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The Annual White House SOB Christmas Poem

Okay, let me explain.

We reporters who work in the basement of the White House press room, generally hailing from less, well, less prestigious journalistic outfits, have long referred to ourselves as the “Sons of the Basement,” or SOBs.

For example, CBS. ABC and NBC are upstairs. CNN and Fox News are downstairs. The Associated Press is upstairs. Bloomberg is downstairs. So is the Detroit News. You get the idea.

Every Christmas, we throw ourselves a party in the basement featuring sumptuous dishes prepared by individual reporters. Okay, and some expertly selected store-bought items.

I am known for two things in relation to these parties.

Having little time or inclination to prepare a dish, I am generally tasked for some reason with bringing the mayonaise – and maybe a couple of other small things. But always the mayonaise. It’s just a tradition.

One year, on my way over the White House with a large glass jar of Hellmann’s, I decided to stop at the ATM. As I fumbled at the machine trying to balance my groceries – I dropped the mayonaise.

Interestingly, it cracked open, and the mayonaise emerged upwards in the form of a large white blob. It looked very much like someone’s skull had cracked open and their brain had popped out, gently bobbing after being released from its hard encasement.

I looked at it, decided that it was too difficult to clean up, and that, anyway, succeeding customers might be similarly intrigued and repelled by the odd sight. And so I just left my broken jar of mayonaise, with its cerebrum hanging out, there in front of the Citibank ATM on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The other thing I was known for was working most of the way through the parties, as other reporters ate and drank beside me. I had a deadline right at about the time the party was thrown, which is always following that day’s briefing. And my editor really didn’t care if I got my slice of pink, cured pig or not.

I was at the White House today, but I hadn’t noticed the announcements for the party, and I had other obligations after the briefing, so I missed the celebration this year. And so I didn’t get to hear the annual reciting by SRN Radio reporter Greg Clugston of the Christmas poem he writes each year. He was kind enough to send it to me, and so I share it with you here.


‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
The 2012 White House Press Basement Version
by Greg Clugston

‘Twas the night before Christmas and in the White House,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that a tax plan soon would be there.

The holiday treats were stale and bland,
After Mrs. Obama had sugar plums banned.

The president was sleeping – for the hour was late,
He was tired and groggy, like the Denver debate.

He dreamed of the year and his bruising campaign,
Romney was tougher, it seems, than McCain.

With the economy weak and the jobless rate high,
Mitt made his case as the best fix-it guy.

Republicans eyed victory – there was change in the air,
In Tampa, Clint Eastwood conversed with a chair.

Romney rose in the polls and enjoyed his ascent,
But, oh, how he stumbled with “47 percent.”

Challenges abound in this new second term,
A Susan Rice pick could be tough to confirm.

Obamacare won with John Roberts at the wheel,
But the birth control mandate remains under appeal.

There’s John Boehner, of course, and their partisan tiff,
That threatens to drive us straight over the cliff!

With a Cabinet shuffle and more slots to fill,
He listed off changes, but held doubts for the Hill:

“It’s goodbye to Hillary, Panetta, and Tim;
And David Petraeus – now who’ll follow him?”

Suddenly, on the South Lawn, there arose such a clatter,
Obama looked up to see what was the matter.

Then what did appear, to wondering eyes?
But a man of great stature — and considerable size.

His eyes – how they twinkled!  His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

Chubby and plump and his eyes a bit misty,
There stood New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

He had come from the coast, badly battered by Sandy,
Seeking FEMA assistance and some holiday candy.

Christie praised POTUS for keeping Jersey afloat,
A far cry from his GOP convention keynote.

Riding high in the polls, Christie’s eyes held a gleam,
Was he thinking of running in 2016?

A White House bid comes at quite a high price,
So the president offered some political advice.

And I heard him exclaim, though it sounded absurd:
“Merry Christmas to all!  And don’t mess with Big Bird!”


