a volume to this now that we’ve never seen before,” said Anita Dunn, a top campaign aide to Mr. Obama, whose marriage to Mr. Obama’s personal counsel, Bob Bauer, was fodder for a story in The Washington Post on Tuesday about how the Obama era has produced a new generation of “power couples.” The couple was photographed for the article in their home, with Mr. Bauer holding one of the family cats (Kinsey) on his lap.
With so much pressure to break the next big story about Malia Obama’s dog allergies or Favs’s dating life, reporters who cover the Obama White House say the environment can be especially stressful.
“I feel physically pelted by minutiae,” said Julie Mason, a White House correspondent and blogger for The Washington Examiner.
But, yes, news consumers care about the minutiae, said Ms. Mason, a former White House reporter for The Houston Chronicle. “When I talk to normal people, they want to know what these people are really like away from the camera,” she said.
White House officials have an admittedly ambivalent relationship with their quasi-celebrity. Some acknowledge a tension between living up to the administration’s stated goal of being “transparent” and “open” while also following the Obama staff ethic of being understated, cool and modest.
“We have a culture here that abhors all of that,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the administration’s deputy communications director.
When told that The Times was working on an article about “all of that,” Mr. Pfeiffer suggested that it might “get bumped off the front page by a story about the first lady’s hair.” This could be construed as a knock against The Times for running a front-page article last week about how Mr. Obama’s hair is going gray.
I have mixed feelings b/c on the one hand shallow stuff is what we all love right? But on the other hand it's kind of weird when it's mainstream sources giving us the details on Jon Favreau's love life or Rahm Emanuel's eating habits. I'm just going to blame the Politico. That's what I do for everything wrong in this world.