As the Secret Service scandal swallowed director Julia Pierson on Wednesday afternoon, the home page of National Public Radio carried this exculpatory headline:
“The White House Could Be Made A Fortress, But Should It? It turns out the Secret Service isn't too good at protecting the White House, and maybe one reason is that we don't want it to be.”
“We” don’t want an effective Secret Service that stops a White House intruder from jumping the fence and heading into the East Room for canapes?
NPR political director Ron Elving lived up to his title (and his blog's title, "It's All Politics") by changing the subject to how Secret Service agents surely protect the president and his family, but maybe not so much the building.
Should it be policy for the armed agents around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to use deadly force whether the president or his family is present or not?
Most Americans see the White House as a symbol of the nation, like the Capitol or the flag. Most do not realize how exposed the physical reality of that symbol is, situated in the center of a major urban metropolis with an antiquated security fence just yards from the front door.
Elving argued that if intruders were shot or electrified on a fence, “the Secret Service would be pilloried as either inept or trigger-happy. The president would be portrayed as besieged, unfeeling, remote. Even the signs on the fence warning of lethal consequences would be a ghastly image.”
...Yes, the uniformed agents could have shot him. They also could have released trained dogs who would have taken him down. But that would have meant an ugly story about the treatment of a man carrying nothing more threatening than a knife, as was noted at the hearing by former Secret Service Director W. Ralph Basham.
Americans can have a debate about how much security the president needs, and how much security makes the president (or his residence) seem too remote from the public. But you can’t have much of a debate that NPR is spinning furiously to defend the Secret Service for its failures, blaming them instead on us.