Commentary

Obnoxious 'White House' Doc Reveals How First Families Live Like Royalty

The last time I checked, the United States was supposed to be a democracy. And yet, our ruling potentates live in a palace where they are waited on hand and foot by butlers, chefs, chambermaids and heaven knows who else.

A new two-hour documentary about the White House premiering Tuesday night on PBS seems to assume that we’re all thrilled to learn how the First Family is made to feel comfortable in their palatial home by this army of servants.

But when you watch this over-long puff piece of a TV show – which plays like it was produced by the White House minister of propaganda – you can’t help but be dumbfounded by how obnoxious it all is.

You can start with the 100 employees it takes to sweep the floors, serve the food, mow the lawn and arrange the flowers. I am sure everybody in America will be heartened to learn that their tax dollars are hard at work supporting an entire unit inside the White House that is dedicated to cutting and arranging flowers for the lovely First Family and their guests.

Aww, poor First Family, this documentary wants you to think. They had to move into the unfamiliar surroundings of the White House! Let’s all feel sorry for them as the 100-person staff labors tirelessly to make sure they feel right at home.

I have an idea: How about cutting the staff in half to 50? That way, the children of the White House might then learn to pick up after themselves. Susan Ford Bales, daughter of Gerald and Betty Ford, still marvels at the white glove service she received as a spoiled teen living in the White House in the 1970s.

“It’s like the best five-star hotel and the best five-star service,” she says of this taxpayer-supported pleasure palace. She then goes on to say how she thought nothing of leaving her clothes lying around on the floor of her bedroom because, to her delight, servants would scoop them up, send them to the White House laundry and then return them washed and folded – all without lazy Susan having to say a word! It’s as if the president and his family live in Downton Abbey.

And the parties! Yes, it’s the White House – where the elite meet to eat. “An invitation to party here is a coveted prize, even for the biggest stars!” says narrator Dan Oreskes. Footage is then shown of celebrities such as Stevie Wonder, James Earl Jones and Sean Connery strolling into a state dinner. “It’s a chance for the elite of Hollywood and Washington to rub elbows with world leaders!” continues this documentary’s breathless narration. And James Earl Jones needs to “rub elbows” with world leaders because … ?

Even with a hundred staffers, challenges do arise, such as the time one of the White House chefs was informed that Barbara Bush would be delayed by bad weather from arriving home in time for the dessert course at an important banquet, and – sacré bleu! – zee chef had just put his soufflés in zee oven! Members of soufflé society will smile knowingly when this chef points out, obviously, that “soufflés won’t wait!”

Meanwhile, the rest of us (OK, me) are thinking: What all of these people really deserve – the First Families, their guests, Sean Connery, whoever – are a few well-aimed soufflés in the face. In case you are wondering, the soufflés turned out perfectly, the chef reports. Quel magnifique!

By the time this documentary regurgitated the story of how Jackie Kennedy redecorated the rooms she and her husband “inherited” from those dowdy Eisenhowers and made the White House safe for Pablo Casals, I had had enough. But I sat through the entire two hours anyway for one big reason: So you don’t have to. You can thank me later.

“The White House: Inside Story” premieres Tuesday night (July 12) at 8 Eastern on PBS.

16 comments about "Obnoxious 'White House' Doc Reveals How First Families Live Like Royalty".
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  1. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, July 12, 2016 at 12:23 p.m.

    I only have one comment for our cranky columnist: would you prefer if the White House was run more like a Motel 6? Or a sketchy airbnb? This is not just the home of the head of state, it's the  center of our government. While some of the staffing is probably a bit over the top, in the world of wasteful spending, it's such a small drop in the bucket it hardly seems worthy of this much attention. You want to talk waste? Let's start with the defense budget. Or pension costs for ex-Congressmen...

  2. Chuck Hildebrandt from Self, July 12, 2016 at 12:32 p.m.

    You're kidding about all this, right?

