Or read the transcript below:
(Transcription by J. C. Hendershot)
Interview with Diane Dimond by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, Tuesday, October 19, 2010
ROGER ARONOFF: Our guest today is veteran journalist Diane Dimond, author of the new book Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Good morning, Diane. We’re glad to have you here on Take AIM.
DIANE DIMOND: Good morning, Roger. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it, and I appreciate the work your group does.
ARONOFF: Thank you so much. I want to tell our listeners, first, a little bit more about you. Diane Dimond has had a truly wide-ranging career as a journalist, from being an anchor on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered to a White House and Congressional correspondent for RKO Radio Network. She was a reporter for the CBS flagship station in New York, and is probably best-known nationally for her hard-hitting reporting for syndicated shows like Hard Copy and Entertainment Tonight. She has a previous book called Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case, and she was the first to report on the molestation charges against him. She was first to report, also, on the alleged rape at the Kennedy compound in Florida, and is known for a number of famous jailhouse interviews, such as Pamela Smart. You can learn more about her at her website, dianedimond.net. So, Diane, I’m looking forward to discussing the topic of the Salahis, the so-called “White House Gatecrashers.” I wrote about this shortly after the story broke, and again after the hearings by the House Homeland Security Committee —and I’m with you in believing this is an important and timely story. It’s about the media, the White House, the celebrity culture, and the so-called “spin cycle.” The media were quick to label this couple as “White House gatecrashers.” But it was awfully hard to imagine, at the time, that somehow the Secret Service would just wave these people in if they weren’t on the list. So why don’t we start first with some background into the Salahis.
ARONOFF: Who are they? Give us a profile of each of them, and how they came together.
DIMOND: Actually, that’s how I started the book, because I thought it was so important to try and get a grasp of who these people were. The media, for ten—almost eleven—months now, has told us all about how they owe money to people, and how she might, or might not, be anorexic, and all—but I wondered, Who are they? So I went way back, talked to relatives, looked at baby pictures. Michaele Salahi—her maiden name was Holt—was raised in a very Irish Catholic family—four children, mother stayed home, Dad was a graphic designer artist—and had a very traditional upbringing. She went to Catholic school. Religious—she’s a religious woman. Tareq Salahi, on the other hand, grew up as sort of a wild boy out in the country—family has a winery out in Virginia. The chapter about him sort of breaks your heart, for this little eight-, nine-, ten-year-old boy who’s left alone for long stretches of time—two, three, four weeks at a time—while his parents travel or go work in other locations. He really sort of scavenged for himself, eating SpaghettiOs and frozen pizza. There was a very telling portion of the book where he comes home one day and finds that the house has been burglarized and his prized dog, his Doberman Pinscher, has been shot in the head and killed. There’s this visage of this nine-, ten-year-old boy having to bury his own dog, by himself. So that’s Tareq Salahi, and it goes to explain, I think, a lot of his behaviors today, which I think are pretty destructive, very grabby, very conniving, very survivalist—it comes from his childhood.
ARONOFF: Mm-hmm. And what about Michaele?
DIMOND: Michaele is, by her mother’s own description, a “Me, too!” kind of kid. She always was “Me, too!” Whatever her older brother wanted to do, “Me, too! Me, too!” She’s a go-along pleaser, a co-dependent sort of personality. Having said all those negative things, I must say, after spending a lot of time with them in Virginia, this is a very close couple. They finish each other’s sentences. I describe them in the book, Roger, as being sort of the modern day Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island. They just sort of live in this different realm. They go to parties and they namedrop. Everything’s very social. They’re a very devoted-to-each-other couple—sometimes in not a very healthy way.
ARONOFF: Right. So how did they come together and form this union? How did that come about?
DIMOND: They met in a bar, at a party.
ARONOFF: I see. Okay.
DIMOND: They’re party people!
DIMOND: They’re Thurston Howell III, you know?
DIMOND: They did. They met at the Café Milano in Georgetown. She was actually long-time engaged to another fellow—for seven or eight years—and this other fellow just couldn’t pull the trigger. She meets Tareq and falls in love. He sweeps her off her feet, takes her to Paris, France, for dinner one night—just for dinner! What girl could resist that kind of a Prince Charming?
ARONOFF: Right . . .
DIMOND: And, by the way, Tareq Salahi also played polo with the Prince—Prince Charles. So that was another sort of added bonus that put sparkles in Michaele’s eyes.
ARONOFF: Yes, they’re well-connected. You also had a thing about how, for a couple of years in between those two relationships, she was in a rather passionate relationship with one of the members of the band Journey.
DIMOND: Yes—Neal Schon.
DIMOND: Yes, which is sort of an anomaly in her life, because, again, she’s sort of this big Catholic, proper girl—but she did have this illicit affair with Neal Schon. I believe, for part of the time, he might have been married, but I couldn’t really nail that down. I’ve seen correspondence, I’ve seen photographs, I’ve seen evidence that this was a very passionate long-term relationship. However, she had a secret, and the secret was that she has multiple sclerosis. So when it came down to choosing—Do I want to continue to be on the road and travel around with Neal Schon and be the mama groupie, with that grueling schedule, or Do I want to calm down, settle down, live in a nice, peaceful vineyard in Virginia, and have a man who dotes on me?—she picked the Virginia winery guy.
