Larry Stogner behind the scenes at the White House
WASHINGTON (WTVD) -- Getting into the White House to talk to the president is a bit of a chore -- even when they know you're coming.
There are all those background checks: place of birth, SSN, etc. And then the layers of the best security money (or taxpayers) can buy, including snipers on the roof. The Northwest Gate is very close to where all the network correspondents do their live reports each night.
And that's where we had our first hiccup.
White House police had the wrong date listed for my producer, Elizabeth Plyler. These people are tough. They refused entry until all the powers that be could reconcile the discrepancy. Thirty minutes of our lives we'll never get back.
Once cleared through the gate we headed for the White House Briefing Room, that place where all the network correspondents and big city newspaper reporters ask questions of the White House Press Secretary. It was once President Dwight Eisenhower's swimming pool, and it's still pretty small considering all the journalists and photographers who hang out there.
We were met there by a junior staffer who is an N.C. State grad, who used to work for Congressman Brad Miller. He ushered us through a labyrinth of twists, turns and tunnels in the White House basement. I ran into the Obama's pet dog, Bo, along the way. He seemed to have the run of the place. A Portuguese Water Dog, they call him.
We finally arrived in what's called the Diplomatic Room. It's the central room in the basement. When the president gets off Marine One on the South Lawn and enters the rear of the White House through a canopy, he enters the Diplomatic Room. It's a large, oval room with pictures of George Washington and vast murals adorning the walls. Huge ornate carpets. Lots of antique furniture.
Adjacent to it is the China Room, made famous in the movie The American President. Actor Michael Douglas referred to it as "The Dish Room" to Annette Benning, who played his girlfriend. Anyway, on the other side of the Diplomatic Room is The Map Room.
I never saw a map but this is where I was to interview President Barack Obama. One of the many minions explained the ground rules -- only I and my producer could enter the room. The president would already be seated. A White House photographer would also be in the room to shoot official photos of the two of us.
At least 8 other people were also in the room, operating the three cameras and all the technical gear and lights, along with still other unnamed White House minions. No other video could be shot. Nor any personal photos - even on camera phones. Bummer. There didn't seem to be any particular reason. That's just the way it is. The White House operates that way.
Barack Obama had been briefed on who I am and immediately began talking about UNC basketball after our initial handshake. All Carolina stars will be back next season, should win it all, smalltalk, smalltalk.
And then the interview ... mostly about the terrible economy and the public's perception that he doesn't have a handle on it. Seven to nine minutes they had told me. At seven minutes they'd give me a two-minute signal. Followed by a one-minute cue.
I had seven distinct questions and was afraid a long-winded answer by the president could use up all my time. But he never did. I got in not only my planned questions but came up with another one at the 1 minute mark. At the end, I said, "Thank you, Mr. President," and shook hands with his "body man," Duke alum Reggie Love, whose parents live in Raleigh.
And then he was gone.
We were planning to be live from Washington several times between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., but because of forecasts of severe weather, I decided to pre-record my opens and closes using one of those fixed standup positions you see on the network news each night.
The White House and front lawn are in the background. This turned out to be the best decision we made because the bottom did, in fact, fall out later, with lightning, thunder and heavy rain, things that satellite transmissions do not like.
We were never on live, but all the pieces worked. They looked good. And despite jumping through multiple bureaucratic and security hoops, our day at the White House was splendid.
local/state, larry stogner
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