Disclaimer: Aaron Sorkinís, not mine. Iím not trying to fringe any inns and thus cause infringement.
Authorís note: my first story since May. Things have been rather busy. Itís a short one, but it wouldnít leave me alone. Most of the observations come from the time I spent as a reporter in the White House pressroom several months ago.
Spoilers: Up to and including Manchester 1.
My job can be hideously tedious. Most people donít believe me when I tell them so. ďWhat!?Ē they exclaim. ďYouíre a White House reporter! How can that be boring?Ē Theyíve seen too many TV shows.
Sure, I get a bit of a charge when I slap my ID up to the black iron White House gates every morning and growl ďpressĒ to the Secret Service. They glower at me as they let me in. They would rather that I stayed outside, but the pesky First Amendment gets in the way. I swear they think my words could kill the President. The pen is mightier than the sword, but it canít do the kind of damage that an SS bullet could do to me. No smiles or good-mornings from the stone-faced Service, but at least the gawking tourists are duly impressed. I haul my background-checked self through the security checkpoint while a guard scans everything I own.
White House reporters are confined to a corridor and one small room Ė you know the one, with the famous blue curtain, podium, and symbol of the White House. It looks nice on TV, but it isnít. Itís small, cramped, dirty; the walls need paint, the chairs have seen far to many rears, and bulky cameras stationed in the back make it nearly impossible for two people to move past one another. Reporters from big newspapers like mine are assigned tiny cubicle work stations. We never use them. The desks are cluttered repositories for half-filled notebooks, dried out pens, and dirty laundry in an overnight bag from the last trip. To one side of the room there is a bulletin board; a note taped to it says ďdonít steal the thumb tacks.Ē There arenít any tacks left.
When we are allowed venture outside our claustrophobic cage, we do it in herd fashion and stuff ourselves into some little corner in the East Room, trying to do our jobs with someoneís elbow buried deep in a kidney. We are chronically tired. The TV guys hide it with thick makeup before they tromp out to talk at the permanently mounted cameras outside the White House. Three a.m. flights, snarky West Wing aides, an unappreciative public, stale donuts. Sure, this is fun.
And then thereís CJ Cregg. We go through same dance so often that the steps are terribly tiresome. The President has very important news. We ask for more details, she fakes right, we re-phrase the question, she evades, we ask the question louder (maybe she doesnít know English?), she spins, we fill our notebooks with meaningless bureaucrat babble. Itís maddening.
Heaven help me, I love this job.
Strangely enough, Iím a patriot. I have a small cloth American flag I carry around, folded into a triangle in my pocket. It lives with my keys, but when I have cold hands or need change for a Coke, I finger it and remember why Iím here. ďThe Star Spangled BannerĒ makes me cry, and I know all the verses. I put my hand on my heart when the flag goes by. I have a pocket copy of the Constitution, the same one they give to soldiers. Itís dog-eared from years of use.
Oh, they hate me here.
Sometimes I wander around the District like Iím a normal citizen, trying to look at the familiar monuments with fresh eyes. Sometimes I dream of the principles the gleaming white columns symbolize. We the people . . . a more perfect union . . . justice . . . tranquillity . . . liberty. I take snap-shots of tourists in front of the Capitol, and they thank me without ever knowing who I am. ďHave a nice day,Ē they chirp, and I tell them I will.
Once, just once, I would like to write a story saying how the President, the perfect, always honest, absolutely honorable President has saved the world for democracy, eliminated injustice, smashed poverty, and forged lasting peace with all the nations of the world.
Iíll never write that story. This administration screws up far too often. I spend all my days watching these people, distrusting them, and desperately praying that they get it right.
Iím an American first, a reporter second. Please donít mess up my country. I live here, you know.
ďI think the President is relieved to be concentrating on something that matters,Ē CJ says.
I exchange a horrified look with the Times reporter to my left and write down the quote. Iíve been around long enough to know that when CJ gets mad, she becomes bluntly honest. Sheís pissed, so this is the most straightforward thing sheís said all day. Great.
Relieved to send American lives into danger? Relieved to kill our neighbors? Relived to spend millions of tax dollars to do so? Certainly heís justified in doing all this; heís saving the world for democracy. But relieved to use blood to distract the American people from his the lies he considers unimportant? God save us.
I know how Iíll lead the story. I donít want to do it, but CJ didnít give me a choice. Iíll find a quiet place that isnít in the White House, slap my byline on my laptopís screen and begin writing:
Press Secretary CJ Cregg said of U.S. military actions in Haiti that the President is ďrelieved to be concentrating on something that matters.Ē A night strike to break up an attempted coup was the Presidentís first international action since he revealed he has been hiding a serious illness for eight years.
While the press secretary indicated that the matter was unimportant to the White House, 80 percent of Americans say they are concerned about the impact Multiple Sclerosis could have on the President.
Last nightís maneuver left several American marines wounded and an undisclosed number of Haitians dead . . .
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