My Own Private Easter Egg-Gate


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The 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll. This year’s event has generated more controversy than usual.

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

My first hint that the White House Easter Egg Roll in the age of President Trump might be a fraught subject came, fittingly, through Mr. Trump’s favorite medium: Twitter.

One afternoon in March, in between stories about the collapse of his health care overhaul and his immigration crackdown, I spotted a tweet announcing that the commemorative wooden egg the White House would hand out at the annual gathering on the South Lawn would be “GOLD.”

This seemed appropriate for a commander in chief with a fondness for all things gilded, from the Louis XIV-style accents that drip from every corner of his Manhattan penthouse to the color of his signature logos.

I retweeted the announcement with a comment: “Forget those silly pastel/rainbow colors of White House Easter Egg Rolls past; Trump’s Easter eggs will be GOLD.”

Moments later, I noticed another tweet showing that the Trumps were also unveiling pastel-colored eggs. Then a quick internet search reminded me that last year, for their final Easter Egg Roll, the Obamas, too, had featured a golden egg in addition to the traditional brightly colored ones.

I quickly corrected myself on Twitter, but for many of Mr. Trump’s ardent supporters, the damage had been done. Over the next several hours and for more than a week afterward, I received hundreds of angry and ugly messages from people who were outraged by my comment, calling for a public apology to the president, my resignation or firing, and worse. More than two weeks later, I still receive at least one or two insults per day related to what I have come to refer to as Easter egg-gate.

To them, my tweet was an egregious example of “fake news” from The New York Times. The reaction was far more vitriolic than any I have experienced covering more serious topics, such as allegations that Mr. Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia or his attempts to impose a travel ban.

It also suggested that a story I had been picking away at for weeks about the Trumps’ plans for their first-ever Easter Egg Roll might have more resonance than your typical bunnies-and-Peeps tale. The subject seemed to touch a nerve, not because it was important on its own but because the event was seen as a reflection of the president himself.

I first became interested in the Easter Egg Roll after a colleague alerted me to another quiet drama unfolding on Twitter: The wood products manufacturer that makes the commemorative eggs had been using the platform to nudge Mr. Trump to submit an order for the Egg Roll before he missed the production deadline.

Intrigued, I began calling sources who might know something about the planning of the event. Many professed ignorance and even some alarm about whether Mr. Trump would hold the Easter Egg Roll at all; others told me plans were underway but the event would be scaled back — to about 20,000 attendees from nearly twice that many last year.

It seemed an apt metaphor for a White House plagued with understaffing and disorganization from the start.

White House press aides answered my queries politely and promised to look into the matter. Then there were weeks of silence. So as I juggled coverage of health care and taxes, Nafta and wiretapping, I investigated the Easter Egg Roll — calling anyone I could think of who might know something about it.

Right before my deadline, a White House official emailed to say that what I had heard about a smaller event was “just not accurate,” though she did not give me numbers to demonstrate otherwise. By then I had nailed down the figures myself.

When my story ran in the paper on Wednesday, it shared space on the front page with one I wrote about the White House accusing Russia of covering up the Syrian government’s culpability in a chemical weapons attack on its own people.

And on Thursday, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, revealed the number of attendees expected at Monday’s Egg Roll: 21,000.

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