The XX Factor

How Not To Cover the Desirée Rogers Story

I’ve rolled it over and over in my head, and I cannot avoid the conclusion that this New York Times article on White House social secretary Desirée Rogers is irresponsible at best and inexcusable pandering at worst. While I think that the whole party-crashers story is being blown way out of proportion, I’ll accept that there’s an argument for the obsessive coverage of it and for looking into Rogers’ potential liability for what happened. But I fail to see what her larger-than-life personality, strong self-esteem, and love of fashion has to do with this story. When taken in along with the shaming of Rogers for falling down on the job, this kind of coverage stinks of smacking down a black woman for the crime of being “uppity.”

Conservative pundits have a long tradition of looking for scalps to collect in Democratic administrations, and they far prefer to take the scalps of nonwhite, nonmale, or nonstraight folks above all others. Taking out a black female administration employee would be exactly the sort of thing that the pundits could use to drum up white male crowing in their base, even if she’s just a social secretary. In fact, one could argue that the scalp of a social secretary who works so closely with the First Lady might even be a bigger prize, as it would function as a symbolic strike at Michelle Obama, an object of fear and loathing for many on the right .

The media should not pander to racist, sexist right-wingers like this. If they must hammer this party-crashers story endlessly, they could at least do it without indulging narratives about how black women who live the high life are stepping out of their station. But of course, responsible coverage of this story would be missing the point for those beating this story to death. Even Howard Kurtz had to admit that the story reigns in the news because of the “gossipy aspects.” Unfortunately, if you start to cover news stories as if they were tabloid stories, then you will slip into indulging in all the racist, sexist pandering that we’re so used to seeing in the supermarket stands. Burying this story in the fashion pages of the Times doesn’t excuse the general slant of the story; it’s still a swipe at a black woman for behaving in a way we indulge when it’s wealthy white women.