UPDATE: Emails sent between Tareq and Michaele Salahi and Pentagon official Michelle S. Jones show that the couple was never granted approval to attend last week's White House state dinner, according to ABC News. Yet, interviewed on the Today Show Tuesday morning, the sober, soft-spoken Salahis --both in black, she wearing a cross -- told Matt Lauer: "We're devastated ... mischaracterized .... Our lives have been destroyed ... We were invited .... We're not crashers .... No one would do that ..."
When asked who invited them to the state dinner there was no answer. "We’re definitely going to work with the secret service .... We'll show documentation ..... In our view it's clear... we will be completely exonerated .... We're working on the secret service timetable."
The interview comes after news that the Salahis had contacted a senior Pentagon official for invitations to the state dinnner, and that on September 26 they were escorted out of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Awards, where President Obama appeared. ("This is the first time I heard we weren’t invited," said Mr. Salahi.)
The couple, along with Secret Service director Mark Sullivan and White House social secretary Desirée Rogers are said to be testifying at a congressional hearing.]
Much has been made lately about naming the decade bookended by 9/11 and financial collapse/continuing wars. “The Noughts,” “The Oughts,” “The Decade from Hell”? Whatever the label, it was a miserable period for many and deadly for far too many.
But entering the last month of the decade’s last year, I suggest that its symbol could very well be the attention-seeking couple who just crashed the party: The Salahis.
Think about the decade's issues they evoked -- corruption, terrorism, ineffective regulation, reality tv, greed, freebies, bankruptcy, hypocrisy, litigation, entitlement, red-carpet façade, narcissism, 15-minutes of fame for trying to be famous, and the media scrambling to enable. Read about their overblown lives, their overconsumption, their distorted values, and these folks represented it all in one vapid, potentially dangerous package on one festive night in our capital.
And at that glittering White House state dinner the couple fit right in amid other symbols of the decade -- from Katie Couric who jumped the shark to CBS and then jumped on the snark lady from Alaska to redeem herself; to Colin Powell who stood before the UN with false proof of WMD and then didn’t have the balls to leave when he was ashamed. The movers and shakers dressed themselves to the nines and tens -- many in comped designer clothes and borrowed baubles in that humongous tent on the White House lawn with the non-mitigating placebo of home-grown salad greens.
What has become so terribly wrong with our country?
Even the Salahi’s appearance represents the decade – she no doubt bleached and botoxed, pin thin, channeling every Fox anchor wannabe; he, horsey, a fashionably younger Brownie (“heckava job”) with the cheeky affect of a fat-cat trader gambling away others’ life savings at no personal risk.
Amid the flash of cameras these people reflect style over substance, lies over truth, appearance over reality. And this sewage of falsity has now seeped right up to this much- threatened president’s door. Yes, this oval office, where things do not quite seem to be what some of us thought they would.
The Salahis lied, they crashed, they sought to be famous, they duped and they stiffed the people who propped them up. And now these uber-capitalists, who inherited money and lost it, demand more fast money -- hundreds of thousands of dollars -- for an interview.
They’ll no doubt hire a show-off lawyer and a crackerjack PR firm (and stiff them, too) and they’ll skip prosecution, book the interview and hire a ghostwriter to shape a bestseller and grab the headlines some more—maybe she on “The Housewives of DC” on Bravo (all about ratings, you know). And as the years pass they may eventually still land D-list celeb game shows where the Kato Kalins of our world eventually land with a thud, watched by millions.
America the beautiful?
Before simply castigating the Salahis as weird attention seekers like the balloon-boy family, we really do need to draw back and look upon ourselves as individuals, and who we are as a nation. Yes, there’s a larger picture in this incident. So many of us admire what they admire and seek what they sought, and how did this happen?
How do people get away with this? And just a step further, how much more of this truthiness and sham and selfishness and ignorance and lobby-genuflecting hypocrisy can we stand from the people we vote for. Not just Boehner and Lieberman. Most of them.
Will the bawling Becks and nazifying Limbaughs implode from their lies, or will the armed numbskulls who follow them continue to rattle at the White House gates? What does it say when our most honest news coverage comes from Comedy Central? Can we ever get back to civilized debate, to reasoned compromise, to reality over “reality”? When will we demand it, and who is going to lead us out of this? Or is it already too late?
If the Salahis are the symbols of this decade we can only wonder who will become our symbols of the next.