Journalism! NYT Cracks Trump’s Easter Egg Scandal With Three Stories

April 18th, 2017 10:47 AM

New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis took a third bite of the chocolate Easter Egg on Tuesday, writing her third prominently featured story about the supposedly troubled White House Easter Egg hunt. (Yes, three stories, plus a video.) Her review of the Easter Sunday festivities on the South Lawn of the White House made the front of Tuesday’s National section: “Putting Aside Red vs. Blue for a Day (in Favor of Pastels) – Planned Late and Pared Back, Egg Roll Still Draws Thousands to the White House.”

She took a lame metaphor for White House disarray and rolled with it:

Thousands of people flocked to the South Lawn on Monday to attend President Trump’s first White House Easter Egg Roll, an affair about half the size of last year’s that unfolded without incident after scheduling and organizational challenges had threatened to scuttle it.

On an overcast morning punctuated by showers, Mr. Trump emerged on the White House balcony with his wife, Melania, and youngest son, Barron, along with the Easter bunny, to greet attendees of the annual springtime festival. The elaborate and labor-intensive Egg Roll is among the most daunting social events a presidential staff has to plan, and a late start by Mrs. Trump’s still-skeletal team made its execution a struggle.

But on Monday, girls in frilly dresses and boys in pastels rolled and hunted eggs on the White House grounds, mingling with a life-size Elmo and the bespectacled bunny, and seeming not to notice the pared-back nature of the celebration. The South Lawn appeared far emptier than it has in recent years, and activities that drew hourslong lines in the past had no more than a few minutes’ wait.


Mrs. Trump, who lives in New York and has few staff members, faced challenges in planning and executing the Egg Roll, and the White House said it had been scaled back considerably this year to allow about 21,000 visitors, down from 37,000 in recent years, in part because the annual party had become too disorderly to be enjoyed by children and their families. But planning also began late, leaving vendors and participants wondering for a time if the event would go forward at all.

Mr. Trump, who spent his first days in office quibbling over the size of his inauguration crowd, had predicted an impressive turnout.

“We’re going to have a lot of people -- a lot of people -- and they’re going to have a great time,” he said.

The White House provided no attendance figures afterward.


Instead of the A-list celebrities and crowds of costumed characters that have graced past Egg Rolls, this year’s featured a few little-known musical acts and military bands playing jazz and spring-themed standards, and fewer characters strolling the South Lawn to greet children.

The mood was cheery despite the clouds and an occasional downpour, and the Trumps played warm hosts.

Davis actually made it onto the front page last Wednesday with her first report on the alleged delays facing the roll: “Rush to Right a Rite of Spring.”

President Trump received an urgent warning in February, informing him of a crucial date he was about to miss.

“FYI manufacturing deadlines for the Easter eggs are near,” said a Twitter post directed at Mr. Trump; the first lady, Melania Trump; and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. “Please reach out!”

The message came from Wells Wood Turning & Finishing, the company that supplies commemorative wooden eggs for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, the 138-year-old celebration that has drawn 35,000 people to the South Lawn in recent years.

Davis tried hard to make it a larger symbol of Trump administration incompetence.

By that time, the ovoid uncertainty had raised a question perhaps not as consequential as investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election, a legally dubious travel ban and a collapsed health care bill, but no less a window into the inner workings of the Trump administration: 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?


The evidence points to a quickly thrown-together affair that people close to the planning said would probably draw about 20,000 people -- substantially smaller than last year’s Easter Egg Roll, which drew 37,000. It will be staffed by 500 volunteers, Ms. Grisham said, half the usual. Ms. Grisham said she did not have “firm numbers” on the overall number of attendees, and those who provided estimates did so 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.

Davis conveniently found her justification from a former Clinton aide.

[Melinda] Bates, whose memoir “White House Story” documents the challenges of planning Clinton-era Easter Egg Rolls, said the event was a window -- up to a point -- into the competence of an administration.

“If you can pull off an Easter Egg Roll,” she said, “you can do anything.”

Davis actually followed up that story with an elaborate page 2 “Times Insider” story that appeared Easter Sunday: “Unscrambling the Easter Egg Roll.” The reporter explained, in exhaustive detail, how she had mistakenly implied in a tweet that the Trump administration would be the first to use gold-colored Easter eggs:

I quickly corrected myself on Twitter, but for many of Mr. Trump’s ardent supporters, the damage had been done. Over the next several hours and for more than a week afterward, I received hundreds of angry and ugly messages from people who were outraged by my comment, calling for a public apology to the president, my resignation or firing, and worse. More than two weeks later, I still receive at least one or two insults per day related to what I have come to refer to as Easter egg-gate.

To them, my tweet was an egregious example of “fake news” from The New York Times. The reaction was far more vitriolic than any I have experienced covering more serious topics, such as allegations that Mr. Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia or his attempts to impose a travel ban.

It also suggested that a story I had been picking away at for weeks about the Trumps’ plans for their first-ever Easter Egg Roll might have more resonance than your typical bunnies-and-Peeps tale. The subject seemed to touch a nerve, not because it was important on its own but because the event was seen as a reflection of the president himself.


It seemed an apt metaphor for a White House plagued with understaffing and disorganization from the start.