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Inside The Gaggle

whgaggle1.jpgThis post, it seems, marks the first blog from a White House press briefing. We’re sitting in the fourth row waiting between the 9:45 a.m. gaggle and the 12:30 p.m. briefing. Cameramen and reporters are milling around, reading novels, newspapers, and stepping outside for a smoke. Fox News’s Carl Cameron just passed by. All-in-all, it’s been a remarkably uneventful morning–which, we’re told, is what most mornings are like at the White House.

After a week of attempts, getting into the White House this morning was a piece of cake. We arrived at the northwest gate today promptly at 9:30 as instructed by the Press Office on Friday. The Secret Service officer at the gate was a little puzzled when we explained we didn’t have any press credentials, but a scan of the driver’s license confirmed we were on the list for the day. After we passed through the gate, he presented us with the Holy Grail: A brown and white pass reading “Press.” And we were in.

Our first impression this morning? As glamorous as the beat itself may be, there’s little glamour to be found in the briefing room. The conditions of the briefing room, famously built over the old White House swimming pool, um, leave something to be desired.

Full report after the jump.


The walk up the drive to the West Wing takes one right up by where the networks and cable channels do their stand-ups many times a day. A uniformed Marine’s presence at the door into the West Wing says wordlessly that the President is in residence today. We entered through the double doors of the press entrance, down from the main entrance, and walked right into the briefing room.

No matter how many times we’ve heard the White House briefing room described as “dilapidated” and “crowded,” nothing really prepared us for this morning when we first walked in. The room’s a lot smaller than it appears on television. TV cameras, tripods, and stepladders line the side wall, and the back of the room is filled with the accoutrements of television: Banks of monitors and sound equipment, more cameras, and lounging sound technicians and producers.

We remarked on the dreary state of the briefing room to one White House veteran reporter, who looked around, and said, “Yea, I guess I can see that. When you work here every day, you tend not to notice those details.”

A plaque by the press office’s entrance announces that the room is named in honor of James S. Brady, Reagan’s press secretary who was wounded in John Hinckley, Jr.’s assassination attempt on the president.

The Gaggle

The gaggle used to be a more informal affair held in the press secretary’s office, but the room wasn’t big enough to hold all the reporters who wanted to attend, so it’s been since moved into the main briefing room. This morning’s gaggle started about six minutes late according to the morning schedule–or, as we heard many correspondents report this morning–more or less right on time.

The eight rows of seats (six per row) filled as the time neared, and the reporters chatted amongst themselves, discussing weekend activities and the day’s news. The more senior reporters, and those who represent the networks and wire services have special reserved seats at the front. By 9:45, the seats were full and reporters began to congregate in the aisles.

Sans jacket for the off camera gaggle, Scott McClellan walked in right behind four other press staff, who took seats off to the side. “Wires come on forward,” he said and waited for a few moments for the room to quiet. He ran through the President’s schedule for the day, including the visit of the King and Queen of Norway to the White House (“a chance to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Norwegian independence”), and a trip to Pittsburgh with Mrs. Bush to promote the administration’s “Helping America’s Youth” initiative. Throughout his remarks McClellan competes over the sound of crackling newspapers as reporters keep flipping through the day’s news.

Then the questions begin. Since there are no cameras at the gaggle, the questions are typically softer than those the press secretary will face at the 12:30 p.m. briefing, correspondents say. CBS’ John Roberts asks about Social Security. ABC’s Ann Compton asks about the shooting of the Italian journalist on Friday. Other reporters ask about Syria and Lebanon. Northern Ireland. One last question. “Thanks.” And McClellan’s out at 10:08 a.m. The room immediately explodes in activity as reporters race back to call in whatever news out of the gaggle means the most to them.

Post-briefing, we stuck our head into the press office and offered them cookies for their assistance. Now we’re sitting here in the briefing room, waiting for the 12:30 press briefing. A crowd of Norwegian press just arrived for their King and Queen’s visit. At least we’re no longer the newest and most confused reporter here.

More blogging to follow….

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