No, don't even ask -- Aaron Schock doesn't want to talk about his manly new "Downton Abbey"-inspired office
The red room at Downton Abbey? No, fooled you! Yes, that is the inspiration, but in fact this is the new office of Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL). Only the congressman doesn't wanna talk about it.
"I don't even know if he watches it; I don't know what shows he watches. But I don't think he watches much TV."
-- Benjamin Cole, Aaron Schock's communications director
("he" would be Benjamin's boss, and "it" is Downton Abbey)
("he" would be Benjamin's boss, and "it" is Downton Abbey)
Isn't this just like us rancid media types? Here I am pouncing on this story by the Washington Post's Ben Terris, "He’s got a ‘Downton Abbey’-inspired office, but Rep. Aaron Schock won’t talk about it," about how Ben was offered the opportunity to talk to the congressman about, well, other stuff but no, insisted on following up the congressman's exasperated communications director, Benjamin Coles, insisted would be "some gossipy story," about the congressman's new office in the Rayburn House Office Building -- a major upgrade from his old perch on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building, which reporter Ben (I have to be careful here, since we have two Bens) calls "one of the least desirable pieces of congressional real estate."
Yes Communications Director Ben said just that to reporter Ben: "You’ve got a member willing to talk to you about other things. Why sour it by rushing to write some gossipy piece?"
Exactly what other things the member might have been willing to talk about isn't clear. Not, presumably, about being gay, because as we all know the member doesn't talk about. For all I know, the member may still be pretending he isn't. Which could be one reason why his staff went into such hysterics when they discovered that a Washington Post reporter was on the premises taking pictures.
Beyond the question of what our Aaron might have been willing to talk about, there's the larger question of what else anyone might want to talk to him about. Color me stumped. If the member gets naked, or some reasonable semblance thereof, always assuming he's kept up that tight little body that has made so many hearts flutter, then he has something to show us. But talking? Talking, to put it mildly, is not generally, shall we say, the member's strong suit.
To get back to the outbreak of hysterics occasioned by reporter Ben's visit to the new office, probably we should let him tell the story.
The Rayburn House Office Building is a labyrinth of beige offices."Washington," says reporter Ben "has always been more 'Veep' than 'House of Cards.' " I always bristle when I hear about how D.C. folk dote on Veep. After all, it's a show that seems to be written by morons, peopled by morons, and aimed at the amusement of morons. But the "insider" Veep fans always insist that this is the real Washington. This story suggests that they have a point.
And then, there’s . . . Rep. Aaron Schock’s new digs.
Bright red walls. A gold-colored wall sconce with black candles. A Federal-style bull’s-eye mirror with an eagle perched on top. And this is just the Illinois Republican’s outer office.
Yes, there are pheasant feathers.
“It’s actually based off of the red room in ‘Downton Abbey,’ ” said the woman behind the front desk, comparing it to the luxurious set piece at the heart of the British period drama.
This was a bold room. But the confidence was a mirage. For on Capitol Hill, caution is king when it comes to the micromanagement of one’s image, even in the case of how a congressman decides to decorate his office.
And sometimes, a friendly outsider can inadvertently ruin a communications director’s day.
A blond woman popped out of an inner office. “Want to see the rest?” she asked.
She introduced herself as Annie Brahler, the interior decorator whose company is called Euro Trash. She guided me to Schock’s private office, revealing another dramatic red room. This one with a drippy crystal chandelier, a table propped up by two eagles, a bust of Abraham Lincoln and massive arrangements of pheasant feathers.
Then, my phone rang.
It was Schock’s communications director, Benjamin Cole.
“Are you taking pictures of the office?” he asked. “Who told you you could do that? . . . Okay, stay where you are. You’ve created a bit of a crisis in the office.”
A staff member then came and asked me to please delete the photos from my phone. So started a day of back-and-forths with a congressman’s office about interior design.
Since not all of us are up on the ins and outs of congressional office decorating, luckily reporter Ben fills us in:
When a member of Congress moves into an office, the bare essentials are provided by the House of Representatives. Furniture and computers are often handed down by other offices. New members are also entitled to a new paint job, although there are only a limited number of available colors — beige, eggshell, light blue, light gray or light yellow — that the House will provide. Additional decorations must come out of the lawmaker’s pocket.And it sure looks as if our Aaron opened his coffers for the new office, though Illinois-based decorator Annie Brahler (who had also done his Cannon Building office) was reported by the congressman's office to have "offered her services for free," The congressman, we're told, had been a big fan of her work even before he meet her -- "in his district years ago" -- from examples he had seen in magazines.
But that leaves the cost of the furnishings. And while I haven't priced peacock feathers lately, the job doesn't look to have been done on the cheap, even though decorator Annie "likes to say that she can turn things ready for the trash heap into something beautiful." It doesn't look like the office was done entirely with materials ready for the trash heap.
Which still doesn't explain why camera-wielding reporter Ben's presence in the office created "a bit of a crisis," as Communications Director Ben put it. "An office decorated in a unique way would hardly be surprising," writes reporter Ben. "It would just be another interesting fact about a congressman who has built a brand as not just another politician" -- whom he has described as "one of the rising stars of the Republican Party."
He’s young, has six-pack abs that landed him on the cover of Men’s Health and is a prodigious fundraiser. He’s also one of the most media-savvy members of Congress, with an Instagram feed that features him surfing, hiking across glaciers, tangoing on the streets of Buenos Aires and smiling next to duck-faced pop star Ariana Grande.
