Attempting to dismsiss negative reports about Obama's White House, CNN's Soledad O'Brien completely mangled and fumbled key facts on Monday's Starting Point. O'Brien had claimed that her own network reported on a White House event in 2009 – except that key event details were missing from the CNN reports at the time.
The claims that O'Brien dismissed as baseless were made by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor in her new book "The Obamas." Kantor had written that during the recession in 2009, the White House hosted a Halloween "Alice in Wonderland" themed tea party with celebrity donors – but was careful not to get the word out about the lavish event due to the hard economic times.
A sneering O'Brien citied multiple outlets that reported the Halloween party, to discredit the White House "secrets" the book claimed to divulge. "You take a look at – and it's not hard, with a Google search you can find that CNN covered the party. NBC covered the party. Reuters covered the party. The Associated Press covered the party. USA Today covered the party and the Chicago Sun Times also covered the very, very top secret party," a snarky O'Brien tried to educate her audience.
"So for a secret keeping of this White House Halloween party with Hollywood celebs, not so secret. Maybe it wasn't a secret at all, Ms. Kantor," O'Brien scoffed. "You might want to 'Get Real' on that."
First of all, O'Brien didn't include Kantor's full report. As the New York Post stated Sunday, Kantor acknowledged reports on the public Halloween party, but added that "Then the Obamas went inside, where an invitation-only affair for children of military personnel and White House administrators unfolded in the East Room. Unbeknownst to reporters, the State Dining Room had also been transformed into a secretive White House Wonderland."
It was this party that Kantor claimed was the "Alice in Wonderland" party - and here the networks simply reported it as a reception for military families and White House staffers. The CNN reports that O'Brien cited lacked the key details that Kantor claims the administration would not want reported – such as the lavish "Alice in Wonderland theme" and the presence of Hollywood director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp.
In fact, a Nexis search revealed that in nine separate CNN reports on the White House's Halloween celebration, none of them even approached a description of an "Alice in Wonderland" party with Hollywood celebrities. CNN, like the other outlets O'Brien mentioned, described the evening's event as a reception for military families.
The 2 p.m. CNN Newsroom report from October 31 stated that the White House was "throwing a party for Washington area students and military families".
And, according to the blog Verum Serum , the other news outlets that O'Brien cited reported the same narrative – that the White House welcomed trick-or-treaters and later hosted a reception for military families and White House staffers. None of them recorded a lavish tea party attended by celebrity guests.
A transcript of 2009 CNN reports on the White House party are as follows:
CNN Newsroom, 2pm hour, October 31
WHITFIELD: Well, the Obamas are getting ready to celebrate their first Halloween at the White House. They are throwing a party for Washington area students and military families. Up to 2,000 kids are expected to party on the front law at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
And of course, the White House is mum on whether the Obamas plan to wear costumes.
CNN Newsroom, end of 5pm hour, October 31
DON LEMON: I don't need to talk, just roll the video here, Roger.
Look at this. This is at the White House today. Look at the kids celebrating Thanksgiving. Boy, oh, boy, even if you were an adult, it would be fun to be there. The President and First Lady welcomed children of military families and school children across the Washington area, plenty of colorful costumes as you can see from both children and adults, live music, treats, tricks. Halloween at the White House.
I'm Don Lemon. I'll see you back here at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
CNN Newsroom, 7pm hour, October 31
DON LEMON: OK. Look at this. Let's go to the White House now. The first family welcomed 2,000 trick or treaters to the White House for Halloween as it happens as we're approaching the anniversary of the election day of President Barack Obama. It is a victory, of course, look how cute.
Look at the first lady, I just saw that. Really cute. You know what, it is a victory that broke barriers and raised expectations all around the country and CNN and "Essence" magazine are taking an unprecedented look at President Obama's impact on black men in America.
CNN Sunday Morning, 7am hour, November 1
BROOKE BALDWIN: Now today we get the pictures to prove what some people were up to, including, a the White House. How cool would this be, to be able to say, hey, I trick-or-treated with the Obamas?
REYNOLDS WOLF: That would be cool. Knock, knock, Mr. President, give me something.
BALDWIN: Pretty good candy, too. Right? Look at the pictures about. They lit it up, a nice bright orange there in Washington. 2,000 kids from 11 area schools, Virginia, Maryland, D.C., got to go. The president and first lady handing out treats.