ARONOFF: Mm-hmm. Yeah, you bring up the MS. I was going to come back to that at a later point, but since you brought it up now . . . watching—we’ll jump around here a little bit—The Real Housewives of D. C. last week, they all seemed to really not believe her when she says that. You’re the one who’s looked into this, and had the cooperation of them—is there any doubt in your mind that she has that disease?
DIMOND: No. None at all.
ARONOFF: I see.
DIMOND: I’m not a person that watches those reality TV shows, but I have watched this one—for the purposes of the book. The callousness and the cattiness and the hatred that comes off those other cast members for her because of this multiple sclerosis revelation is just—Roger, it’s stunning to me. It makes my jaw drop that people could be so cruel. Let me tell you: I specifically, I begged her long-term doctor to let me use his name in the book. I had several discussions with him. He finally just said, “Look: I see what has happened to Michaele’s life, and I don’t want the media bombarding my patients in the lobby. So you can quote me, you can do whatever, but don’t use my name.” I used the nurse’s name; I interviewed her mother, Michaele’s mother; I interviewed her brother, her older, very protective brother Howard; her best friend, Susan Dove. I have so many sources to the fact that this woman has multiple sclerosis that I’m stunned people don’t believe it.
ARONOFF: I think that those other housewives came to so detest them before that revelation came forth that then they just sort of put it in the mold with everything else they already felt about them—but I agree with you, they were stunningly callous and hateful toward her in regard to that. You would have thought that they might have just put that one aside, said “Okay, I’m sympathetic here”—you know, taken that one at face value.
ARONOFF: A couple of other things about Tareq that I hadn’t heard before when I was reading your book. You talk about how he said that he suspected that his father may have worked for the CIA or some such organization. Did you ever find any corroboration for that, that made you think—yeah.
DIMOND: Yes, try finding that out!
ARONOFF: Right. Right.
DIMOND: “Hello, CIA? Can you please confirm for me . . . ?”
DIMOND: That was very hard, and I tried to write that in a very careful way, quoting not only Tareq, who is known to exaggerate, but his best friend, who is not known to exaggerate, who comes from a very wealthy Virginia family. They went to military school together. He, too, heard these stories of “diplomatic travels” by Dirgham Salahi on behalf of the JFK administration, and saw some of the, quote, “spy tools” that he used, including a briefcase that videotaped things. This was long ago, before you could buy them at the spy shop. I did include it because I felt it was important to say why this little boy had been left alone on this big farm—ranch, winery—for so long. His father may have been in service to the country. By the way, Dirgham Salahi just died last week.
ARONOFF: Sorry to hear that.
DIMOND: Kind of sad.
ARONOFF: Yes. I would say this book—look: You got in, they let you into their lives with the understanding that you were going to tell it like it was, however you saw it, but I think they trusted you because of your long history and your many years of being a fair journalist. I think that’s great that they trusted you, and I think they showed good judgment in doing so.
DIMOND: But they’re not happy with parts of the book, I can tell you.
ARONOFF: I’m sure! Why don’t we talk about those? You tell me—what parts are they not happy with?
DIMOND: When I sat down with them and was deciding whether or not I wanted to do this book, I said to them, “First of all, you have to answer everything I’m going to ask you. You can’t say, ‘Oh, no comment.’” They said “All right.” I said, “And you’ll have no editorial control. I have the copyright. This is my work. I’ll let you read it for accuracy two days before it goes to the publisher, but not before.” They agreed to that. They’re unhappy that I brought up the past bad debts. Tareq Salahi has a very interesting way of doing business—Gee, I didn’t get paid, so I don’t have to pay anybody else.
DIMOND: Well, that’s not the way a good businessman does business. But he puts everything to the point at which his mother placed the winery in bankruptcy, and that was 2007. However, I don’t think that’s the whole answer. The whole answer lies in this polo association he set up as a great way to drop names internationally, and have an Indian Prime Minister’s team come over, and go play polo with the Prince—and write everything off, I guess. Every year he had this big event, there was a vendor—or two, or three—that he just didn’t pay. He would always find something wrong with what the vendor had done. Well, the food vendor ran out of food at two o’clock, so I don’t have to pay anything. Well you do have to pay.
DIMOND: In fact, he’s in court on that now. So they’re unhappy about the dissection of some of their debts. She is very unhappy with the way I unraveled her story that she was a Redskins cheerleader. I don’t believe she was at all. I think that was a ploy. I think she’s unhappy that I quoted her own brother in that Redskins section, and her brother really begging her to slow down in her life, just get a normal job again, stop trying to be on television because, as he’s quoted in the book, he says, “She’s going to wind up in a wheelchair, like Annette Funicello, with her MS.” The family worries about this a lot, and I think Michaele was very stung that I added that family admonition to her in the book—but it’s really a part of her life that she ignores good sense, sometimes, at the expense of Hey, I get to go to a party!
DIMOND: But you’re not feeling good today—you should be laying down!
ARONOFF: A couple of these other things. I’m guessing you saw, on Real Sports, where Bernie Goldberg did a segment on them? Did you see that?
DIMOND: I did see that.
ARONOFF: At one point, he had six of the people who had lawsuits against them, for lack of payment. They were telling their stories. I believe it was six out of twenty. So when you heard those people’s stories next to what the Salahis were saying, it really made them look pretty bad.
DIMOND: Yes, and, you know, they have an excuse for everything.
DIMOND: There was a PR man who was suing them for non-payment for services, and their answer was, “Yes, but he had a videotape of ours. We did a public service announcement with the band Journey, and he lost the videotape. That was invaluable tape, and now he wants $15,000 for doing a bad job?” So they didn’t pay him.