Inside View || An Obama Press Conference

As you know, President Obama has pretty much abolished the press conference. The one he held November 14 was only the second, full-length formal news conference he has bestowed upon us all year.

I was there, and I took some pictures for you to give you a sense of what it’s like to be at a presidential news conference. It’s an unusual look inside an event that I imagine will get even closer to extinction as Obama’s second term wears on.

Here’s a view of the warmup. In what must be an excruciating task, the TV types must stand up in the room and pretend they’re just talking to their cameras, while their colleagues look on in amusement. Standing from left to right: Hans Nichols of Bloomberg, Ed Henry of Fox News, and Nancy Cordes of CBS.

Ed Henry’s producer appears to have whispered something nasty in his ear.

The Big Entrance

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney slips in and takes a place in the back.

The “photogs” get their shot.

My point of view.

Martha Washington keeps an eye on Obama.

Searching for words on the teleprompter during the opening statement.

As is the custom, the first question goes to the Associated Press. Ben Feller appears to show off by asking it with his eyes closed.

The view down the row.

Obama takes another question. Possibly annoyed.

I also took a little video on my iPhone to give you more of the feel.

And there you have it. The final press conference of 2012, I expect. For all we know, it may have to last us until 2014.

All photos Copyright 2012 by Keith Koffler

Take that, Bush

Oh, the indignity. The fabric that graced the floors of the halls of power during the Bush administration – the corridors strolled by Bush, Cheney, Rove and the like – has been shred into patches of rug fit for common reporters and their ilk.

From the pool report of Obama’s remarks at the White House to officials representing historically black colleges.

Also of interest: a cameraman noted that the little squares of carpet set out on the platform for camera stands were actually old pieces of West Wing carpeting from the Bush presidency. Touche.


News Flash: Apparently, the cameraman was wrong! The pool report has been amended.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest wanted to clarify that, per my comment in the last report about White House camera stands being set up on little carpet squares that were formerly pieces of Bush-era White House carpeting, they are not pieces from Bush’s Oval Office rug.

From Josh:

“The carpet scraps used for events in the White House Residence are the remnants of carpet projects in the Residence.  As you would expect, President Bush’s Oval Office rug is intact and is the responsibility of the Curator.”

Well, I guess it’s only a damn carpet anyway.

How Fox News Made the White House Briefing Room Front Row

The White House Correspondents’ Association just sent to its members the minutes of its Aug. 1 meeting at which the latest round of seating room assignments was decided in the wake of Helen Thomas’ evacuation of her front row seat.

Helen, you will remember, recently suggested sending the Israeli Jews back to Germany and Poland, so her new seat is at home in front of the television.

The key decision, heavily charged with political overtones, was the choice of which news organization to move into the front row. Some liberal groups were horrified by the prospect that Fox News would land there – which it did – and instead proposed National Public Radio.

With CNN in the front row even though it trails Fox in the ratings, Fox was more than eager to move up. Bloomberg’s news wire service also made a case for a front row seat, noting that AP and Reuters are already there.

The minutes show that the decision wasn’t easy and that it was a close call. Here’s an excerpt focusing on the contentious issue.

A motion was made to move Fox News to the front row. Board members began a debate of the three news organizations vying for the spot, and the relative merits of each proposal.

Several board members noted that Bloomberg News is a growing, global news organization with a strong presence at the White House. It was observed that Bloomberg employs top-flight journalists and long ago exceeded its original model as a business news outlet.

Fox News also was discussed. Their contributions to the television pool, the excellent team fielded to the beat and longstanding presence at the White House was discussed favorably. Fox News also is a regular traveler on the beat, shouldering many costs.

It was noted that NPR journalists are regular contributors to Fox News. The size of NPR’s audience also was noted as a strong point in its favor, along with the high-profile, multi-person commitment to in-depth White House beat coverage and regular travel.

It was also observed, without strong prejudice, that moving NPR to the front row would require a two-row leapfrog by the news organization, while the board felt more inclined to limit moves by any news organization to no more than one row in any direction.

