Pulling Back the Curtain on the Nikki Haley Story

On Thursday, the New York Times ran a story with this eye-catching headline: “Nikki Haley’s View of New York Is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701.”

Nearly $53,000… for curtains? Surely this can’t be!

But it’s true. As reported by the Times, the U.S. State Department spent that amount last year on “customized and mechanized” curtains for Haley’s new official residence as our ambassador to the United Nations. And it came at a time of deep budget cuts and hiring freezes within the department.

The social-media outrage came quickly, including from some notable folks:

Good to see there are still some fellow fiscal conservatives left in this country (or at least some pretending to be, depending on the story).

Anyway, there’s more. According to Gardiner Harris (the writer of the article), the 6,000 square-foot penthouse residence (of which Haley will be the first ambassador to live in) costs a whopping $58,000 a month to rent.

Wow! And all of this, of course, is paid for by taxpayers.

So… should taxpayers be upset? Absolutely!

Is that a ridiculous amount of money to be spent on an ambassador’s residence? Absolutely!

And is that apparent diva, Nikki Haley, being raked over the coals appropriately for insisting on such extravagance? Well, not so fast…

After five paragraphs describing the lushness, exclusivity, and unprecedented nature of Haley’s new pad, an important piece of information is finally revealed in the article:

“A spokesman for Ms. Haley said plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016, during the Obama administration. Ms. Haley had no say in the purchase, he said.”

Sure enough, plans for the curtains (and the residence itself for that matter) were put into place by Obama’s State Department, not Trump’s. Trump’s State Department did allow the plans to proceed. But as for Haley’s involvement? Well, there apparently wasn’t any.

Yet throughout the article, Harris continues to refer to the uber-expensive window treatments as “Ms. Haley’s curtains,” as if she were either personally responsible for them, or that they were somehow reflective of her leadership.

The article also includes an amusing quote from Obama White House official, Brett Bruen:

“How can you, on the one hand, tell diplomats that basic needs cannot be met and, on the other hand, spend more than $50,000 on a customized curtain system for the ambassador to the U.N.?”

It’s a fair enough question. One has to wonder if Bruen bothered to ask it of the administration that actually came up with the idea: his.

None of this is to say that a pricey, seemingly unnecessary government expenditure isn’t a legitimate news story. Personally, I’m all for the press exposing government waste. It would have been nice if there had been a notable effort put forth by journalists to do this type of thing during the previous administration.

The problem, of course, is with presenting Nikki Haley as the central figure, and implied object of criticism, in a story that apparently has nothing to do with her — or at least any decision that she has made.

Talk about a misleading narrative.

Something tells me that if Haley were part of a Democratic administration (perhaps one that presided over the addition of $9.1 trillion to our national debt), those fancy curtains would have been the toast of the town… with a price-tag deemed not to be particularly newsworthy.

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Editor’s note: Subsequent to this column being published, The New York Times issued the following retraction:

An earlier version of this article and headline created an unfair impression about who was responsible for the purchase in question. While Nikki R. Haley is the current ambassador to the United Nations, the decision on leasing the ambassador’s residence and purchasing the curtains was made during the Obama administration, according to current and former officials. The article should not have focused on Ms. Haley, nor should a picture of her have been used. The article and headline have now been edited to reflect those concerns, and the picture has been removed.