ABC's Bill Weir Is Smitten by 'Fashionable,' 'Vivacious,' 'Telegenic' Desiree Rogers
Published: 4/12/2011 3:53 PM ET
Nightline co-anchor Bill Weir on Monday couldn't help but fawn over former Obama White House social Secretary Desiree Rogers, lauding her as a "fashionable, vivacious, interesting, telegenic person in a town with not a lot of that, frankly."
The journalist failed to offer much in the way of tough questions. Regarding the 2009 fiasco of having Michaele and Tareq Salahi crash a state dinner with the President, Weir gently wondered, "...What are your thoughts now that that night won't be remembered for [being a success]?"
Instead, he hyped, "But in those heady days of Obama mania, how could anyone ignore the well heeled woman in charge of the guest list? The one who fit right in with Anna Wintour, Kanye West at fashion week, the one who beat the First Lady into the pages of Vogue?"
Weir did note that the Secret Service ultimately took responsibility for the security breach. But he didn't ask the obvious question, does Rogers believe agents took the blame for her mistake?
The reporter did find time for silly questions, such as querying, "Is it true you are an ancestor of a Creole voodoo princess?
A smitten Weir deemed Rogers an "exception" to the saying that Washington is a town full of ugly people.
A transcript of the April 11 segment, which aired at 11:45pm EDT, follows:
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Well, one place the White House does not want to make headlines is the tabloid press. And so when the story emerged in November 2009 that a couple from the reality show The Real Housewives of D.C. had crashed a state dinner, damage control ensued. In the process, social secretary Desiree Rogers resigned. Tonight, my co-anchor Bill Weir gets her side of the story in the Nightline Interview.- Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.
BILL WEIR: It has been said that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.
ANNOUNCER: Desiree Rogers.
WEIR: But when she arrived, Desiree Rogers was an obvious exception.
DESIREE ROGERS: I'm not certain what the fascination was with me in particular. And I don't think-
WEIR: Well, you're fashionable, vivacious, interesting, telegenic person in a town with not a lot of that, frankly.
RODGERS: Maybe that's the-
WEIR: Don't you think?
ROGERS: But I think, you know, I think that, you know, we could have managed all of that better. I probably would have tried to - I would have declined more, you know, interviews that were brought to me, I think.
WEIR: But in those heady days of Obama mania, how could anyone ignore the well heeled woman in charge of the guest list? The one who fit right in with Anna Wintour, Kanye West at fashion week, the one who beat the First Lady into the pages of Vogue? But Desiree Rogers was no stranger to society page attention. She had long been part of the power elite from hometown Chicago to native New Orleans. Is it true you are an ancestor of a Creole voodoo princess?
ROGERS: Oh, I'll put a spell on you. Yes, it is true.
WEIR: After earning a Harvard MBA, she spent a dozen years married to one of Chicago's most well connected financiers while holding a number of high level jobs. In each one, she says, she was forced to prove that she was more than just a pretty smile in couture.
ROGERS: There is something about a woman that, you know, may look a certain way. I mean I don't think I'm all that gorgeous. I'm okay. I think that dresses a certain way, and, you know, what else is there? And so the tendency is to put that person into a box. They must be in the fashion industry or the cosmetics industry, you know, soft skills, party planning.
WEIR: What did you want to be when you grew up?
ROGERS: In charge.
WEIR: And she was very much in charge when she raised big campaign dollars as a favor to friends, the Obamas. But once in D.C., her friends were now in charge of everything. She was admittedly clueless about place settings and protocol and was at the mercy of a staff that had just spent eight years in loyal service to George W Bush.
ROGERS: You didn't even know what to ask, really. You didn't even know, like, oh, I should be asking where this is or where that is. There was no playbook. Everyone was new. Everyone was kind of coming into their own. There wasn't, in many respects, you know, kind of a grande dame that said this is kind of the way it is done.
WEIR: Rogers threw more than 300 events in her 14 months at the White House. But when she walked into the state dinner for the Indian prime minister-
ROGERS (at dinner): We are very excited. Everything's all set.
WEIR: She had no idea all that work would be overshadowed by two uninvited stars.
ANNOUNCER: Mr and Mrs Salahi.
WEIR: Of The Real Housewives of D.C. as they mingled with guests, she was shadowing the President and First Lady.
ROGERS: I was with them all of the evening and, you know, we had a brilliant program. I don't care what anyone says.
WEIR: That all said, what are your thoughts now that that night won't be remembered for any of that? It's gonna be remembered for the Salahis walking down that receiving line.
ROGERS: I think a less mature person might be resentful. For me, the important thing was did we get the job done? I believe that we accomplished that.
WEIR: The Secret Service ultimately apologized for the breach, while the White House prohibited Rogers from testifying at a congressional hearing.
ROGERS: I think I feel the worst for, really, the agents that, you know, have to work there every day doing their jobs and then to have these two think like this is a game.
ROGERS: It's really not.
WEIR: But the controversy turned her into a distraction and strained her longtime friendship with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. How has your departure decided?
ROGERS: Jointly, jointly. I mean, I had talked to Valerie Jarrett earlier about, you know, how long would I really be there. I was never sure that I wanted to be there for, you know, four years. I'm a business person at heart.
WEIR: How would you characterize your relationship with Valerie Jarrett after all of that?
ROGERS: I think, you know, there has been strain. But certainly, I just saw her recently here at an event here in Chicago. This is work. You have to separate that from your own, you know, personal, you know, whatevers.
WEIR: But the one friend who was always there, Chicago publishing heiress Linda Johnson Rice. Throughout the ordeal, they talked every day.
ROGERS: Every morning.
LINDA JOHNSON RICE: Absolutely. Just come one, just get up, we can do this. We can do this, every day. And then some days, you're a little wobbly and you're like, just get up, come on, get on those high heels. We can do this. We got to just keep going forward.
WEIR: And now they are much more than just friends.
DESIREE ROGERS [B-Roll footage]: So ad sales deadline is what?
WEIR: Johnson has put Rogers in charge of the company her father founded with $500 and a dream to empower black Americans. Along with reinventing "Ebony" and "Jet" magazines, she will oversee a cosmetics and fashion line.
ROGERS: I thought to myself, you know, I'd be a fool not to try to bring her into this fold because it seems to me that she's the perfect person for this job. I feel like for the first time, I'm in a position that allows me to really use all of my assets.
WEIR: And in a deliberate show that there are no hard feelings, she's helping plan Rahm Emmanuel's mayoral inauguration. And on her first cover of Ebony, President Obama. But even with distance and a new role, Desiree Rogers still resists the labels they tried to give her in Washington. Was it a bad mix from the beginning, they write, or was she simply too headstrong and flashy to be a team player in that arena?
WEIR: Do either of those ring true?
ROGERS: I think everyone has their own opinion. You know, I don't-
WEIR: What's your opinion?
ROGERS: I don't consider myself flashy at all. I mean I don't think I'm flashy. I mean I don't have glitter dresses on every day and cleavage and, you know, silver shoes. I mean, did I dress like, you know, the average Washingtonian? No.
WEIR: What about the headstrong part?
ROGERS: I am headstrong, but not - I don't think I'm headstrong to a, you know, around something. I don't do ordinary work. That is not, that is not me in the least.
MCFADDEN: Bill Weir with our exclusive.