DIMOND: They claim—in the case of that one, for example—that these were things that happened long ago, and once they were catapulted into the limelight with the White House event, all these people came out of the woodwork to sue them—later—sometimes many years after the fact.
ARONOFF: They probably didn’t know about each other, and thought that they were one isolated case, and were sort of prepared to let it go, I guess, until they saw there were a lot of people involved.
DIMOND: Yes. I tried not to delve too much into each particular case, because many of them are still in court. I tried to just simply paint Tareq as a businessman who you might not want to do business with. Let me put it that way.
ARONOFF: One example you gave was this Independence airline that their winery had a contract with. They bought some expensive equipment, the airline went under—he says he lost $100,000 in that deal. For something like that, I’m guessing you’re just sort of taking his word for that, and for the figure—or were you able to verify that one?
DIMOND: No—no, I did speak with his accountant. Michaele was also a partner in the business, but when I, as a journalist, talked with Tareq and Michaele Salahi, I really considered them one source. I don’t consider them two separate sources, because they come from the same place.
DIMOND: I tried to be very careful in the writing of those sorts of sections, where I say, According to Tareq, he lost $100,000. How can I confirm it now? The airline is long gone.
DIMOND: He bought this piece of bottling equipment, which is still at the winery, to make the little airline bottles of wine, and then he had no more use for it. Some of the things are hard to confirm, and I tried to admit that right up front. The whole public perception of this couple—I’m honestly telling you what I think of them here. As Bernie Goldberg said, too, after doing the HBO special with them, they’re likeable people. They’re very charming and self-effacing and funny. She reminds me of a young I Love Lucy. She gets up and she acts out these stories. They’re fascinating people. But the media, starting, specifically, with the Washington Post gossip column, have painted these people as borderline felons for so long that any little thing now that comes up, it’s like, Oh, yes, of course! They cut the head off chickens and drink their blood! You could tell the public anything about the Salahis now, anything negative, and they would believe it, because they’ve been so indoctrinated for so many months that this is an evil, terrible, conniving, awful couple. They are some of those things. They are a little conniving. They do love to go to a party. They love to namedrop. But basically, Roger, these are two people that got all dressed up to go to a party to which they were firmly convinced that they were invited—and I have all of the E-mails back and forth, in the book, with the White House—
DIMOND: —and their lives were never the same after that. They became painted as—I don’t know—just this evil, terrible couple that everyone should hate. I sort of lived with them in Virginia for a while, and nobody deserves that. You should see some of the death threats they got in the mail. They got used condoms sent to them. They got death threats saying—I’ll paraphrase—We’re going to tie you up, Tareq, and make you watch as we sexually attack your wife. How dare you embarrass our President by sneaking into the White House? We’re going to kill you! Nobody deserves that.
ARONOFF: If they deserve the wrath—and you fairly give the complete picture of it—the thing that I think really offends a lot of people—people not taking that point of view that you just mentioned—but these people have stiffed so many small businesspeople, and they go around just bragging about staying in these thousand-dollar-a-night hotel suites, and taking limos everywhere, and all that. I think that, perhaps, the most offensive part to many people is just this cavalier attitude that they want to live like wealthy people while they’re stiffing all these small people.
DIMOND: Right. That is one of the most egregious sins, as I see it, and adding to that is the Bravo television depiction of this couple. Everybody at Bravo knows that the Salahis go home almost every day wondering if they’re going to be evicted from their house. I was with them when they would pull up to the house and say, “Oh, is there a big orange sticker on the front door?” That’s how close they are to losing their home. Yet Bravo would put them in circumstances on the show where they were shopping for an $8 million home.
DIMOND: Or arriving at a dinner in a big, long, black stretch limo. Well, this is not something that they could afford! But Bravo painting them that way, week after week after week—he, Tareq, giving Michaele jewels and diamonds and sapphires for her birthday was ludicrious. I mean, they were used as props, and taken away—and this is not their real life. I’ll tell you their real life: They live in a house which is okay, in Linden, Virginia; they have a dog; they have a battered Audi with some dents in the side of it, a white one, kind of—I don’t know—2003, maybe 2004; and they have one white limousine left over from Tareq’s limo company. He used to have twenty—nineteen or twenty limousines.
ARONOFF: I see.
DIMOND: This one was all paid for, so they still have it. It sits in their driveway, all dented and battered, and every once in a while somebody will rent it, and they get a few hundred bucks for it. That’s their life.
ARONOFF: One last question before we get to November of last year, and the White House situation, and that is something Bernie Goldberg said that just kind of struck me curiously: The Indian polo team that played [in their event on the Mall] —consisted of all Pakistanis? Is that correct? If so—why or how did that happen?
DIMOND: Remember, when you’re talking about the Salahis, it’s all about the perception.
DIMOND: This is why they were invited to the White House, in their minds—because their polo team was about to play the Indian polo team.
DIMOND: Fostering international goodwill in relations, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. What happened was, they couldn’t get enough members of the Indian team to come over, and so, yes, I believe that that’s true—that most of the polo players were actually brought in from Pakistan.
ARONOFF: I think he said all of them—
ARONOFF: —but whatever. Let’s jump to November 2009. The first time the public becomes aware of them, really, was the day after the first state dinner at the White House, hosted by the Obamas, and, as you say, it was for the Prime Minister of India. Tell us what happened. According to the initial reports, The Washington Post’s “Reliable Source” column, how that came in—go ahead and tell that story.
