Skip to comments.Presents From The President: What Obama Gives His Friends (NPR ethics)
Posted on 06/22/2013 12:16:09 PM PDT by Drango
Between his trip to Europe last week and his travels to Africa next week, President Obama is doing a lot of gift exchanges with foreign leaders.
In the past, he has gotten mixed reviews. Four years ago, for giving the queen of England an iPod. Other presents have gone over better. But the president does not personally select these gifts a staffer does.
And there's a well-kept secret at the White House: When Obama wants to choose a gift himself for someone in his inner circle, he sets a very high bar.
Last November, Valerie Jarrett, one of the president's closest friends and advisers, had a birthday. The president's gift to her? Two historic documents that now hang in a large frame on the wall in her West Wing office situated almost exactly above the Oval Office.
The documents reflect half a century of progress on women's rights. "One is a petition for suffrage signed in 1866," Jarrett says. The other is "a resolution by Congress adopting the 19th Amendment, which gives, of course, women the right to vote in 1919."
As Jarrett notes, it took "over 50 years ... from the time of the original petition to the time of the resolution."
"I think the president's message with me is that ... sometimes change takes time, and that many of the people who signed the original petition may not have made it across the finish line, but that you just have to keep at it," Jarrett says. "So I look at it every morning when I come in, and I remind myself about why we're here."
"What Makes You Tick"
People at the White House often see each other more than they see their families. It occasionally feels like a war zone. So co-workers forge tight bonds. And in some cases, those bonds extend all the way to the president.
"He really has a knack in giving a present that shows that he really knows who you are, what makes you tick," says Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who used to be White House chief of staff.
Lew's father was born in Poland and came to the United States through Ellis Island. That has always shaped Lew's worldview.
"I've had a little statue of the Great Hall of Ellis Island on my desk for decades," Lew says. "My son, when he was in elementary school, brought it back from a school trip."
Last August, Lew walked into the Oval Office, and the president had a birthday gift for him: a Frisbee-size green metal disk, mounted on a wooden plaque. It now sits on Lew's desk at Treasury.
"This is a copper ornamental rosette that originally hung in the Great Hall at Ellis Island," Lew explains. "And when Ellis Island was renovated, apparently they couldn't fit all of the rosettes back, and this became available, and it's something the president gave to me as a birthday gift."
To procure gifts like these takes research, money and, well, it doesn't hurt to be the president of the United States, Jarrett says.
"I said, 'Well, my goodness, how on earth did you get this?' And he said, 'Presidents have the ability to get things,' " she says. "So his gift-giving has improved with office." President Obama meets with speechwriter Jon Favreau in the Oval Office in 2009.
President Obama meets with speechwriter Jon Favreau in the Oval Office in 2009. Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images
But some of his closest aides also describe gifts that require more thought than clout.
Jon Favreau, who was Obama's head speechwriter, says "probably the most meaningful gift was when I left the White House, he framed the first page of three of the speeches we worked on together that the two of us really enjoyed the most."
These were not his most high-profile speeches. They were moments only Favreau and Obama shared an appreciation for.
To Tie It All Together ...
For people who aren't as close to the president, there are standard fallback gifts. Several outgoing Cabinet members got a key to the White House Cabinet Room. Another standby is a candid photo of the departing staffer with the president.
Then there's former press secretary Robert Gibbs, who received his departure gift on national television. Gibbs delivered his final press briefing on the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in 2011.
"Obviously, Gibbs' departure is not the biggest one today," Obama said after walking into the White House briefing room unannounced.
He was holding a large picture frame. Inside the frame was a necktie.
To understand the significance of the tie, you need to rewind the clock to 2004.
"I don't think I'm revealing a state secret," Gibbs recalls. "We didn't really think much of his taste in ties."
Obama was about to give one of the most important speeches of his career a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Adviser David Axelrod, no fashion icon himself, decided that Obama's tie was hideous.
"And Axelrod grabs the tie that I was about to put on," Gibbs recalls, "and says, 'He can wear this one.' And I said, 'No, he can't. I'm about to wear that one.' And he says, 'No, you're not wearing this one he's wearing this one.' "
Obama said he wanted to wear his own tie. The final decision went to Michelle Obama.
And when the future president gave his iconic speech, it was with Gibbs' tie around his neck.
Gibbs never knew what happened to the tie until that day in the White House briefing room, seven years later.
"He has not said anything about this tie all these years," Obama said. "But I have to tell you that I know there's a simmering resentment that he never got it back."
That's right. Even the president of the United States sometimes falls back on that old cliche gift a necktie.
Normally a puff piece on Obama from NPR is no big deal. Kind of expected.
Anyone remember Ari Shaprio? The NPR journalist covering the Romney campaign when he found that his ethics wouldnt allow him to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2012/09/11/160962206/reporters-pledge-of-allegiance-quandary-sparks-twitter-debate-on-romney-trail
Back then many a pundit chimed in that they wouldnt have made the same call but gave Shapiro props for his high ethical standards. High fives for stickin to his convictions. OK. That was then.
Today Saprio covers the White House for NPR. Shouldnt be a problem, but Shapiros spouse now works for the White House Counsels office. Seriously?? Is that a conflict? Hmmmmm, what does the NPR ethics handbook say?
To secure the publics trust, we must make it clear that our primary
allegiance is to the public. Any personal or professional interests
that conflict with that allegiance, whether in appearance or in reality,
risk compromising our credibility. We are vigilant in disclosing to
both our supervisors and the public any circumstances where our
loyalties may be divided - extending to the interests of spouses and
other family members - and when necessary, we recuse ourselves from
This time around the chattering class of pundits in the MSM are silent.
It is. Its a war zone against Americans and their Constitution.
Presidents should “not have the ability to get things” and historic documents belong to this country, should be protected,and should not be handed out to the likes of Iranian Valerie Jarrett. Who gives Obummer the right to help himself to our country’s historic documents?
The gift obama has in mind for many of us citizens would be one of the 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition that fema has stockpiled.
I saw an article in the last month or so on FR that disclosed the incestuous ties of so called "journalist" circles and Democrat staffers.
Hardly an exception. Entirely corrupt.
............Who gives Obummer the right to help himself to our countrys historic documents?.................
I’m surprised that Zer0 even found some female historical documents, after Hitlery had eight years sweeping up everything that she wanted.
It sounds as if they are plundering government possessions (actually owned by we, the people) to find unique gifts for each other.
The gifts by Obama described here sound as though they have been looted from the National Archives, not bought on the free market. Obama is acting like Napoleon or Herman Goring in selecting gifts to buddies.
“Who gives Obummer the right to help himself to our countrys historic documents?”
We should take them back after the squatter is gone. He has no right to give away those documents, they belong to the people.
Reminds me of the Clinton’s thefts.
And how about those nice DVDs he gave to the Royal Family?
I guess they aren’t friends.
Awww... How nice.
But if you really need his help, say your under attack in Bengazi, he is sleeping and can’t be bothered.