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Swimming In Shallow Water

In theory, being a White House reporter is a dream job – the chance to cover the most powerful person in the world from up close, to witness history in the making. In reality? Have a look at this piece by the Christian Science Monitor's Linda Feldmann on what it's like to do White House pool duty, and decide for yourself:
On a typical Saturday, when Bush is in town, the pool gets summoned to ride in the motorcade out to the suburbs for a presidential bike ride. When we arrive, the pool is left standing - literally - at the entrance to the park. No bathrooms, no water, no senior administration officials to chat up. Those pool reports are best rendered in a crisp shorthand: "President went bike-riding. Motorcade there and back uneventful."
I'm guessing that passage didn't inspire many would-be Woodwards to enroll in j-school.

It's not all so absurd: Some days you might have a chance to talk to a president, or witness something truly extraordinary. (Feldmann notes that United Press International's Merriman Smith rode in the third car in President Kennedy's motorcade on the day he was assassinated.) But the vast majority of the time, a pooler has to try to glean news from the body language and remarks of the president during "those portions of his day in which he will tolerate a jostling scrum of about 13 reporters, photographers, and TV techies tracking his every move and utterance."

Seeing as pool duty is usually an exercise in banality for the smart reporters to which it's assigned, it's no surprise that the pool reports are often peppered with jokes, perhaps to keep the reporter from going stiff with boredom. Sometimes they seem to reflect the pooler's frustration: Check out this April 12 report from Joseph Curl of the Washington Times.

In the interest of Monday morning optimism, however, let's end this post on an up note – a claim by Ed Chen of the Los Angeles Times, who told Feldmann that with a little hard work, one can usually keep pool duty from being a complete exercise in futility. If the president is unavailable, said Chen, "sometimes you talk to his friends who are in his part of the motorcade, or members of Congress. If you really put your mind to it, you can pick up stuff most of the time."

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