DIMOND: All righty. There are two women who write that column. For a long time, they have written snarky, little gossipy, bloggy things about the Salahis, about the family feud at the winery, about the polo team, etcetera. One of the women pulled the duty to be at the White House that night, to watch the guests arrive for the Obama’s very first state dinner. The dinner, by the way, was three times larger than any other state dinner ever held. So one of the columnists was there, and she’s watching, and she’s watching, and she’s making notes about who’s arriving—and of course they’re all announced—and here comes Tareq and Michaele Salahi. Well, she is apoplectic. She is, How in the world did these two people get into the White House? She has her photographer call the Washington Post desk, call it in—“Quick, guess who’s here!”—like a social felony has just occurred. So it gets into the very first draft of the reliablesource.com column, and, by her own account, the columnist who was on the desk, Amy Argetsinger, went to bed thinking, This is a big story—somebody else is going to jump on this. These people, they’re not on the official guest list, I don’t see their names here. They must have been—let’s see, hmm—gatecrashers! She coins the phrase “The Gatecrashers,” and is very proud of that—as has been reported in other media. So it’s right before Thanksgiving—I don’t know if you remember that, but this dinner was right before Thanksgiving—Amy Argetsinger puts up this story of the gatecrashers at the White House—Here’s who they are, they’re scamsters, and she’s auditioning to be on a reality TV show! That was two mistakes. First of all, nobody “crashes” the gate at the White House. You give your ID to the Secret Service many days ahead of time—which the Salahis did, I write about that in the book—then you show up with your passport or your driver’s license. They were cleared through not one but two Secret Service checkpoints—I mean, what part of that sounds like “gatecrashing?” None! That was the first mistake. The second mistake was, Michaele Salahi was not “auditioning” for a reality show—she was already signed, for eight months! She had signed a contract with Bravo eight months earlier. So this wasn’t some stunt—this was two people who felt they were invited, whose invitation was set up by their entertainment attorney, a guy named Paul Gardner, and his liaison with the White House, a woman named Michelle Jones. So they just show up, and they’re waved right in. From there, the story takes off nationwide, and then worldwide—because, as you know, Roger, when the holidays roll around, what happens? The newsrooms empty out. There’s a few skeleton crew, B-level reporters hanging around, and they’ve got to fill the space, fill the air time, fill the news gap. So they figure, if The Washington Post is reporting that there were gatecrashers, and a national security breach, and—oh, my goodness, they have a crazy name, Salahi—maybe they’re Middle Eastern terrorists! Everybody else grabbed the story and ran with it. Except it wasn’t true.
ARONOFF: Right. So it wasn’t true—you talk about how there are two guest lists, the one, the main guest list, people who get these invitations in these envelopes with nice paper—and others, the OTR—the off the records.
ARONOFF: The evidence that they were part of the OTR list—you mentioned Michelle Jones. Tell us about that.
DIMOND: Any time you have a dinner party, and you plan in advance, people say, “Yes, I can come,” and then there are cancellations at the last minute. The same thing happens at the White House. You don’t want to have a sparsely attended event, so they go to the list, the OTR list, the special donors list, and they say, “Okay, we’ve got 29 cancellations. Who can we plug the holes with?” The Salahis, I believe, had been having—they had this attorney named Paul Gardner, who was their entertainment attorney. He’s sort of a master at getting free tickets to events everywhere. He brags about his access to places. They had, I think, put the bug in his ear—Hey, the Indian Prime Minister’s coming. Can we get into the White House? We’re playing the Indian polo team coming up—never mind that they were Pakistani. But anyway, he gets them in touch—and I have all the E-mails from Paul Gardner’s law firm to the Salahis—Quick, give us your information for the Secret Service. Michelle Jones, the White House liaison, says she can get you in. Let’s get you—give us your date of birth, your citizenship, blah, blah, blah information. So that was done many days in advance of this dinner. A lot of people don’t realize that. They think they just showed up at the gate. They didn’t. They gave the Secret Service the information days earlier via this Michelle Jones. Now, Michelle Jones is very vague in her writing of these E-mails, but she clearly says “You’re in for the arrival ceremony. Hopefully I can still get you tickets for the dinner.” Hopefully I can still get you tickets for the dinner. Now remember that, because, after this event burst into the public domain, the White House, instead of grabbing hold of this situation and saying, “No, no, wait a minute—these people are not ‘gatecrashers,’ in fact they’ve been donors to the Democratic Party for years and years, stop this right now,” they don’t say anything. Eight days go by. Finally they issue a statement, under Michelle Jones’s name, saying, “I never told the Salahis I could get them tickets for the dinner. I don’t have authority to get them tickets for the dinner.”
DIMOND: And not one reporter at the White House questioned that.
ARONOFF: Yes, and the most revealing E-mail, I think, is the one after the event, between Michelle Jones and the Salahis, in which the Salahis thanked her and she said, “Oh, I’m so glad you had a wonderful time,” and they each signed it “Love,” and Michelle signed it “Much love, Michelle”—
DIMOND: “Happy Thanksgiving!” Yes.
ARONOFF: Yes—showing that they really had a relationship. [Jones] had been… the White House representative at a previous polo match [the Salahis] had, and that was shown in, I believe, the first episode of The Real Housewives.
