There's a cute story in today's NYT about how the White House switchboard operators may not be the vaunted locator of people they used to me.
As one might expect, the story revolves around the attempts that were made to get an Agriculture Department employee, Shirley Sherrod, (former employee) to call the boss.
The story is a little tough to follow, but basically comes through that Ms. Sherrod didn't call the Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack back to discuss the aftermath of Ms. Sherrod's "resignation." The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs sets out to explain to the press corps the attempts that have been made to get Mr. Sherrod to call in, even while she's appearing on television giving interviews left and right.
We don't really get a clear picture if Ms. Sherrod is not responding because she doesn't want anything to do with Mr. Vilsack (he did fire her), or she's really not getting the message that there's a message for her.
And that might really be the problem. A message that there's a message. The story is filled with tales of people being confronted that the White House (not the secretary of agriculture) is trying to get them, and that the bearer gets results and the intended calls in. This is attributed to the prowess of the White House switchboard operators who act like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and always get who they're after.
The story about these White House operators is not new. I distinctly remember reading one that told of the time they got someone to show up on the shoreline of a lake, wave two officials in who were fishing, and tell them that president Eisenhower wanted them to call. They did.
In somewhat typical Times angst, the fact that Ms. Sherrod either couldn't be reached, or didn't call back is offered as "a metaphor for social incompetence," as Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice, seems to sigh out loud.
But when it's apparent that's it's the president who's trying to get a hold of her, and not the secretary of agriculture, the loop is closed. Ms. Sherrod makes contact with president Obama.
But face it. Not everyone wants to be reached, even when the bearer of the message is right in front of them. Years and years ago there was a fellow at work who was a pompous jerk.
His name was Ed. In those days, people answered other people’s phones, and told them of a call. He didn’t like those that did this to tell him, “Ed, there’s a call for you.” (Thank God, “Yo” was unheard of then.)
He insisted on being called Mr. Ahr. It was then they started calling him Mr. Ed.