Just As I Thought

The shallow end of the pool

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank this morning illuminates a little-known corner of journalism: the White House pool reporter. The pool reporter is the guy who tags along with the president and provides reports for the entire press corps left behind. But even this reporter has little access in the Bush White House:

Because of limited space in the presidential motorcade, on Air Force One and in the Oval Office, the White House organizes a rotation of “pool” reporters, who send write-ups to colleagues who were not allowed inside but must cover the event. Often, however, the pool reporter is not allowed to observe the president, either, leading to creative — if uninformative — reports.

The Bush White House has expanded the audience for the pool reports by e-mailing them also to more than a thousand government officials and Republican operatives. This gives the dispatches — part travelogue, part gripe and occasionally part news — a disproportionately large following. Nobody delighted this following more than [the Chicago Tribune’s Bob] Kemper.

Consider his report on President Bush’s St. Patrick’s evening visit to the British Embassy to see a play called “The Spider’s Web,” featuring the president’s sister-in-law, Margaret Bush. “Was the play good? Who knows?” Kemper wrote. “Was Margaret the spider? Who knows? Does the play have any chance of opening at the Italian Embassy any time soon? Who knows? You see, though [Bush] was reportedly at the British Embassy, your pool was at Cactus Cantina, a Mexican restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue.”

What’s more, Kemper recounted, to make sure the journalists did not acquire weapons while at Cactus Cantina, “everyone had to go to the Little Reporter’s Room together with an armed guard.”

Such excessive security measures were a constant theme in Kemper’s, and other poolers’, prose. “Your pool was searched three — count ’em, three — times on its way into the event,” he reported from Monterrey, Mexico. “Bags went through X-rays so often it is believed they can no longer have little purses of their own.”

… Then there are all the routine motorcades that must be faithfully recounted. In Fresno, Kemper wrote: “The motorcade from the burrito plant to the fundraiser, though it lasted 18 months and covered about 6,000 miles, was uneventful.” And in Chicago: “Uneventful does not even begin to cover just how sensory-deprived that trip was.”

On the plus side, the pool report provides a venue for lines that might not have a home elsewhere. Kemper called Bush adviser Karl Rove “that little leprechaun from the West Wing” and noted Bush’s difficulty with certain words, writing: “Highlight was POTUS working Nuke-leer-or and Pen-in-su-lar into the same sentence.”

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