White House Crashing 101

Posted Dec. 03, 2009, at 5:54 p.m.

A couple of apparent publicity hounds have given any terrorists looking for new prey and any copycats in this publicity-mad era a free lesson in how to crash a state dinner. So far, they have left President Barack Obama angry, Vice President Joe Biden and other officials looking ridiculous, and the Secret Service embarrassed and scrambling for an explanation.

The only winners in this sorry story that seems to go on and on are Tareq and Michaele Salahi. They describe themselves as victims “destroyed” by false reports of their cavorting. But they are still riding high, followed by a horde of paparazzi, courted by a reality show, feted on television, the tabloids and social networks such as Facebook and the segment of the public that seems obsessed with such antics.

The rest of us are the losers and will continue to be until the Secret Service pulls itself together and tells us what went wrong and how it is fixing it. Just how that will happen is not clear. One possibility would be finding proof the Salahis committed a felony by lying to federal officials to gain entry to the White House.

In a similar incident 71 years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt delivered a public reprimand after a young boy and girl had walked into the White House on New Year’s Eve and asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife for their autographs. The president took the matter in stride and left it to his security staff to hurry them out. Henry Morgenthau III, whose father was secretary of the treasury at the time, recalled it Tuesday in a New York Times article. Mrs. Roosevelt, in her daily newspaper column, described her annoyance at the “rather unfortunate incident which a thoughtless boy and girl brought about by their intrusion.” She wrote that they had been “rude and unmannerly” and commented that, while “behavior of this kind will make this young couple seem rather heroic” to some of their peers, for her part, she “would not wish to have in my employ any young people with so little thought and consideration for others.”

Sadly, little has changed since then as the American public has yet to take this affront to law and order seriously. The biggest fault may not lie with the Salahis, but with the federal employees who let them into the White House. Fixing this security hole, at a time when terrorists try to exploit any security gap, is the most pressing.

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