ARONOFF: So are you suggesting that their names were actually on a list, the OTR list, and when they came there and showed their passports, that the Secret Service person—rather than, maybe, calling Desirée Rogers or something—actually saw the name on the list, and waved them in with that? [Have you] been able to determine that?
DIMOND: I only recently saw—only recently—ten months after the fact did Bravo actually show the video of that night. They had a camera on the sidewalk watching them go in. You see the Secret Service agent, with her clipboard, say to them, “Well, gosh, I don’t see your name on the list here, but come on in. Just come on in and go down there. Go wait over there at the next checkpoint.” So they were clearly waved right in. Now, I’ve watched that piece of video over and over—first of all, I’m astounded that Bravo kept it private for all this time, because by keeping it private—to me, it’s the alibi tape. They didn’t crash any gate—they were waved right in.
DIMOND: And to keep it secret for ten months, and let one of their prime cast members twist in the wind, and get thrown with mud—I just think that’s unconscionable. I watched that video over and over, Roger, and the poor Secret Service agent—there’s no light. She’s got a clipboard, she thinks she sees a name, she’s not sure, so she just says “Oh, come right in.” So they went right in. If you went to the door of the White House, and they said “Come right in”—
DIMOND: —wouldn’t you go in? Yes!
ARONOFF: Again, why do you think they would do that? Why would they wave someone in that wasn’t on the list, and no one had said “Go ahead and wave them in”?
DIMOND: Because I think they were overwhelmed at the size of the turnout—again, this was a state dinner three times larger than any other ever staged. The Secret Service—if you ever read any Ronald Kessler—has long had staffing problems, recruiting problems, budget problems. There weren’t enough agents at that checkpoint. There wasn’t any light at the checkpoint. And there was, most importantly, nobody from the Social Secretary’s office there. Which is why Desirée Rogers took a hike a few months later. There should have been somebody there from the Social Secretary’s office to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. You’re not on the list. Goodbye”—and the Salahis would have turned around and gone away, no harm, no foul.
DIMOND: But there was such a breakdown—and there she stood, in her beautiful red sari dress, with the camera crew behind her. What Secret Service agent is going to step out of bounds when they’re not sure—Oh, gosh, you look the part. Come on in.
ARONOFF: You would expect better from the Secret Service, I must say.
ARONOFF: I know they did fall on the sword in this thing, but I still had my doubts. I think somebody must—look: You were talking before about the woman with Reliable Source, Roxanne Roberts. When she saw them, she had gone up to two different aides and said, “What are they doing here? They’re not on the list.” They said, “Oh, I’ll go find out.” Apparently neither of them came back and reported to them.
DIMOND: Right . . .
ARONOFF: That indicated, to me, somebody said, “No, they’re fine.” But yes, I hear what you’re saying, because we saw that on the TV, where the Secret Service said, “Go ahead on in.” But I don’t know. It’s just still hard for me to believe that they would be that incompetent, because if that’s really the case, that somebody could just come up and act like they belong, and just go right past them—that really is a stunning failure on the part of the Secret Service, I would have to agree with that.
DIMOND: And you know, Roger, that is a great story. I started my career in Washington, D.C., covering the White House. I know how hard it is to get in every day, even when you have a press pass. That is a great story, what you’re talking about right there, the whole national security implication. There were Cabinet Secretaries in there, and the Vice President, and members of the Supreme Court. That is a great story! But the media did not grab that very important, great story—What about national security? Does the Secret Service have enough money? What would have happened if Michaele Salahi had anthrax powder in her compact and blew it at the President? They didn’t follow any of that very important pathway to this story. What they followed was what she did or did not eat for lunch, or how many debts they had from the past, what’s the name of their polo pony—these silly, facetious details that, really, honestly, meant nothing to the security of the country. That’s where I had a problem. That’s why I wrote this book. Because the twists and turns that this story took were so outrageous—and, frankly, so destroyed the lives of these people—I mean, they’ll forever be pointed at as “Hey, look, there’s the White House gatecrashers!” They’ll never survive this, ever. But think of the opportunity lost to really do a good story about how easy it is to get into the White House.
ARONOFF: But, you know, when they had the Congressional hearings—this was the Homeland Security Committee of the House, headed by Bennie Thompson of Mississippi—the thrust of it was, basically, to blame the Secret Service, and to have the very contrite Director of the Secret Service up there, like I say, falling on the sword. But there were also other things that were going on in that hearing that didn’t get any attention in the media, and that was the calls, by a number of Democratic Congressman, saying, “Look, the White House should let Desirée Rogers come.” Instead, they used executive privilege to keep her from coming, and Michelle Jones from coming up there—they were really obstructing this which, as I pointed out at the time—and there were some people like David Gergen and Ed Henry on CNN, who were really blasting the Obama administration, who was bragging about transparency—here was a perfect opportunity to help shine light on this story, and instead they cowered and covered everything up.
DIMOND: Yes. The chapter in the book on this I called “Fools on the Hill.” I covered Capitol Hill for six years, so I know about the politics, and what goes on at hearings, opening statements and how they’re grandstanding—but I had never seen anything like this. There were members of that committee—now think about this, Roger, this is the Homeland Security Committee, set up to keep this country safe after 9/11—two members, at least two members, before any facts were known, before any subpoenas were issued, before any testimony was taken, were smearing the Salahis. Whether you like them or not—
ARONOFF: Right . . .
