Once, long ago, the Washington Times maneuvered me into covering the White House. I was having a perfectly good time covering Congress, but the editors asked me just to head down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue "temporarily" until they found someone else who wanted to do it. I agreed, albeit extremely reluctantly. But immediately I realized that they had no intention of finding anyone else and everyone was acting as if this was my new beat. So I did what any reasonable person would have done: I screamed and cried like a little girl until they let me go back to Capitol Hill a few weeks later.
Now, many people have suggested I was crazy for this. After all, there is no more prestigious and sought-after beat than the White House. But, of course, I knew that anyone who said this to me had never covered the White House. The dirty secret is that it is boring, frustrating and tedious. Unless you are passionate and creative about the beat (someone like, say, Peter Baker of the Washington Post, who is now in Moscow but was in Washington at the time I was there) or don't give a damn what you do for a living, the White House beat is really a pain in the butt. I loved covering Congress and I had no particular interest in covering the White House on a regular basis, so nearly every minute I spent in the Press Room was agony.
Finally, I have found something to illustrate the banality and pointlessness of most of what passes for news in and around the White House. This is a bit of film by Ken Herman, who is a good reporter, and, judging by my passing acquaintance with him during the 2000 election, a nice guy. And he has accurately captured why the beat drove me away immediately.
The President and The Prime Minister
Update: In looking at the Post website this morning, I see that Peter Baker is back home from Moscow these days. Good. He's a very good White House reporter.
Update 2: I see that I am not the only one who admits this White House thing stinks. Karen Tumulty of Time is interviewed this week in Texas Monthly and here is one of the things she has to say:
"Covering the White House is the most prestigious bad job in journalism. You’re completely at the mercy of whoever deigns to return your phone calls. It’s not like Capitol Hill, where people can’t get away from you. If the Speaker wants to go from his office to the floor of the House, he has to walk past whichever reporters care to plant themselves in his way."