I guess apparently one of the cooks from the White House kitchen actually made these cookies, special, and they were also handing out these M&Ms. And we have pictures maybe of -- I don't know what that is.
T.J. HOLMES: You got me.
BALDWIN: Some leaf thing?
HOLMES: Maybe that was Robert Gibbs, dressed up as something.
BALDWIN: Darth Vader, wasn't he Darth Vader?
HOLMES: I don't know.
BALDWIN: Look at that, though.
HOLMES: That's cool. To go to the White House on Halloween that's cool.
BALDWIN: Mrs. Obama was a cat, a cat woman. There she is.
WOLF: There she is. Looks good.
BALDWIN: There she is. She does look good.
How about you guys?
WOLF: There's Gibbs. Is that Gibbs? Yes, as Darth Vader without the helmet.
BALDWIN: Darth Vader. Susan Rice.
HOLMES: Ann Rice, excuse me I've got vampires on the brain. Forgive me there, about that, Ambassador Rice.
WOLF: There's a poor man's Big Bird that we saw a moment ago.
BALDWIN: There is the president.
WOLF: There is the president. The president looks good.
BALDWIN: Not dressed up.
HOLMES: He went as himself.
BALDWIN: Himself, hmm.
BALDWIN: What about - did you dress up?
WOLF: I did not. And I have no idea what that last thing is that we just saw, but that was probably the spookiest thing of all, which is probably best unsolved just who and what it might have been.
HOLMES: All right. We have these pictures now, some of our people here.
CNN Sunday Morning, 8am hour, November 1
BROOKE BALDWIN: Anyway, let's take it to Washington, D.C. and take a look at some pictures. There are pretty pictures from the White House, well, I guess pictures - there we go. Thank you, chief photographer. Kind of a nice, pretty orange glow on Halloween at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Kind of cool for kids - 2,000 kids got to go to the White House to trick or treat.
We haven't been able to figure out what that thing was. Some kind of leaf thing or a - anyway, lots of pumpkins, lots of fun. Kids from 11 area schools, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. are getting M&M's, cookies from the White House, the chef.
Mrs. Obama did dress up with the picture of her in just a second as "Cat Woman." There she is. And Mr. Obama as Mr. Obama.
T.J. HOLMES: A lot of people will probably...
BALDWIN: Robert Gates as Darth Vader.
CNN Newsroom, 4pm hour, November 1
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD: OK. So it was Halloween last night. And wait till you see how the White House celebrated Halloween. I mean, they had a huge getup. They had live performers, incredible decorations. And so we thought that in and of itself is fascinating to have as part of our chat room. Jacqui Jeras, good to see you.
JACQUI JERAS: Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: These pictures were very fun. Don't you wish you were a kid again? At least one of the kids who attended, the 11 schools in the D.C. metropolitan area who were invited to the White House for Halloween?
JERAS: 2,500 kids showed up right in full costume.
WHITFIELD: I know and these were live performers. Because they had incredible entertainment too. These kids that were invited.
Yes, I love that whole butterfly in the bubble thing.
JERAS: That is cool.
WHITFIELD: Look at that tree, blending in.
JERAS: That's like at Disney. They have stuff like that at Disney.
WHITFIELD: Have you seen that? At the Animal Kingdom.
WHITFIELD: Everything was incredible. So you've got kids and, of course, their parents. They all dressed up. Is that like from "Ghostbusters" type thing?
JERAS: I have no idea. It's been a while since the White House has done a celebration like this.
WHITFIELD: I don't remember seeing anything like this. But not that I have studied all the Halloween celebrations of White Houses. But they turned the White House orange. They had these great orange - this great orange glow on the White House.
JERAS: Right. They (INAUDIBLE) light.
WHITFIELD: Yes. They had big giant spiders that were kind of dangling from, I guess, that portico area. Really beautiful. Can we see inside now and see what it looks like when these kids -
JERAS: You can see the kids showing up.
WHITFIELD: 2,600. They lined up outside.
JERAS: There's the president, who did not wear a costume, by the way. What did you think about that?
WHITFIELD: It depends.
JERAS: I think it's a difficult thing.
WHITFIELD: I think it would be difficult. But a lovely way "The Washington Post" described it. They said "the president was dressed as a middle-aged dad with a black cardigan, checkered shirt and sensible brown slacks." So if you go by "The Washington Post," he did have a costume based on that description.