DIMOND: —put yourself in this position: They were calling them “the crooks” and “the perpetrators.” Wait a minute! They showed up for a party, and they got let in! They’re the crooks and the perpetrators?! This is not the way America is supposed to treat people. It’s Innocent until proven guilty, and here’s two members of Congress already calling them vicious names. And then everyone wonders why they didn’t want to come up and testify. They wonder, Why did they take their lawyer’s advice to take the Fifth? Your lawyer would tell you the same thing: Be quiet—this committee already has it in for you. They’re calling you names. They’re calling you crooks. Do yourself a favor, and don’t say anything. But in exercising that Constitutional right, this couple was branded as something next to criminal.
ARONOFF: One of the things, the questions, I still have is, there was this one E-mail—and this came up at the committee hearing as well—where Tareq Salahi has, basically, sent this E-mail that says, “By the way, I know for a fact that these persons are unable to attend the state dinner,
basically saying, “I know there are some slots open”—he mentioned Harry Reid and his wife. As someone pointed out at that hearing, this seemed like a real breach of security. How would this man get a hold of that knowledge, that these particular people who were invited weren’t coming? Did you ever find an answer to that?
DIMOND: No, and Tareq says he can’t remember how he learned that. “I don’t remember how I learned that. It’s so long ago.” Sanjay Gupta, from CNN, and his wife were not going to be able to come. Harry Reid couldn’t come. I said to him, “How did you know this? Where did this come from?” I got the feeling—but he never said it—that it came from his attorney’s office.
DIMOND: Paul Gardner’s law group.
ARONOFF: Sent in, probably, Michelle Jones—I don’t know—
DIMOND: I don’t know.
ARONOFF: But that seemed to be their source, their point of contact with the White House.
DIMOND: And again, Michelle Jones, when she gets this information from Tareq, says, “Oh! That’s great to know. Good, that’ll help me try to get you tickets for the dinner.” Well, wait a minute—your statement from the White House said you never tried to get them tickets for the dinner. Parenthetical—let me tell you: These people, the Salahis, thought that they were going to just get there for ten minutes. They were going to go, they were going to be in a receiving line—“Hello, Mr. Prime Minister, we’re having the polo match coming up soon, nice to meet you”—and leave. They never thought that they were invited for the dinner. So they get there, they’re escorted through the Grand Hall, they are announced, they go through the receiving line, and now they think it’s over. Michaele—her MS, she’s very symptomatic, she’s not feeling great anyway—and don’t you know, a White House staffer, an usher type, comes and ushers them into the dinner tent. They look around, it’s like, We’re going to eat dinner? That’s weird. Okay. But at that point, Michaele Salahi, she’s been filming for Bravo all day, she hasn’t eaten well, from the waist down her extremities are numb from her MS, she can’t stand any longer, she’s got to go home. So that’s how disorganized the Social Secretary’s office was. These people are there, thinking they should leave, but instead they’re sent into the big dinner tent to sit down and have dinner.
ARONOFF: We’re about to lose our live audience, but can you stay a few more minutes? We archive this on our website—
ARONOFF: —and we’re going to transcribe it, we’ll have the whole thing up, so if any of you are live listeners, you can come back to our website, aim.org, in a few days and we’ll have the whole thing up, and the transcript as well. Okay. So she was feeling lousy, and decided to leave that night, as you were just saying.
DIMOND: Right. And you know what? Therein, Roger, lies a whole other group of very bad reporting that then gets picked up, nationwide, as truth. Well, they left early because they were going to be found out because they didn’t have a place set. They left early because, you notice, they didn’t even bring coats, and it was November, and they were just going to sneak in and sneak out. You know, there’s all sorts of really bad reporting that I just—again, it’s why I wrote the book. I just felt that somebody needed to set the record straight. Are these people angels in waiting? No, they’re not. Did they get a raw deal? Yeah, I think they did—and I think the raw deal came under the guise of journalism. And it was bad journalism.
ARONOFF: Okay, let’s talk about the journalism in some of this. One thing is, they originally scheduled to make their first appearance on Larry King, and then they cancelled, and then they showed up on The Today Show with Matt Lauer.
ARONOFF: He started out asking them if they were getting paid by NBC—obviously knowing that they were going to say no, they weren’t—but people have raised this issue of Bravo as part of the same family, and they were under contract to only give authorized interviews. But one thing that I found out from your book—among many things—was that they only got about $20,000, probably, in payment for this first season, so it wasn’t like there was a whole lot of money involved.
ARONOFF: What about that Matt Lauer interview? Was he going along with the media crowd on this one? He had a chance to help set the record straight. How did he do?
