Good morning, loyal Banter members, and welcome to your weekly look behind the scenes of our White House coverage. We've got some real treats in store this week, including an impromptu interview with Bloomberg's Dave Weigel, a stakeout with the NCAA champion Ohio State Buckeyes, and an exclusive look at one of the most beautiful locations on the White House grounds, the South Lawn, where President Obama congratulated Kevin Harvick's NASCAR Sprint Cup team last Tuesday.
Before I get to the goodies, let me just give you all a brief summary of last week's trip. We had a pretty full schedule organized for Monday and Tuesday, with copious meetings scheduled between White House events, plus an appearance on Thom Hartmann's The Big Picture on Monday night. Our meetings were pretty much all off the record, with the aim of developing long-term sources, and Monday and Tuesday's briefings were largely a washout for us, as we seem to be on Josh Earnest's shit list for the time being. It's not unusual for Earnest to skip me even when he's in a good mood, but he was also chilly over email. Why? Who can say. It's not like I lack for reasons to piss people off. I have my suspicions, but I don't want to point out reasons for him to be mad at me if he hasn't already noticed them.
Luckily, there was plenty else to do. On my way to the White House Monday morning, a group of several hundred protesters was assembling in front of the North Lawn, may or most of them wheelchair-bound. More on them later. As I waited to get into the press entrance, a familiar face appeared on Pennsylvania ave., and as has become my habit with long-separated colleagues, I exclaimed "Dave Weigel, as I live and breathe!"
I haven't seen Weigel since last year's WHCD, or maybe even the one before that, but he's the one who introduced me to my home-away-from-home, The Laughing Man Tavern, for which I am forever grateful. Since I first came to Washington, DC, Weigel has been a reliable source of advice and camaraderie, but over the years, I've had fewer and fewer opportunities just to hang with colleagues. When I'm not working, I'm always desperately trying to catch up on sleep.
Dave was on his way back to his office, but he agreed to stop and talk with us for a few minutes. Actually, he agreed to say "hi" for my video diary, and then I started firing politics questions at him. Here are Dave's thoughts on how culture war politics may affect the 2016 Republican field, and how he likes Marco Rubio's chances:
As you can see, it was a beautiful day, sunny and just a littler bit cool. Once inside, I took a few minutes of footage featuring our pal Kevin Corke doing a tape hit for Fox News in the briefing room, and some casual Banter with our friends randy Foreman and JC Bua on the topic of the then-upcoming Nerd Prom, both the movie and the actual dinner:
The movie was also a hot topic of conversation off-camera at the White House last week, where everyone who had seen it seemed to really like it, while those who hadn't seen it had very strong negative reactions.
About the same time as the daily briefing was going on, President Obama was congratulating the NCAA champion Ohio State Buckeyes football team in the Rose Garden, which I skipped in favor of being ignored by Josh Earnest, but as luck would have it, the team did a brief stakeout afterwards. If you've seen the other stakeouts I've shot, you'll notice something different about this one. Perhaps because there were so many reporters from Ohio outlets and the sports media, they didn't really get the whole stakeout setup, and crowded around the guys in a very tight near-circle. As a special bonus, I even got a question in right at the end:
On my way out of the White House on Monday, the Secret Service had closed off a big section of Pennsylvania Avenue, and were in the process of arresting several dozen members of the disability self-advocacy group ADAPT. Some of the video is a little bit wavy because the camera on my phone was being weird last week, but here's what the scene looked like as I left on Monday:
After that, it was off to RT America, where I did a brief hit on The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann, then lot out for my hotel in Alexandria under threatening skies and tornado warnings. When the lightning and rain got really bad, I took refuge in a Krispy Kreme donut shop, where I shot some mesmerizing video of how the donuts get made, plus some cool slo-mo shots of the lightning outside the shop. I'm sure there are many videos out there like this, but this one is ours:
Tuesday's White House briefing was devoted mainly to asking Josh Earnest questions about the U.S. naval blockade of Iran's weapons shipment to Yemen, questions that he could only answer one way, seventeen times. This apparently left him no time to take a question from me, and only about seven seconds for Earnest to blow me off via email. I've long been on record opposing all of the hand-wringing that attends the White House Correspondents' Dinner, but I wanted to get Earnest's take on the claim that the dinner and the parties are compromising to journalists and their subjects, so I asked him a question designed to draw him out on the topic, while also taking one more run at the Yemen question. Here's how that went:
2 questions. First, if in the course of ensuring freedom of navigation, the Roosevelt should encounter a violation of international agreements, is it fair to say that they would not ignore it?
Second, do you know which WHCD parties and related events you will be attending, and do you feel that such events are compromising in any way to journalists or government officials?
1) Nothing to add beyond what I said in the briefing on this.
2) Yes, I am attending the dinner. No, not compromising for me.
Clearly, I wasn't asking him if he'd be attending the dinner, but that's the question he wanted to answer, and he didn't elaborate on followup questions. This is the pitfall of being a reporter from a small outlet, they can ignore you just because they can.
After the briefing, though, it was out to the South Lawn for the NASCAR event, where I took lots of photos and video. The South Lawn is a great place to cover events, and a great opportunity to gather file footage and photos to be used in the future. Since there's so much, I'm going to present the videos individually, and a selection of photos, the rest of which you can see here. This is the video of the event as the White House put it out, and here is what it was like to cover it:
This is some footage of the final gather and our walk through the Palm Room and out to the South Lawn. I stopped at the Rose Garden to take some shots of the reception they were setting up.
This is the rest of the walk out to the South Lawn, where I tried to give you a look at the lay of the roped-off press area and the surroundings:
Here is my first shot of the actual car, about half an hour before President Obama and Kevin Harvick's team came out to speak. You can hear one of the press aides hollering at me to get back behind the approved free press area. The Secret Service also kept themselves busy hassling me.
Here's the rest of my raw footage, which includes a brief shot of some food being prepared for the reception in the Palm Room as we were escorted back to the briefing room.
One of the main reasons I cover events like this, despite their relatively low news value, is to pad my file of White House photos that can be used in future articles without having to worry about copyrights or rely exclusively on official White House photos. Here are a few of my favorites from this go-around (all of the photos can be seen here):
This is one of many shots I took of the South Portico, the iconic entryway to the residence that can be used, editorially, for any piece of White House commentary (if you crop out the race car).
This is a shot of President Obama from under the press riser, which can be used in a variety of editorial contexts, like "Lonely Obama," or "Obama under pressure," or "Media versus Obama."
Similarly, I'll often take photos of President Obama being photographed, with the photography device's screen and the actual President Obama in the frame. It's good for your perception-related themes.
While waiting for the president to arrive, I noticed this little spider enjoying the band on one of the poles they use to rope us off.
This is the front row of cameras atop the press riser, set against a beautiful sky. A good shot to use for any media-themed article.
I took several shots of the domed dishes in the Rose Garden. I don't know what I'll use them for, but they're cool-looking.
On the way back, I took this shot of the White House staff preparing to serve the reception.