    Do you complain that CEOs live in palatial mansions with cooks and maids, gyms and libraries? When they get ferried around by limo, jet and helicopter? I assume you don't, because they are CEOs, and you understand (or maybe you don't and I am teaching you now) that CEOs must be available to work on the business 24/7, and that every obstacle that might get in the way of that—such as cooking their own meals, doing theirown shopping, driving themselves around, etc—must be taken care of for them so that they, the CEO, can continue to devote their entire waking hours focus on improving the business.

    Well, newsflash: the President of the United States is the CEO of the country.

    I can hardly believe an educated adult would fail to realize that.

  3. Katie Cole from Toz Consulting, July 12, 2016 at 12:51 p.m.

    The author of this article sounds like a real twit ... Our president and his/her family should be able to live regally during their terms of office.

  4. Xavier Jenkins from C1Exchange, July 12, 2016 at 12:54 p.m.

    Curious to know what happened to you before writing ths. It must have been awful for you to carry on like this about something so few really ever had a problem with. Security, cleaning services, chefs are all part of the package for every nation's leader.

    Why is this worth writing about today?

    A better question. How did you arrive at an apparent conclusion that our Presidents and the First Families are the same as the Kardashians? Meaning, successful for no reason and therefore, not deserving of the services that come along with the position? There has been full services provided to the President and First Family for a very long time. How is this a surprise to you?


  5. Scott Mckain from McKain Performance Group, Inc., July 12, 2016 at 2 p.m.

    For the relatively minor salary the President receives for employment by the US Government compared to corporate CEOs -- and the involvement required of the family in many official functions, as well as the intensive security demanded by the job -- one could make the argument that the total compensation package is a bargain for the taxpayer, not a burden. 

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 12, 2016 at 3:55 p.m.

    Adam, you are a sad disappointment on this one.

  7. Rick Thomas from MediaRich Marketing, July 12, 2016 at 5:02 p.m.

    First off Michael Kaplan I like Motel 6...they are probably the one and only place I can bring my dog when traveling and most have done a pretty good job in changing the brand's image. 

    Just joking but I agree with everyone here.  These are Presidents not your average run of the mill dictator.  And the dictator would have much better digs that any of our Presidents combined. And if you want to cut the staff to 50 go ahead.  Put people out of work.  Sure just put people out of work.  Sometimes recommendations have consequences.     

  8. Tim Brooks from consultant, July 12, 2016 at 5:15 p.m.

    Great column. If the goal of any columnist is to get his readers agitated and reacting, this certainly did it! The White House is also the country's official greeting house for foreign potentates, so I suppose it needs a certain amount of spendor. However for a president (and party) that rails against income disparity and the "wealth gap" he's not setting a particularly good example is he? I do hope he and Michelle make Sasha and Malia pick up their own clothes. 

  9. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), July 12, 2016 at 5:39 p.m.

    Because PBS thinks that everything coming from Britain is always better, they basically took the idea of the three part "Windsor Castle, A Royal Year" documentary series and transposed it to the White House. Windsor Castle by the way is one of three (!!) official residences for the Queen, and then there are all residences for all other family members... Talk about personnel cost and tax payer money. PLUS: the Queen charges you if you want to visit!

    I watched in awe when the Windsor Castle series aired: so many people so incredibly good at and devoted to a job that ads little to no value to the nation (in that case the UK). Who can forget the man with the ruler who aligns all silverware for a state dinner party? Or the man whose only job it is to wind all the antique clocks and make sure they are all set to the same exact time. I am hoping this White House "behind the scenes" is equally interesting and revealing. 

    If you're interested in the Windsor Castle series, it is here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLj2leWh0oQfcQPSRa0MGb1KmYoUnCLmOC

  10. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC replied, July 12, 2016 at 6:03 p.m.

    Agreed.

    The President's salary should be upped by a factor of 20x and the staff reduced to a more moderate level, with the CEO able to pickup added expenses as needed.

