“Could this White House, plagued by slow hiring and lacking an on-site first lady, manage to pull off the largest, most elaborate and most heavily scrutinized public event of the year?”
This is the central question of a lengthy news story printed in the New York Times this week. What, you might ask, is the “largest, most elaborate, and most heavily scrutinized public event of the year?”
The newspaper claims, not as attributed assertion but straight-up fact, that it’s the White House Easter Egg Roll. This is preposterous. It’s laughable. It is a fact that belongs aflame in a paper bag on Old Man Clemens’ porch.
I have lived in the Washington area for more than a decade now, and my job is to scrutinize the goings-on of the White House and Congress. I could tell you what the Egg Roll is mostly by context clues and the slideshows of celebrities who show up with their kids every year. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about it, and the extent of my scrutiny has been to determine that, yes, Reese Witherspoon looked flawless in a color I can’t wear that one time she came, and I was jelly.
This story is a symptom of something I’ve taken to calling the media’s Eleventy Syndrome. In the era of Trump, legacy media is increasingly incapable of determining whether something is a 3 on a scale from 1-10 or an 11. In the absence of a properly functioning gauge, the needle is topping out at 11 on every story, such that news consumers have trouble distinguishing what’s important from what is not.* It’s a phenomenon driven by social media, and has found its perfect complement in a press corps floundering somewhere between unprepared and panicked by a Donald Trump win.
In this case, an Easter Egg Roll can’t simply be a peek into the Trump administration’s way of doing things, or even a small signal of the relative competence of this unorthodox administration. The first would be useful. The second I’d consider in a Van-Halen-Brown-M&Ms-rider kind of way. The Van Halen metric requires conceding that the Easter Egg Roll is a rather inconsequential thing, but an indicator of competence on larger fronts. But the New York Times suggests the opposite. This is the “largest, most elaborate, most scrutinized” public front.
The planning of the Easter Egg Roll has to be a dark and urgent impending disaster for an administration in dangerously over its head. For that to be the case, the Easter Egg Roll must be elevated ludicrously.
And who thinks the Easter Egg Roll is the most important event in Washington? Why, the person who planned it for eight years for the Clintons, of course!
“It’s the single most high-profile event that takes place at the White House each year, and the White House and the first lady are judged on how well they put it on,” said Melinda Bates, who organized eight years of Easter Egg Rolls as director of the White House Visitors Office under President Bill Clinton. “I’m really concerned for the Trump people, because they have failed to fill some really vital posts, and this thing is all hands on deck.”
I’m open to the idea that the Trump administration’s lack of quick staffing can take a toll on a ceremonial public event, but I’m not open to the idea that this is the most important event.
Here are the stakes:
There may be fewer guests at the Easter Egg Roll this year—an event that drew 37,000 last year.
There are already fewer than half the number of fancy wooden eggs—40,000 instead of 80,000—because the Trump administration ordered them later than usual from the Maine artisan who makes them.
We learn that “even Curious George and Elmo did not know for sure that the Easter Egg Roll was happening until late last month,” which is problematic because George had already scheduled his annual physical and a boys’ weekend, I guess.
The coordinating yogi for the “Yoga Garden,” a tradition of the Obama years, has not been contacted.
And, get this: Justin Bieber will not be there.
That is actually listed as evidence of this event’s potential failure. Attendees will have to make do with the United States Marine Band, instead.
The reporter allows this is “perhaps not as consequential as investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election.” Perhaps! It seems like one of those things that could get lost in a busy transition. Maybe like the memo not to give the Prime Minister of our greatest ally a gift pack of DVDs that can’t be played in his country. Details like that can fall through the cracks.
Another pressing issue, for which the Gray Lady has been unable to get clarification: “It is unclear, for instance, whether Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, will reprise his appearance in a bunny suit for the event, as he did a decade ago when George W. Bush was president and Mr. Spicer was an aide in the Office of the United States Trade Representative.”
In the absence of regular briefings on this marquee event, which the national press apparently needs and the American public deserves, the paper found—wait for it—anonymous sources to talk down the White House Easter Egg Roll. I’m not kidding.
The Times estimates 20,000 will attend, a figure provided “on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the plans for the Easter Egg Roll, which are still evolving just a week before the event.”
What are we doing here, people? Is this meant to be a cheeky, knowing nod to hysterical press coverage of the Trump administration? If so, I’d be glad someone at the Times showed such self-awareness. But go full Clickhole and put it on the op-ed page. If not, it’s hard to imagine a better way to make readers think you’re full of it when you scrutinize Trump for something that actually is consequential.
“You don’t understand what a beast this thing is to plan until you go and plan your first one,” said Ellie Schafer, who organized Easter Egg Rolls for the Obamas as the director of the White House Visitors Office from 2009 to 2016. “Every administration tries to put its own stamp on it, but the stakes are high because it’s such a Washington tradition, and people just love it and have very strong feelings about it.”
Uh huh. Despite the fact people whose job it was to organize this event thinks it’s a really important event, there are very few people who have very strong feelings about this, and almost none of them are outside the Beltway.
Get invitations out to local school children and military families, the part of the event that actually matters. Roll some eggs, and be done with it. Do we really think that, among the things the Trumps will be bad at, throwing a half-decent party on the lawn of a mansion is one of them?
Maybe so. Maybe a president will be vanquished by the surprising ferocity of a bunny that came out of nowhere. It wouldn’t be the first time.
In the meantime, the very least the Times could have done is give me a proper “White House Scrambles Not To Break White House Easter Egg Roll Tradition” header on this tour de silly of a story. Talk about failing.
*I’m not claiming credit for this construction, as it’s an amalgamation of the 1-10 scale with a sprinkling of Nigel Tufnel wisdom, and I believe Ben Shapiro has used it in the past, too, but it’s useful.