OBAMA PRESS POOL: AN INSIDE GLIMPSE

Honolulu, Hawaii: During the 2015-2016 Holiday season, I as a stringer for Reuters partnered with White House media correspondents from the nation’s top media/news agencies.

Our purpose was to document generally what President Obama (and family) did during his Hawaii Holiday vacation and be there in the unlikely case that something serious happened.

While it was interesting to be a member of the motorcade (and especially to see the logistics involved), interacting with these correspondents who travel the world with Obama was intriguing, indeed. Jiving with Secret Service agents, hearing soldiers’ war stories, as well as wining and dining one evening at a posh restaurant was amongst some of the activities.

Mostly though, this job entailed long hours  — loitering in coffee shops (well, we did buy stuff) or wherever else we were stationed — while Obama went about his Holiday plans.

I was not assigned as an official photographer and therefore was limited to quickly getting whatever images I could and without crossing the professional and personal boundaries of the official photogs and reporters.

Still, it was indeed a pretty cool experience. The following is a brief photo blog-glimpse into this rarely seen world. …

obama
Although Obama here was responding to an inquiry about what flavor of icy treat he’d recently consumed,  I am fairly certain that he was actually going to say something to me about the groovy gray fedora hat that I was wearing. 🙂 … 
 
I was far too occupied with my valiant attempt at grabbing a photograph from over the heads of swarming onlookers… 
obama press pool bus

Here was our (the correspondents’) paddy wagon…It was nowhere near as exotic as the pretty much missile-proof shiny black suburban in which the President stylishly rolled…

Secret Service: Yeah; there is no way that anybody is getting anywhere near our school bus or the President without first being security “swept” by one of these fellas.

The pin on his left collar is essentially for identification/security clearance — meaning, he doesn’t need to be ‘swept.’ They work hard to acquire this pin, a rite of passage of sorts.

My experience with these guys was that they were/are down to Earth. But don’t be fooled here by the appearance of hometown Jim. These fellas don’t mess around and could quickly twist you up like a pretzel.

At one stop, I didn’t have my press pass properly showing. One agent who didn’t know me firmly grabbed my arm and gave it just a little firm, semi-paralyzing, tweak (on a pressure point) before he was intercepted by another agent who did know me.

At dinner one evening I asked an agent more specifically about his training and was simply told: “Yeah; we know some pretty cool stuff…”

obama - security sweep

The “sweep:” While we were checked-over with the wand, all of our media equipment was being sniffed by a canine investigator. It was a time for talking and joking a bit, but not really…

obama motorcade

Perched inside of the bus, we waited along the roadside for the President’s motorcade. Figuring out which vehicle the President was sitting in is a guessing game of sorts, but the correspondents seemed to have it down…

obama press pool corresponedents
While the correspondents were fairly laid back, the atmosphere changed to more serious business as the President’s motorcade approached

The media staff
 readied their cameras prior to an ensuing clack-clacking of shutters clicking as the motorcade smoothly cruised by us. Once this ended (perhaps the only excitement of the day, until the next motorcade approach), we often quite briskly joined the black-vehicle parade.

For obvious reasons, the President’s activities were for us on a need-to-know basis…

obama - vacation security

There certainly were no gaps in security throughout the residential area that President Obama and family were staying in, or anywhere we went for this matter.

As we traveled around the island it was interesting to observe how well in advance everything had been meticulously planned, such as the coordination with local police in terms of overall security and highway logistics… 

obama - press pool correspondents

This gig may seem exotic to some people, but it mostly entailed a lot of lounging.

The correspondents seemed to relish this time, for it served as a seemingly much needed respite from their regular organized chaos schedule. They had time to catch with themselves, with each other, and with backed-up media workflow…

obama hawaii holiday vacation

Apparently it’s not common that Obama makes a statement to the press or provide a ‘photo op’ during his vacations (perhaps because, well, he’s on vacation).

However, on this day as part of his Hawaii Holiday routine, Obama stopped to get an icy treat from a local shop. He also interacted briefly with us correspondents and the public.

This was quite an occurrence for local Hawaii people, and also seemingly a security challenge for Secret Service staff.

One correspondent who has covered several presidencies during his career said that some presidents welcome the press to join in holiday vacation activities, while other presidents aren’t so open and media friendly.

Apparently, Obama is the latter of the two paradigms. Interesting…

obama holiday vacation daughter

When it really comes down to life, regardless of societal position, people are people, yeah? We all have hopes, dreams, histories, friends and families. It is largely environment that affects our behavior…

obama hawaii holiday vacation crowd

While President Obama munched his icy treat with friends and family, a crowd of admirers eagerly awaited President Obama’s attention…

obama hawaii holiday vacation

President Obama after eating his snow cone sauntered over to the other side of the parking lot to meet and greet the group of adoring supporters.

Obama seemed to not really want to do this, but he did so anyway and handled it smoothly.

It was interesting to observe Obama walk, his body mannerisms, and the way that he interacts with people. 

I have been near to people such as George W. Bush, Hilary Clinton, high ranking military officers and other politicians, as well as other famous people. However, President Obama, especially in-person, has this uniquely magical persona. It was likewise quite interesting to see people react to his presence…
obama hawaii holiday vacation

Back to business…prior to getting into the armored suburban. That guy in the blue never left Obama’s side.

I wanted to photograph the nearby suburban that was packed full of Secret Service soldiers dressed in black and armed to the point that the sight of them would probably make Rambo reconsider taking any awry action. 

However, when I turned around to take the photograph, the rock-faced security personnel seemed not too welcoming of my decision. I refrained…
obama press pool corresponedents

But, ya know, at the end a loooong day, sometimes the lil’ surprises, those perks that come along with the job, are what keep us going…

obama - press pool correspondents