My day in the presidential pool
For a day spent covering the president, I sure didn’t see much of him on Friday.
I was somehow selected to be the local pool reporter, which meant I got to follow the president around during his 10-minute tour of the GE turbine manufacturing plant.
But I must sadly report that this sounds a lot cooler than it actually is.
I was warned about half an hour before the tour that the regular White House poolers would be “aggressive” and that some local pooler had actually cried during a previous event.
When the White House poolers showed up (four reporters and some 16 photographers/videographers, by my count), a Secret Service guy met us and began running through the plant as the poolers called out for him to stop.
“Hey! No running on Fridays!” one of them said.
I had no idea what we were running to, but I stuck to his heels just in case getting there first was important.
It wasn’t. We were painstakingly arranged along a corridor delineated by yellow tape, and told to wait.
Eventually, Obama appeared in the distance. But my presence on the tour was for naught: the hum of the generators drowned out every word that he and his tour guides said.
The photographers got great pictures, but all I could do was stand there and watch his mouth move.
I crept closer when he stopped to greet the first workers, but I could only make out one line of dialogue before Secret Service waved us all back again.
(It wasn’t too exciting. Obama asked them how long they’d worked there. One man said he’d been there 37 years, and Obama playfully asked the others if they could beat that. One man came close, at 35 years. Then Secret Service ended the conversation, at least on my end.)
Between the jostling of photographers, videographers trying to plant their cameras in my cheekbone and the radio guy waving a mic over my head, I couldn’t see much of the president. I spent the entire tour trying to get close enough to hear him, while not tripping over the piles of cables on the floor and not getting brained by the other journalists, who were all trying to do the same thing.
It ended anticlimactically: we were herded around a corner, apparently in anticipation that Obama would come toward us. Instead he stopped just out of sight — I think he was shaking more hands — and then, suddenly, the Secret Service was telling us all to go to our seats.
Between cameras on the factory floor, I caught glimpses of Obama’s head. We were so far away that it was about half the size of my hand. And then he didn’t take questions, which was really too bad, because I had an awesome question all prepared in the off-chance he’d make my day.
Ah, well. It was still invigorating to file an official pool report. I was there as the ears of the entire press corps, and the idea is that I’ll share with them every single useful detail that they would’ve gotten if there’d been enough room for hundreds of reporters to follow him around.
But the real fun, for me, started when Obama left. The VIPs slowly cleared out, the real GE workers appeared, and eventually someone took down all the barriers that had kept us reporters away from the people who actually know things.
With the amazing eyesight of Gazette photographer Peter Barber, who spotted Obama’s tour guide all the way on the other side of the room, I got to interview people who had actually talked to the president. To my delight, as far as I could tell, nobody else had interviewed them.
Talking to the president amid a horde of reporters would have been cool. But getting something unscripted in an event that orchestrated was priceless.