At the White House, Losing a Game of Phone Tag





The White House switchboard — able to conjure up Santa Claus at a moment’s notice for a young Caroline Kennedy — is famous for its ability to track down anyone, anywhere, anytime.

But last week, both the White House and the secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, were unable to muster that switchboard magic to reach Shirley Sherrod....

Some presidential historians said they were shocked at how long it took a White House that prides itself on being tech savvy — President Obama, after all, fought to keep his BlackBerry — to get through.

“I was astonished,” said Richard Reeves, a professor at the University of Southern California and the author of several books about the presidency. “It seems impossible to me that the president can’t get to people anytime he wants to.”...

Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University, had his own take: “It may be a metaphor for a kind of societal incompetence, where a 20-year-old intern for CNN or Fox or MSNBC can track down the main players, when the federal government can’t.”...


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