    I don't buy the Clintons' "we're broke" complaint when they left the office, but Bill and his peers certainly weren't extravagantly compensated.

  11. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC replied, July 12, 2016 at 6:08 p.m.

    20x, BTW, is about the pay rate for a utility basketball player on a lower tier team.

  12. Sara Trujillo from Trujillo Public Relations, July 13, 2016 at 1:34 p.m.

    I am  disappointed in the negative tone of the column. My take-away was totally different. I thought it was facinating and fun to hear about the transitions and how the White House functions as the center of our government and home.

    In fact, I was impressed when they discussed as one of the First Kids having their prom in the house. They were told they could do it as long as they paid for it. The White House is one of biggest symbols of our country and I quite like that it has a permanent staff that upholds the historical value and protocol from one administration to another.



  13. LLoyd Berry from Moving In Media, July 13, 2016 at 2:38 p.m.

    Its always amazing how negtive stories generate comments and buzz. I was thinking of how hard it would it be to go back to the normal world after living such a lifesytle. I agree the POTUS deseve this - there is no doubt and keep in mind there was a reason George Washington was call "His Excellency".  I would like to see is how after 8 years of this lifestyle coming back to the reality of the normal world of a even a rich person would be an adjustment.

  14. Marla Goldstein from Around The Bend Media, July 14, 2016 at 1:39 a.m.

    Jealousy is such an ugly emotion. You're (allegedly) a television critic; not a social commentator. Perhaps you should stick to doing what you get paid to do and not stray into areas about which you so clearly know so little.

    POTUS earns just $400,000 a year. And gets a home to live in, complete with staff. That home (the 'People's House') really is just a loaner and serves to also entertain visiting heads of state and as a visible symbol of the United States.  The White House is also a working office for the President, First Lady and the White House Press Corps, as well as the residence and a museum.

    Did you actually, you know, WATCH the show? Or did you lie on your bed of nails, trying to come up with clever ways to be snarky and turn out your column for the week? I have a degree in History and found the show fascinating. For instance, I did not know that Truman completely gutted the White House in 1948 because it was literally falling apart and left only the facade remaining and rebuilt it from the inside out.

  15. pj bednarski from MediaPost.com replied, July 15, 2016 at 9:49 a.m.

    I just wanted to tell Michael Kaplan he and his dog should check out LaQuintas. They all take dogs and the rooms are nice. They're a good place to "stay."

  16. Adam Buckman from MediaPost.com, July 15, 2016 at 12:57 p.m.

    I wish to thank everyone who left a comment here this week concerning this TV blog I wrote about Tuesday's PBS "White House" documentary. I am grateful for your readership and for the effort you made to post your comments.

    A couple of things, if I may: To the reader who called me a "twit," let me please note that this is not the first time I have been called this. In fact, it's one of the names I listed in one of the first paragraphs of my book titled "JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television," part of which was about the give-and-take that exists between a columnist and his readers.

    "[Readers of my newspaper columns] had plenty of names for me," I wrote. "They called me a 'phony,' a 'twit,' an 'ass,' an 'a--hole,' a 'bonehead,' an 'idiot,' a 'hack,' a 'gasbag,' a 'scumbag,' a 'schmuck,' a 'fool,' a 'd--k,' a 'hypocrite' and a 'moron.' " It comes with the territory, and so does being called "cranky," by the way ...

    To the reader who asked if I watched the show: Yes, of course I did, a day or two before I wrote the column (the show was provided in advance of its airdate by PBS). I too found the part about Harry Truman's vital and very laudable role in saving the White House to be fascinating, and something I did not know previously. It did not save the show for me, however. I majored in history and journalism in college. You are free to draw whatever conclusions you wish about the quality of my education ...

    As for Motel 6, I have never stayed in one, but I would have no problem doing so. I don't know why this chain's good name is applied so frequently as a synonym for "bad motel."  They seem nice to me.

    That's all for now.  Thanks again for reading.  Have a great weekend. -- ABuckman

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