Thankfully, WAVES never holds me up. At that point, it's as easy as
showing your ID to the guard at the West Front gate, going through the
magnetometer, and walking into the White House. Well, it's a little
more complicated, but, again, in the interest of security, I'll be
vague. An interesting twist: non-U.S. citizens have to be escorted
everywhere they go...even members of the press. Different passes give
different levels of access.
Interlude: Sometimes, if we're interviewing senior officials, we're
given "A" passes. There two types; "A" alone, and "A" with the words
"ESCORT"." The regular "A" pass can get you anywhere in the West Wing
except for the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room and a few other corners
and crannies. Last week, as I sat waiting in the West Wing lobby for
an appointment, I noticed that Ret. Gen. Scott Gration, the President's
point person on Sudan, had the same pass as I did. Richard Holbrooke,
the increasingly powerful envoy to Af-Pak-everywhere else, rushed
through the lobby. He wasn't wearing a pass. He yelled at an assistant
that he "needed to go catch up with Hillary." Also -- somewhat
weirdly, as I waited, I listened to a Marine guard and the uniformed
Secret Service agent on duty quietly argue about the torture memos.
Anyway, a pass or WAVES access alone won't get you into the East Room
for the news conference. You've got to win that lottery. Once you do,
you're allocated a credential with a number on it. Last night, I was
"245," which corresponded to seat 245 on a map that's given to
President Obama and television producers so they can find reporters who
are on the question list.
Last night, I arrived at the White House early, picked up my news
conference pass, and then left the complex to go meet with a source.
45 minutes later, I was caught in a line of reporters outside the West Front gate, but I was back in the complex by 6:30 pm.
The press briefing room was filled to capacity, so I waited outside in
the light rain, watching the Secret Service shift changes and counting
the number of cigarette stubs on the ground.
At 7:00, a press aide began to escort us up the stairs, round a bend,
and through the famous front doors of the White House. Don't try to
bring water into the residence --- they'll confiscate it. I snuck some
Then we wait. Most of us have prepared questions, even though there's a
roughly one in twenty chance that we'll be asked. Actually, fewer than
one in 20, because all the network correspondents get a question. Last
night, Fox's Major Garrett didn't, but maybe the White House was
retaliating because the Fox network decided it did not want to lose
more money and refused to air the presser.
The more experienced correspondents amble in later; the eager beaver
newsbies -- like me -- get in there early, even though we have assigned
seating. Last night, I was placed between the New York Post's Charlie
Hurt and the presidential historian Martha Joynt Kumar. CSPAN's Steve
Scully escorted Helen Thomas, still the dean of the press corps, to her