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THE MIGHTY QUINN: Embattled White House Social Secretary Desirée Rogers has lost the support of Washington’s premier social chronicler and arbiter, Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn.
On Tuesday, Quinn, an author and journalist and wife of retired Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, called for Rogers’ ouster following the revelation of a third uninvited guest at the Obamas’ first White House State Dinner for India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Nov. 24. Rogers has survived intense scrutiny and criticism for the past several weeks since the first couple to be identified as party crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, grabbed the headlines. The incident was quickly characterized as a security breach and became the subject of at least one House committee hearing, at which the White House refused to let Rogers testify.
In her column Tuesday, Quinn, a leading hostess in Washington society in her own right, broke her silence on Rogers’ handling of the A-list guest list and protocol. “From the start, Rogers was an unlikely choice for social secretary,” she wrote. “She was not of Washington, considered by many too high-powered for the job and more interested in being a public figure (and thus upstaging the First Lady) than in doing the gritty, behind-the scenes work inherent in that position. That Rogers stayed and that the White House refused to allow her to testify before Congress reflected badly on the President. He, not a member of his staff, ended up looking incompetent. Although it has emerged that a State Department protocol error is to blame for the presence of a third uninvited guest, both Rogers and [Mark] Sullivan [director of the Secret Service] should step down.”
It’s hard to say how Quinn’s rebuke will play and whether Rogers, the first African-American social secretary, former Chicago business executive and socialite who has known the Obamas for more than a decade, will escape unscathed. The First Lady’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Rogers, who pledged to make the elite world of Washington and the White House accessible to ordinary citizens through lotteries for the public, while at the same time planning glamorous, exclusive events for the First Couple, still has her share of defenders.
Asked whether she should step down, Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian at the National First Ladies’ Library in Canton, Ohio, said: “Not at all. I’ve been watching very carefully what she has been doing, and she has been creating a tremendous amount of innovation through an effort to somehow make what goes on at the White House more accessible to people who could never afford to come and stay in a hotel, but who are just as worthy and qualified to be invited.”
But Quinn’s column isn’t the only recent broadside against the White House East Wing from the Post. There have been two other critical Post pieces on the First Lady and her office, penned by Washington Post staff writer and fashion critic Robin Givhan, in the past month, as the paper steps up its critical coverage of the Obamas after barely a year in office. Post officials declined comment as to whether there would be more. — Kristi Ellis