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Throwback Thursday: Obama's First Press Conference, Backstage With Mitt Romney, and More

MEMBERS ONLY: In our new weekly feature, Daily Banter White House correspondent Tommy Christopher will raid his extensive vault of never-seen-before photos, video, and memories to give readers a look (back) at the inside of the White House beat.
feb 9 2009

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, Banter Members. In these pages, I hope to bring you something new about something old every week. Over the years, I've accumulated a vast archive of videos, photos, and anecdotes that. for whatever reason, I've never shared before, and will now share with you. Since this is the inaugural edition of #TBT, I thought it would be appropriate to begin at the beginning. While this series will mainly concern itself with my time covering the White House, I thought I'd begin with a video clip from slightly earlier than that.

At the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, then-Senator Barack Obama took a lot of grief from critics over the set design for his convention stage, which featured some very White House-esque Greek columns. The attack was purely an appeal to the "he's uppity" crowd, but the set did look an awful lot like the White House, so covering it was sort of the next best thing. I was in Denver to cover the convention for an AOL blog called The Political Machine (which later became PoliticsDaily), and on the day of Barack Obama's big speech, I was in possession of the worst set of media credentials you could possibly get. The editor of AutoShopper had more access than I did.

So, my conservative comrade Caleb Howe and I did what any scrappy, middle-aged rookie reporter would do: we snuck past checkpoint after checkpoint, and brazened our way right onto the floor of Invesco Field. In fairness to event security, they didn't fall for every ploy. One way they differentiated credentials was with a big blue sticker, but when I tried to get through with a Dasani cap stuck into my credential-holder, it was no dice. We got onto the floor by creating diversions for each other.

While Caleb went off to try and find "Gotcha!" interviews with Democratic delegates, I took my camera up onstage to get an Obama's-eye-view of the stadium. That didn't last long, as campaign staff and Secret Service quickly rousted me, but that view has been preserved for you, dear Banter Members, and probably hasn't been seen by more than a handful of people other than Barack Obama:

In case you're wondering, there's no such thing as a "podium pass," but if you have to ask, then you don't have one.

Rather than stand my ground and argue my First Amendment rights, I slipped back onto the floor, where I wasn't supposed to be, and picked up interviews with governors, delegates, and Fran Drescher. I never used the footage because I was afraid I'd get into trouble, which I probably would have.

I actually have a lot of Denver footage that I never used, but for now, I'll end with this clip of a whole mess of people crowding around Anderson Cooper for a photograph. I started filming because the crowd was making an over-the-top racket, but they quieted down for the picture. At the time, the scene comically reminded me of the Biblical story of boy Jesus drawing a crowd by debating pharisees at the temple:

Fast forward six months, and I get credentialed for my first White House press conference, which also happens to be President Obama's first White House press conference. That picture above is from that day, February 9, 2009, the first time I set foot in the People's House, and it's one of my favorite photos. It looks like the President and I are waving to each other, but what's really happening is I'm the only idiot in the room who thinks the President might call on him if he raises his hand.

A little over a week later, I attended my first White House daily briefing, but once again, I didn't really get how that worked. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs spent about 90% of the briefing calling on the first two rows, and doled out the remaining questions to a lucky few. My fellow back-benchers all told me how difficult it was to ever get a question in, and even David Corn said he was in the middle of a six-week cold spell from Gibbs. The following week, though, I got my first question in, and only recently did I realize that I never actually used it. It was about then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele's opposition even to civil unions, a quote that I shopped to Gibbs, and to several Republicans at CPAC. So, for the first time since it aired, probably, here is my first ever question at a White House briefing:

Lol, he said "very hard."

That was back in the days when I would ask one question, but I've since learned to fire them in bunches. So, as I was looking at that clip, I stumbled across a clip of me shopping that same question to another guy, some dude named Mitt Romney, whom I literally ran into in the basement of the Marriott Wardman. Here, for the first time, is that uncut video:

Six years later, and Romney has graduated to the basement of the Battlestar Pegasus.

Well, I could literally do this all day, but then there'd be nothing left for next time. I hope you enjoyed this look back, and behind, the curtain of the White House beat. If you have any questions, feel free to pose them in the comments section.