Covering the President in the White House

Mark Benischek/SourceMedia Group
Published: April 15 2012 | 3:35 pm - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 4:44 pm in
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On April 12 Bruce Aune and I traveled to Washington, D.C. , to interview President Obama. Even though eastern Iowa has seen is share of presidential visits over the years and I have  covered many of them, there is nothing like covering the president in the White House. Bruce and I considered ourselves fortunate to have been given the opportunity.

On Tuesday I was shooting a story with Nadia Crow at the Cedar Ridge Winery near Swisher. Our focus was the upcoming frost that morning and what the winerey was doing to prepare the grapevines from being killed. I was just starting to shoot my video when Mike Wagner called and asked if I had a moment. Fearing the worst I said yes tell me what was going on. He replied that he is thinking of sending Bruce and I to the White House Wednesday for an interview. I am not sure if it was shock or excitement I told him OK. As I continued to shoot it started to settle in what the cost of this would be and maybe they would try to find a way to send Bruce alone to save money. As they day progressed I received an email with my hotel and flight information then I knew it was a go.

Wednesday we flew out of Moline and arrived in Washington close to 1800 hours Eastern.

Our interview with the President was at 1440 hours Thursday  and we arrived at the appropriate gate on Pennsylvania and 17th Street at 1300 hours. This is the main entrance for any media types wanting access to White House grounds. We had to go through the first gate with a call box explaining who we were and our business. The next tier of security brought us in front of the guard building. This is where we show them our I.D. and they make sure our background check was OK. It was about a 15 minute wait and the entire time there was a steady stream of people buzzing requesting access as well. While we were waiting there was an area I had to put all of my equipment so it could be checked over for a security reasons.

Eventually we were allowed to the west wing press area to wait further. There were 3 other stations from around the country given the same opportunity and before we could proceed further we had to wait for all to get through security.

After everyone was checked in we were escorted from the press area of the west wing to an entrance straight into the mansion. Before we could enter there was one more security check-point and he had to unlock the door from his glassed in room.We were about to enter an area few tours are allowed in.

When we finally made it inside I felt I was somewhere special. The large arched ceiling of the hallway gave you a grand feeling you were someplace important. We went down about 3 rooms and to the right into a holding area for us to work out of until we were ready to meet the president. This was called The Map Room. It was full of antiques and of course maps. Beautiful furniture including formal chairs a lounge, desks and bookcases lined the room. In the center there were several chairs with white seats they were the only places we allowed to sit. I guess it is a good thing because some of the chairs had information saying they were part of George Washington's original table at Mount Vernon.

While we were waiting we were brought in to the adjoining room where the actual interview would be held. This is called The Diplomatic Room. This is the official welcoming room for visiting dignitaries. That day it was for select local TV stations to interview the president.  There were 2 chairs in the middle surrounded by lights and 3 camera crews outside of that. NBC News was actually shooting the interview I just provided something to record it on.

We were then escorted back into the holding area until the President was ready. Then one by one each crew was was brought in for or 4-7 minute interview with the President of the United States. First it was a the station from Columbus, Ohio then us, next was Reno, NV and lastly St. Louis, Mo. A staffer told that  stations were selected because the President wanted to talk about the Buffet bill and our states had votes the President needed in Congress.

When it was KCRG's turn for the interview Bruce went up and shook hands and sat down.

I was not allowed that close but enjoyed the view for 20 feet back.

The interview lasted 8:45 and as soon as everyone was  finished we were escorted out of the mansion and back to the press area in the west wing. The rest of the days was logging the  interview editing on my laptop computer and and feeding it back via e-mail.

We did our live shots from the ABC News spot on the north lawn then finished up with a story four our news at 10.

The flight home Friday was delayed but uneventful.

I was told by people that have visited the Executive Mansion before that regardless of your political views you really gain respect for the office and the grounds while you are there. I had to agree with that.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="458" caption="The Map Room of the White House. This was our holding area while waiting for the interview. Note the chairs in the center of the room are the only place we were allowed to sit. (Mark Benischek/The Gazette-KCRG)"]

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View of Executive Mansion from NW Security Gate. (Mark Benischek/The Gazette-KCRG)

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