Planned book promises to reveal the Salahis weren't White House gate-crashers, but were indeed invited
But investigative journalist Diane Dimond is working on a new book that she says will not only disprove that the socialites crashed President Obama's first state dinner, but will also reveal, among other details, why the White House chose not to clear their names.
"There's a whole sub-text to the story here that involves reality television and the way journalism is practiced today and the way that new administrations handle themselves with the Secret Service," Dimond said during a telephone interview Friday. "And I think it's got a lot of layers and texture to it. I've been a journalist a long time. And there's almost always a deeper story to be told that we the media don't get the time or we're not allowed to tell it."
Dimond met the Salahis when she was assigned to interview them for "Entertainment Tonight." Having covered the White House earlier in her career, Dimond said the story that the politically connected couple had crashed the state dinner for India's prime minster never sat right with her. So she started digging for information, calling Secret Service sources and other Washington insiders.
Complicating the matter was that the Salahis were under contract with Bravo for their reality show and could not speak publicly about the events surrounding Nov. 24, 2009, Dimond said. In fact, Bravo's camera crews had been following the couple that day, capturing Michaele Salahi as she got her hair done for the dinner and Tareq Salahi as he ordered his tuxedo, she said. The cameras even followed them to the White House doors as they arrived, Dimond said.
Although Bravo declined to comment for this report, Andy Cohen, the network's senior vice president of original programming, blogged on June 14 that production on the series had begun months before the White House incident, disproving the notion that the Salahis had used their new fame to leverage a show out of Bravo. Cohen's post also confirmed Dimond's version of the events -- that the cameras followed the Salahis as they prepared that day and arrived at the White House gate. Because production was not credentialed for the dinner, the crews could not go inside with the Salahis.
"The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C." premieres Aug. 5 at 9 p.m.
"I've seen a lot of documentation and I've talked to a lot of people, and I will tell you this: The moment dawn broke over Washington on Nov. 25, the day after the state dinner, this couple was being called 'the gatecrashers.' Cable TV was screaming it, newspaper gossip columnists were screaming it," Dimond said. "At 1:38 p.m., an e-mail went to the Salahis from a White House staffer saying, 'Oh golly, we hope you enjoyed yourself. Thank you for coming.' That's not an exact quote, but you get what I mean. That's not the type of e-mail you send to somebody who has trespassed or gate-crashed. There's a lot of evidence that disproves that they were gatecrashers."
Dimond said the couple received an "OTR" (off-the-record) invitation to the dinner, which meant they were on a guest list but did not receive a printed invitation. Dimond said her book will explore why the White House allowed the perception that the couple were not invited.
"Why did they let this couple swing in the wind? Dimond said. "And, may I add, this is a couple that had helped the [Democratic National Committee] for years and years and years. They have had numerous fundraisers at their winery outside Washington. I lived in Washington for numerous years, and this is not the way you play national politics. You don’t take benefactors and let them swing in the wind. But this administration did."
While the Salahis are cooperating exclusively with Dimond for the book she is now beginning to write, Dimond says she is writing it alone and not on their request.
"This is not going to be a Valentine to the Salahis," she said. "I find them charming people. I find them very genuine people but they do live in a different plain and a different stratosphere than the rest of us. I know they have their critics. I know they have a string of debts behind them, but I think even that is an interesting part of the story. There's a terrible family feud where the mother is suing the son and the father is sick with Alzheimer's. There's a very sad story behind this. So it's not going to be a Valentine to the Salahis but it is going to tell you this complicated tale of how these high-society people got so ensnared in this controversy."
Dimond's agent is shopping the book to publishers now.
"It was just a weird confluence of events and this couple got caught up in it and it was made much worse by a new incoming administration," Dimond said. "They're high-society people but they're not braggy type of people. This couple goes to Jordan and stays at King Abdullah's house and he plays polo with Prince Charles. This couple was not struggling to get into the stratosphere of Washington. They were already in the stratosphere of Washington."
-- Maria Elena Fernandez
Top photo: Michaele and Tareq Salahi attend the White House state dinner in November 2009. Credit: Bill O'Leary / Washington Post. Bottom photo: "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C." cast members, from left to right: Catherine Ommanney, Stacie Scott Turner, Mary Schmidt Amons, Lynda Erkiletian and Michaele Salahi. Credit: NBC Universal