What Has 132 Rooms and Flies?
By MARK LEIBOVICHJUNE 17, 2009
WASHINGTON — The White House is bugged!
No, not like that. But actual flies are swarming the place, confounding housekeepers, irritating aides, even trying to feast on the president. During an East Room interview with John Harwood for CNBC and The New York Times on Tuesday, a giant fly orbited Mr. Obama’s head.
“I got the sucker,” the president boasted after fatally slapping the critter on the back of his hand.
That scene became an instant YouTube sensation — and resulted in a complaint from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“Well, I guess it can’t be said that President Obama wouldn’t hurt a fly,” lamented Alisa Mullins of PETA on the organization’s blog. The animal rights group announced that it would send over one of its Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher contraptions to the White House in the event of “future insect incidents.”
White House staff members report that they and their boss have been routinely bothered by the bugs, and have seen the First Exterminator personally enforcing a no-fly zone in the West Wing.
“He chases them down in the Oval with his briefing papers to smack them,” reports Austan Goolsbee, a member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers.
How’d you like to be a fly on the wall in the Oval Office these days? Answer: Not so much.)
White House officials say that strenuous debugging measures have been undertaken in recent weeks: Anti-insect lights have been installed in the National Security Council suite and the lower press office. Staff members have been issued fly swatters, and one, Brian Mosteller, stood at the ready during Mr. Obama’s television interviews on Tuesday (a lot of good he did). Some staff members have requested chemical intervention but have been denied.
It’s not clear why there has been so much buzz in the Obama White House. The chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who swatted at a fly in a recent interview, has blamed the opening of vents in the West Wing for the infestation, while Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, has blamed careless staff members who forgot to close unscreened windows, an official said.
There are numerous accounts of infestations in previous administrations, including a cameo by a fly during an Associated Press interview with Vice President Dick Cheney just a few days before Mr. Obama was sworn into office.
“We always had a lot of fly swatters at the ready, too,” said Dana Perino, a spokesman for former President George W. Bush. “We probably inherited the problems from the last administration.”