Don’t get me wrong. Like all true Americans, I believe that White House party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, called before congressional investigating committees, fined, jailed, and “executed” by “guillotine”—all of which were suggested by just one morning TV talk-show host Monday.
Where we differ, however, is my belief that before their by-invitation-only beheadings, the Salahis should be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for exposing potentially fatal flaws in White House security, and perhaps saving the life of the president down the road.
Let’s acknowledge that Michaele and Tareq exposed potentially fatal flaws in White House security, and caused it to be revamped and fortified.
Admittedly, I am a crasher sympathizer. I’ve crashed myself, most recently at a wedding reception where I danced, drank Champagne, and had my photo taken with family members before being busted by the vigilant mother of the bride as I reached for a piece of cake.
I look upon crashing a State Dinner at the White House as a monumental feat, perhaps unparalleled in the annals of gate-crashing. Boy, I’ll bet there was some hooting and hollering in the Salahis’ limousine on their ride back to the suburbs after they pulled this one off.
I wonder at Super Bowl streakers, who against all odds somehow make it through security checkpoints and platoons of armed soldiers ringing the field. And I was in awe of a legendary crasher who used to steal invitations from the mailboxes of fellow employees at The New York Times so that he could attend the events himself. It went well for years, until he showed up at what he thought was a big event but was in fact a small dinner party for eight, hosted by Eudora Welty.
Washington is riled. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has called for an investigation into their criminal behavior. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) commented, “We can’t show this type of weakness to terrorists, to psychopaths.” (Better that it go unnoticed.)
The Salahis are being called “wackos” and “calculating criminals,” but perhaps the lowest blow was the charge that, like Balloon Boy before them, they’re lowering the standards of reality shows! The couple performed this stunt in an attempt to land a spot on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of D.C. (If they’d crashed the White House for PBS’ Nova, they’d probably be fine.) They’ve been called “rude” and “offensive,” which bodes well for their chances with that reality show.
Perhaps they’ve violated the law, perhaps not, but they’ve definitely violated notions of D.C. etiquette, which hold that no one without a lot of money or influence or at least fame—people with whom the president is trying to curry (no offense to the honored guest, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) favor—is ever to be invited to dinner at the White House for any reason. Such outsiders, even those who have passed through magnetometers, are apparently considered too risky to be invited to dinner at the White House. It has been noted that someone could stab someone else with a fork. One hopes the House Homeland Security Committee will, after conducting its investigation, recommend plastic “sporks” be used at state dinners. The Salahis didn’t even contribute to the president’s campaign. The audacity!
Yet, in mitigation, I would point out that the Salahis didn’t stay for dinner at taxpayers’ expense. And that, judging by the photos, a smiling President Obama seems very happy to see Michaele, and the vice president looks very, very happy indeed that the striking blonde was able to attend. It’s been suggested that perhaps it was due to her beauty that she and Tareq were just waved in. To which my son, Willie, commented, “But this is the Secret Service—it should be held to a higher standard than a bouncer at a club in New York City.”
There are some things for which the Salahis cannot be forgiven: e.g. canceling their appearance on Larry King Live. But before heads roll, let’s acknowledge that Michaele and Tareq exposed potentially fatal flaws in White House security, and caused it to be revamped and fortified.
If they’d pulled this off as investigative reporters for, say, The Washington Post, they’d be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Emmy Award-winning journalist Bill Geist has been a correspondent for CBS News' Sunday Morning for two decades.