"America's Fittest Congressman!" -- our Aaron in 2011. (Yowza!)
"SO WHY WAS THIS A CRISIS?"
Reporter Ben would dearly love to know, but he doesn't seem to have gotten an answer. Unless maybe we can sort of glean a hint of one in the drama's second act.
“You see, the congressman hasn’t even seen the office yet,” Cole told me later. “Surely, it wouldn’t be fair for you to write about his office until he has the chance to see it.”Which was almost the last word on the story. The exception? The quote I've put at the top of this post.
I told him if I could be there when Schock first saw the office, I would hold off till then. Cole agreed, and we reached the Red Walls Accord of 2015.
That is, until Schock decided he wasn’t interested in doing a whole story about how his office is decorated.
“He’s happy to talk to you, just not about the office,” Cole said, sounding very tired of the ordeal. “I’m really sorry and want you to know this is not fun for me.”
Cole was back in touch later to add one more piece of information relating to Schock and “Downton Abbey”: “I don’t even know if he watches it; I don’t know what shows he watches. But I don’t think he watches much TV.”Noted, thanks, Communications Director Ben. By the way, readers, in case you hadn't heard, as of the last tally, I believe the congressman still isn't gay.
HOWIE ADDS THIS THOUGHT --
"Voters in Schock's district didn't see any subtle signals in his way of dressing and they won't understand his office decor choices either."
"Signals"? "Understand his office decor choices"? Is there something to understand?
And if there were something to understand, would we want those voters to hold that something against Aaron? Except maybe for his perceived need to lie about it to them, and to the rest of us -- though surely not to himself. He can't be that clueless, can he?
Not just pretty in pink, but with those tight white pants,
and the turquoise belt, you could just eat our Aaron up.
and the turquoise belt, you could just eat our Aaron up.
But of course there isn't anything to "understand," is there?
FOOTNOTE: COULD OUR AARON BE IN TROUBLE
FOR ACCEPTING FREE DECORATING SERVICES?
ThinkProgress's Josh Israel reports, in "Congressman Who Voted To Defund Public Broadcasting Got 'Downton Abbey' Office Redesign For Free" (links onsite):
The Washington Post reported on Monday that Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) recently had his House office redecorated in the style of the popular television series Downton Abbey. But a detail in the post — the fact that the interior decorator who oversaw the design did so for free — may land the Congressman in ethical hot water.
According to the report, interior decorator Annie Brahler designed the plans for Schock’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building. “Brahler offered her services for free, according to Schock’s office, although he had to pay for the objects.” She also had designed his old Cannon House Office Building workspace.
House rules prohibit Members of Congress from accepting most gifts valued at $50 or more — including “gifts of services, training, transportation, lodging, and meals, whether provided in kind, by purchase of a ticket, payment in advance, or reimbursement after the expense has been incurred.”
Stephen Spaulding, policy counsel for the non-partisan Common Cause, told ThinkProgress that this donation of services from a professional decorator could well violate both the spirit and letter of the House gift rules: “It certainly raises plenty of questions that I think [Schock] needs to answer.”
“There’s been scandal after scandal of politicians accepting gifts and returning the favor,” Spaulding noted, “Here’s an interior designer, I don’t know if she has any business before Congress, but we expect our leaders to follow the rules and hold themselves to the highest standards.” He described this situation as an example of a politician “far more interested in the accoutrements of a nice office on Capitol Hill than in doing the peoples’ business.”
UPDATE: ALL QUIET ON THE PEORIA FRONT?
As I noted in reply to a comment, I didn't realize till after I'd basically written my piece how explosively the office story had spread yesterday, presumably thanks to the clumsy effort by the congressman's office to squelch it. But the comment to which I was replying, from BrianG, raises the question of whether the story will ever reach Preoria. I thought it worth yanking out of the comments section for general perusal:
Ken, tell Howie that the media in Peoria embargoes all negative stories about Schock. It was AP and the Chicago Tribune that broke the Notarygate story when he first ran. They dragged their feet when it comes to reporting his numerous ethics violations. They don't write about his penchant for traveling on the taxpayers' dime. No one reports about his fabulous Instagram account. Did anyone report on his twitter relationship with Court AndersonX? Did he mainstream media actually do any investigative work on his campaign donor bundling with Mike Grimm? How many people in Peoria ever saw a picture of Congressman Schock in his teal belt outfit? Google this story in a few days and tell me if the Peoria Journal Star or the local television stations cover this?One other note: Our colleague Noah, loooking at that picnic (or whatever it is) shot of our Aaron in that darling little outfit, which we've seen a zillion times, there's one obvious question: What about the shoes? And he's right, of course -- the shoes could make or break the look, couldn't they? I haven't attempted to photo-research it, but you'd think there must have been other pictures taken that day, including at least one that shows the delicate tootsies. Unless shoe shots were officially embargoed.
Oh yes, I'd also like to submit one last question to Communications Director Ben, with maybe one little follow-up. The question: As of this moment, is the congressman still not gay? The follow-up: Just how catastrophic would it be if he one of these days turns gay?
This further update received from BrianG:
I was wrong. The paper of record in Peoria had a piece from columnist Phil Luciano. However, the Peoria media's track record is abysmal.Thanks, Brian! So the congressman's office's efforts at damage control, which appeared so spectacularly unsuccessful, have turned out to be even less successful than we thought!