DIMOND: Hey, look: It was a big “get”—whoever was going to get to the Salahis first. They were all out there. I have friends who do Good Morning America who were working it hard, and The Morning Show, the CBS Morning Show, and NBC, and they were all working it hard. NBC—I know Matt Lauer, he’s a pal of mine. Matt has a producer named Matt—Matt Zimmerman—and what they do, which is unlike other places, they put people on airplanes to go down to Virginia. Matt Zimmerman got on a plane, knocked on their door, and said, “Hi. I’m Matt Zimmerman”—he’s a great guy, he’s got a little baby face—“here’s what we want to do for you. We want to give you the opportunity to . . .” So instead of fielding all these anonymous phone calls from all these networks, here was a guy, Matt Zimmerman, who actually came to their house, treated them nicely, bought them a cup of coffee, and said, “Can we please fly you to New York? You guys can do the interview with Matt.” Well, it turned out they didn’t do it from New York, they did it via satellite, but the Salahis looked me in the face and they said, “That’s why we went with The Today Show. The reason we cancelled Larry King was on the advice of our attorney, Stephen Best.” Stephen Best is one of the top-notch attorneys in Washington, D. C. He signed on pro bono to help these people. He said to them, “You what!? You’re going on Larry King? No, you’re not! You’ve got to stop it! I’m telling you, you don’t talk to Congress, you don’t talk to Larry King, you don’t talk to anybody! You’ve got to just let this thing die down—in fact, I wish you’d leave the country!” Well, the Salahis didn’t have the money to leave the country. But they agreed to do it with Matt Lauer, they told me, because Matt Zimmerman seemed like such a nice guy. He went with them, he held their hand, and he made them feel good. They did not get money for that interview for The Today Show. They got—
ARONOFF: No, but what about the contract with Bravo, that they could only do authorized interviews as long as they were under contract for that show?
DIMOND: I think Bravo was pretty upset that they went on The Today Show. They did not authorize that Today Show interview, and they were pretty mad at the Salahis. But one thing I’ve learned about them: They will go and do whatever they want, the contract be damned. If they want to be on The Today Show, they’re going to go be on The Today Show. If they want to talk about Michaele maybe being in Playboy magazine, against all the best advice, they will talk about that anyway. I think it was more a rogue move on their behalf than an NBC-sanctioned move. In fact, I understand Bravo and The Today Show had quite a little tiff over it after the fact.
ARONOFF: It was confusing—and it still is a little bit today—at that point when the dinner took place at the White House and all this broke, had the five Housewives been picked and taped for quite a while? Or were there more like ten or fifteen or twenty being taped, and then they ended up deciding on those five? Was this whole thing already a fait accompli as far as what was happening with the show, and they were just able to keep it all under the lid until June of this year?
ARONOFF: Is that what happened?
DIMOND: That’s exactly what happened. Michaele and Tareq Salahi signed a contract. They were the first ones to sign on, and they signed eight months before the state dinner. Then the other women got brought on. Now, there may have been some other women tested and dropped along the way, but by November, when the state dinner occurred in late November, the cast was set. There was no change in the cast, it just had not been officially announced. Bravo never officially announces until they are about to premiere the show. They delayed announcing the cast members because they weren’t sure whether or not Tareq and Michaele Salahi were going to be indicted—and, of course, they didn’t want to have, as part of the show, somebody indicted in a federal indictment. So they didn’t say anything, and they didn’t say anything, and they didn’t say anything. Now, my sources told me that, had the Salahis been indicted, they would have scrapped—they would have just eaten—that whole project. Housewives of D.C. never would have aired. Period. Because Tareq and Michaele were in every single episode that had been already filmed. In fact, they were at the very end of the season. There was going to be no more filming after the state dinner. Because they were done. So it was a real nail-biting time around Bravo, whether or not—Do we go with this project? Do we scrap it? What’s going to happen to the Salahis? Oh, my goodness! And the rest is history: We know that they are in every single episode, and, in fact, they’re kind of the ones you love to hate in every episode.
ARONOFF: Right. Didn’t Bravo make some statement at the time? Did they deliberately mislead, or lie about the status of this show or the people? I don’t recall, at this point—
DIMOND: No . . . Not really—I don’t think they lied about it. What they did was this: Every reality participant, every reality TV participant, has to sign a confidentiality agreement, and it’s really stringent. I have part of it in the book. Oh, gosh, they’ve got to agree never to say what goes on during the filming days, they agree that they can be humiliated and ridiculed and that they won’t ever sue—the contracts are unbelievable. In the beginning, right after the state dinner, when they were being called the “White House gatecrashers,” everybody was saying, “Why aren’t they standing up for themselves?” Two things: The Bravo people kept saying, “That was a filming day, the camera is with you, you aren’t allowed to say anything,” and, number two, they get an attorney—Stephen Best, who is a great attorney—telling them, “Don’t say anything. Do not even try to defend yourself. It will be used against you.” Tareq and Michaele Salahi are friendly, party-going, namedropping, lovely people, but they’re not Einstein, okay?
DIMOND: I’m trying to put it nicely. So they just clammed up. They didn’t say a word. Bravo later comes back and gives them a waiver that they may speak about what happened at the White House, because they realize if they don’t give them that waiver, they’re obstructing justice.
ARONOFF: Okay. One other thing. The issue of how they were connected to the Democrats, to the Obama White House—in other words, there was one event you describe, in the book, about the “Rock the Vote” event where they gave, I believe, 50 bottles of wine and limos for the event. They met Terry McAuliffe at the Café Milano, they’re involved with Tim Kaine, who became the DNC Chairman—
ARONOFF: —and they had met Obama at the Rock the Vote event, so it wouldn’t seem unnatural for them to be on the list for this thing.
DIMOND: Right. And it was fifty cases of wine.
ARONOFF: Fifty cases?! Okay . . .
DIMOND: Fifty cases for the Rock the Vote. That was another badly reported tidbit which, again, I think started with The Washington Post, but I’m not positive about that—that they were “social climbers,” that they wanted to get in with the “in” political crowd. Well, the fact of the matter is, they had been supporters of the Democratic Party for most of the 2000s, they met Tim Kaine, they had been involved in events with the previous Governor—Warner—of Virginia, they knew Terry McAuliffe from the social scene at Café Milano and other places for years and years, they sponsored this Rock the Vote event at which Barack Obama was one of the premiere people that they trotted out—he was a Senator at the time. Terry McAuliffe said, “You’ve got to come and help us support this—this guy Barack is going to be the President some day!”