JERAS: Well, there you go.
WHITFIELD: We still haven't been able to figure out who is in costume. Might that be Secret Service?
JERAS: There's Michelle Obama as Catwoman.
WHITFIELD: That was kind of cute. I really liked her outfit.
JERAS: I know. President Obama was quoted as saying "as adorable as the children were, by the way, my wife was a very nice looking Catwoman."
WHITFIELD: Isn't he sweet?
JERAS: He is.
WHITFIELD: And there's the White House. All orange aglow.
JERAS: Doesn't it look spiffy. There a lot of ghost stories, by the way, at the White House. Have you heard about that? They tell some ghost tales.
JERAS: Quite a few involving Abraham Lincoln, I understand.
WHITFIELD: Interesting. Yes, there have to be some ghosts there.
JERAS: Of course.
WHITFIELD: If there are going to be ghosts in other historic buildings, the White House, come on. There have to be.
WHITFIELD: That's neat. So you went trick-or-treating as well.
WHITFIELD: There's Susan Rice as Goofy. Very cute.
JERAS: That is cute.
WHITFIELD: Some of the White House staff actually brought their kids. We saw Robert Gibbs in one of the shots earlier. I think he is Darth Vader. Is that right? And his son looked like he was a character at "Star Wars" as well and you see the affinity between the two.
JERAS: Sasha and Malia were not there. They were undercover. They went somewhere else and they didn't want to discuss where they were going to be.
WHITFIELD: That's hilarious. Who's that?
JERAS: We know where you were.
WHITFIELD: I know. That's my little boy. He went as a lion. He refused to wear the mane because he said it was itchy. Of course, my dog giving you the backside there. She likes to be in the action.
And look Dorothy.
JERAS: Yes, Dorothy, quote, unquote an Army guy.
WHITFIELD: I love it. That's fun. How long did you all trick- or-treat? Did it go on and on?
JERAS: Well we had a neighborhood party at the clubhouse or whatever. And then - there's my husband who's also "army guy." Then I handed out the candy and they went around. That was fun. It was rainy. I can't remember rain on Halloween.
WHITFIELD: Oh gosh, I do as a kid.
JERAS: Snow, but not rain.
WHITFIELD: Yes, I remember the rain. Well that was fun. Thanks for the chat room, chat room gossip on the day after Halloween.
CNN Newsroom, 10pm hour, November 1
DON LEMON: You know, it was all treats and no tricks at the White House Halloween celebration last night. More than 2,000 kids got the ultimate treasure, look, from the President and the First Lady. President and Mrs. Obama chatted and passed out goody backs to the children dressed as superheroes, pirates, fairies, all kinds of things there last night. Mr. Obama even got into the one furry cat ears. Mrs. Obama, I should say, not Mr. Obama - Mrs. Obama wearing a furry cat ears.
The bags were loaded with M&Ms with president's signature and a butter cookie made by the White House pastry chef.
Pretty nice. Looks like a fun, fun time
CNN American Morning, 8am hour, November 2
JOHN ROBERTS: And after trick or treating, kids love to compare their loot, but only a select few got candy from the White House. First lady Michelle Obama was dressed up like a cat, wearing furry ears and a leopard pattern top for Halloween. The president himself opted out of dressing up. You don't want those pictures floating around the internet for the next 20 years.
The first couple passed out specially made M&Ms and a cookie made by the White House pastry chef. Now, remember how I was saying last week, when I was a kid, we got gingerbread cookies from the house across the street and everybody looked forward to it and that was back in the day where you could get baked goods and be reasonably assured that it would be safe. One of the only places in America - the White House, where you could get a cookie that you could be pretty much guaranteed would be safe.
Anderson Cooper 360, 10pm hour (and 11pm hour), November 2
ANDERSON COOPER: Time now for our "Beat 360" winners, our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to show up our staffers by coming up with a better caption for the photo that we put on the blog every day.
So tonight's photo, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dressed as Darth Vader. He greets children for a Halloween party in the East Room.
Staff winner tonight is Jay. His caption: "Dick Cheney, I am your father."
ERICA HILL: I noticed Dick Cheney-themed responses from the staff.
COOPER: Yes. Viewer winner is Ying Tor (ph) from New York, with the caption, "Press secretary Robert Gibbs woke up and finally realized that this job really does change you."
- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center