It was noted around the room that between Bloomberg and Fox, it was a very close call. All the other wire services sit in the front row, along with all the other major TV outlets. Both travel extensively and have maintained a White House presence for more than a decade.

It was observed and commented upon that Fox makes greater use of the daily briefing than Bloomberg. While Fox frequently uses tape and information from the briefing for its programming, Bloomberg relies more heavily on other sources of news for a great deal of their reporting.

Some arguments were put forward only to be discarded as noteworthy but not persuasive: That Fox spends more money traveling, that three years ago Fox was reportedly told they were next in line, that the briefing is already too much of a television spectacle, that there were wiring issues associated with different seats.

A motion was made to move AP to the center seat — a matter that had been under informal discussion among the board members for some time — and put Fox in AP’s front row seat.

Other notable moves included shifing POLITCO and American Urban Radio Network to the third row and bumping the Washington Times, whose resources and readership have declined, from the third row to the fourth.

Of course, passions ran high, because to some within the Washington journalism community, where you stand – or sit – among your peers is a bigger deal than, say, getting the Pentagon Papers.

A Look at Obama’s Departure to Chicago

The president, bereft of family, left the White House this afternoon with Chi-Town native Rahm Emanuel and pal Valerie Jarrett and headed back to his hometown to celebrate what’s left of his birthday.

We waited on the South side of the White House for Obama to board his chopper, which would take him to Andrews Air Force Base where Air Force One is stationed.

Here’s a nice view of the Rose Garden from the edge of the South Lawn. Colonnade is on the right and windows the the Cabinet Room just left of center.

A Marine guard waits for the president to show.

Some eager guest are hoping for a glimpse of the prez.

And so are some eager reporters. Chip Reid of CBS is to the right and famed Twitterer Mark Knoller of CBS radio is in the white shirt with back to the camera on the left. The Oval Office is left of center behind and to the left of those trees.

A peak from a distance into the Oval Office. Who could that be over to the right with his back to the camera?

And they’re off – Jarrett, Obama, and Rahm are on the path from the Oval to the South Lawn.

Ah yes, a beautiful day to be president! Can one of you strong guys get Valerie’s bag please? And have the Marine guard check it too, looks like she stole a painting from the Blue Room.

Is the man on the right saluting or trying to keep the sun out of his eyes?

And it’s lift off

Around the monument and east toward Andrews.

All photos by Keith Koffler

White House Basement Flooded. What’s New?

Well, another day, and another environmental disaster in the White House press room.

We’re all used to peeling walls, weird wet spots, strange and lingering smells, rats and mice, and discoveries of like half eaten sandwiches from reporters who worked the White House beat in the 1970s.

So when a reporter yesterday entered the basement area of the press room – where nearly half the White House press corps that shows up at the White House works – and discovered that the carpet was suffused with water, it was hardly a big surprise. He called the General Services Administration “hotline” and by 7:30 am they arrived for the Big Cleanup.

Now, if you’re wondering why there is so much incompetence and bumbling in the Gulf, you need look no further than how the White House treats itself.

GSA got right on the issue, hauling out some kind of fan from the Truman administration.

White House press room basement

Now, as you can see, some drying does appear to be occurring. But with only one fan operating, it’s a race before mold begins to set in, as has happened previously in this Toxic Waste Cleanup Area basement section of the White House.

White House reporters reacted with understandable disgust. Here, radio reporter Greg Clugston of SRN News recoils in obvious horror.

Well, OK, actually Greg would want you to know he was just putting on his jacket. But still, I think his actions speak for us all.

GSA has determined that the water, which materialized after some heavy DC downpours, appears to be descending into the basement from behind this wall.

So, you’re probably thinking that this being THE WHITE HOUSE,  people are all over the problem, gauging potential structural damage, making plans to rip out sections of the wall to try to locate the source of the leak, and so forth.

As of this morning, the actual plan is the following: Keep Your Fingers Crossed and Hope Somehow It Doesn’t Happen Again.