ARONOFF: Turned out to be—
DIMOND: So they did. They were longtime Democratic Party supporters, which makes me wonder, why didn’t the President do something the day after this dinner? He surely remembered shaking hands with that beautiful woman in the see-through red sari.
ARONOFF: Another question that a number of people have raised, and that is another possible link between Tareq Salahi and Obama, and that is, Tareq Salahi was on the board of a group called the American Task Force on Palestine. His father was Palestinian, his mother was Belgian, as you pointed out. When he was on this board, also on the board was Rashid Khalidi, who’s someone very controversial who used to be a spokesman for the PLO. Really, one of the only political opinions expressed in this series was at one point where Tareq Salahi says how much he approves of Obama’s policy toward the two-state solution in the Middle East—which sounded, you know, harmless enough, it’s the position of the Israeli government as well and all that—but I’m wondering if you’ve looked into this connection, and if you found anything there.
DIMOND: I did look into it, and I was prompted to because I was going through stacks of photographs at their house, and I saw a picture of Michaele posing with Abu Mazen. I said, “Do you know who this is?” “Oh, yeah, yeah,” she said, “he’s some Palestinian guy.” And I said to Tareq, “Tareq, do you know who this is?” “Yeah, that’s Abu Mazen. Yeah, he’s the President of Palestine—yeah, mm-hmm.” I said, “Do you know anything about him?” “No, not really.” So as I delved into it—the short version of the story is, they got a free trip to Israel. Your dad was a Palestinian? That means you’re a Palestinian, Tareq—you want to come over on this junket with us? “Oh, yeah! A free trip! Yes indeed!” And they went. They went to the scene of the Nativity, they went to Bethlehem, they made a trip out of it. But to ascribe political dogma to the Salahis, that would be like saying I’m a nuclear physicist. I haven’t got a clue, and I don’t think they have a clue about it. You know—Oh, we’re for peace! Okay—who isn’t for peace?
ARONOFF: It’s more that he was on the board of this group as well, right?
ARONOFF: The American Task Force for Palestine?
DIMOND: I couldn’t find any evidence of that, Roger. When you go to their website now, all mention of Tareq Salahi is gone.
ARONOFF: Yeah, but it was there earlier, and I think people captured that—
DIMOND: Yes. Yes. So how big and important a member was he, if they completely erase him—
ARONOFF: Yeah . . .
DIMOND: —because he went to a party at the White House?
ARONOFF: Well, that’s pretty obvious—that they would want to scrub that because that’s been a difficult issue for Obama for a long time, and people feel that he was too close to the Palestinian cause, and people who had supported Arafat, and that sort of thing. So that’s why that carries some weight to a lot of people.
DIMOND: I did not really find any hint that there was a political agenda at play with the Salahis.
DIMOND: Again, I think it was Hey, we get a free trip! Let’s go! It’s a party!
DIMOND: I don’t mean to make them sound like imbeciles, because they’re not. But they’re also not very politically astute.
ARONOFF: So let’s just wrap it up with telling us anything more about the TV series. Do you expect it to come back on with the same five Housewives? Is there anything else? Any other thoughts you have on that?
ARONOFF: And then we’re going to wrap it up here shortly.
DIMOND: I do have a chapter in the book about who’s on reality TV, what kind of personality wants to be on, and who watches this stuff religiously. And I’ll tell you, my overriding thought is—excuse my French—Why the hell would anybody want to go back for a second season, like the Salahis, when they are so vilified on every single episode?
ARONOFF: Because they need the money?
DIMOND: Maybe. Twenty grand isn’t very much.
ARONOFF: No, but next season will be a lot more.
DIMOND: Next season they might get more. But my prediction is, they’ll go back in a heartbeat. They love the camera. They love to be the center of attention. I don’t think the British woman, Cat, will be there. I think they’ll have to find somebody else to play the foreign “biyatch.” If they offer the Salahis a contract, the Salahis will be there in a New York minute.
ARONOFF: Okay. Anything else we’ve left out? Any final thoughts or comments you have on this whole story? You want to sum it up?
DIMOND: My sum-up is this: Michaele Salahi is a lovely woman who is not the brightest person in the world—nor am I—but she is way too controlled by her husband, and her husband does not make good decisions. He doesn’t think through things. On one hand, they told me, with tears in their eyes, they would love it if Michaele could be a spokesperson for multiple sclerosis, for the Society, for the Association—yet, on the other hand, I believe, it was he who pushed the whole idea that she should pose for Playboy. Well, what part of your brain thinks that the MS Society would want to have a Playboy Playmate on their spokesman’s roster? They’re a co-dependent couple who seem to be relatively happy together, but if someone told me in the future that Michaele Salahi had kicked him to the curb, I wouldn’t be surprised as to why.
ARONOFF: Our guest today has been Diane Dimond, the extraordinary journalist, author of the new book Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust.
DIMOND: Amazon.com, by the way!
ARONOFF: Amazon.com, and also dianedimond.net—It’s been great having you on today. Thank you for spending so much time with us. Good luck with your book. Thank you for being on Take AIM!
DIMOND: Roger, thank you for always being a watchdog on the media.
ARONOFF: Thank you. Take care now.