On Tuesday, it was apparently huge news that NBC’s Jenna Bush Hager was at the White House to interview President Obama on the occasion of daughter Sasha Obama’s 13th birthday, such big news that Bush Hager’s handlers tried to go all KGB on The Daily Banter‘s humble White House reporter in order to protect the scoop. I wasn’t trying to pull a TMZ, I was merely shooting in an open area of the White House grounds, which, it should be noted is my fucking job.
In related news, a White House press aide also hassled your esteemed correspondent for doing the same thing.
I’ve been covering the White House for going on six years now, and there’s more to the job than just attending daily briefings. There are events in other part of the White House almost every day (even in the super-sacred Rose Garden) and lots of impromptu stuff that just happens, and for every one of those years I have routinely filmed, photographed, and otherwise chronicled these happenings without incident.
Well, almost without incident. There was that one time I got lost and almost wandered into the Oval Office and there have been a few times when the Secret Service has asked about things I was photographing (they never made me delete anything, but I’ve seen them do it to other reporters), but these were legitimate security issues. In areas of the White House that are open to the press, we get to film/photograph/report whatever we want. In fact, that’s kinda the job. Everyone at the White House seemed to know this until yesterday, which must have been Fuck With Tommy Christopher Day and nobody told me.
As it happens, I decided to film a video tour/diary of a day at the White House, to give our readers an idea of what a typical day on the job is like, and as part of that rather ordinary project, I filmed the prep for covering a bill signing. Most reporters skip events like this, because there’s very little news that isn’t capably covered by the various camera feeds, but I sometimes go to them — for a variety of reasons. It’s a good chance to collect my own stock of photos to use generically, and, sometimes, there’s a mildly fascinating detail I can capture that the big guys miss. The downside is that they are often deadly-boring wastes of time, but I was taking the hit for you, dear readers.
So, as I was entering the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a press aide flagged me down and introduced herself. “I’m Hannah,” she said, which I knew because we’ve spoken and corresponded via email many times before. Confused, I said, “Hi, Hannah,” and, perplexed by the weird look she was giving me, asked where we were supposed to sit, even though I was practically tripping over our seats.
“Are you filming?” she asked, because I had my camera out and was filming. “What are you filming?”
Even though I didn’t have to, I explained myself, and she seemed to reluctantly assent to my filming of an open press event. She then proceeded to helpfully tell the pool reporter that no, she probably wouldn’t be giving him any background on the attendees.
I still don’t quite understand what the purpose of this exchange was, since she clearly could not have made me stop filming, and just as clearly could have no logical reason for even wanting me to stop. It was just a chance to throw some weight around, I guess, but hassling reporters for filming at an open event is not something press aides get to do. That’s my editor’s job.
Annoying as that was, it did liven up a dreary task. After the bill signing, I went back to the briefing room to get ready for the briefing, and a few minutes later, I saw some camera guys heading up the West Wing driveway. This is usually a sign that something good is happening, so, as I always have done, I went to see what was up, and took my loyal Daily Banter readers with me:
So, what you are seeing there is a TV crew shooting B-roll of Jenna Bush Hager walking down the drive, later to be inserted in the final edit of her interview with President Obama. It’s a kind of fascinating look into the process, and artifice, of television news, but it ain’t Watergate. I was, once again, genuinely confused as to why anyone would wonder, or care, why I was filming in yet another area that’s open to the press when Jenna’s handlers decided to become the second people that day to appoint themselves Ministers of Information. Here’s how that went:
That was Huffington Post UK‘s Jon-Christopher Bua wandering into the fracas with the assist, and I’m sure he would agree: Sorry, jerk-offs, you don’t get to come visit the beat I’ve been working for five-and-a-half years and ask me who the fuck I’m with, or tell me what I can or can’t film.
Now, the right way for them to have handled that would have been to approach me and ask, ask, if I wouldn’t mind not using that video, or holding it until they’d had a chance to promote their interview, neither of which I was obligated to do. After the video cut off, I told the suddenly-nice lady that I would, indeed, hold the video until after the interview was promoted, and one of the regular NBC White House guys later apologized, and patiently weathered a long, indignant rant.
The fact is, if they had never said a word to me, that clip would have been buried in the middle of my video tour, and probably would have been published at the end of this week. If not for the video tour, I might not have used it at all.
The choice, though, is and will always be mine. The same news organizations that bitch about a lack of transparency from the White House are also the worst offenders when it comes to shutting people out from reporting on them or trying to manage the reporting that does get done.
Get it straight, people: to the extent that anyone even cares about the mundane bullshit that I was shooting, it is my job, and my job alone, to decide what I’m going to shoot. If you don’t like it, build your own White House and go shoot your B-roll there. This one belongs to the people.