December 28th, 2010
07:04 PM ET
HONOLULU, Hawaii (CNN) – I thought it was funny when The Washington Post joined various CNN anchors in teasing me about creating "something of a brand covering [President] Obama's vacations."
In a tongue-in-cheek piece, the Post's Perry Bacon wrote that I've been trading the "traditional news correspondent garb of a suit and tie for a seemingly endless variety of multi-colored Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops."
OK fine, you've got to be able to laugh at yourself. And what's wrong with injecting a little fun into live reports?
That's why I used to scoop up big belt buckles in Texas to cover then-President Bush's vacations in the sleepy town of Crawford. Now that a new president has brought us to a more exotic locale, the last thing I want to do is look like Richard Nixon and wear dress pants and wing-tip shoes to the beach.
But then I stopped laughing this morning when one of my colleagues at another network asked me in a semi-serious tone, "Did you see that editorial about you in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser?"
I thought he was joking until he handed over the offending newspaper editorial with the headline, "Reporting live, in my Hawaiian shirt."
The short, kind-of-whimsical editorial wondered aloud whether there's a downside to Obama having his annual holiday vacation on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in the tiny town of Kailua, about a 30-minute drive from the tourist-friendly Waikiki Beach that you see in our live shots.
I was laughing until I got to the sentence that my colleague thought was referring to me because of all the grief CNN anchors have been giving me about my wild Hawaiian shirts - which are actually known as "aloha shirts" to locals.
"Retailers here make extra sales of Hawaiian attire to the on-camera staffers (can't get the national media to call them 'aloha shirts', it seems)," said the editorial.
Ouch, I'm just a nameless "on-camera staffer" to the paper. But then came the real punch.
"The news reports themselves are fluff, but for the tourism industry, any live shot with palm trees in the background is all good," added the editorial.
Ah, a charge of fluff from a newspaper whose front page on the very same day had a hard-hitting lead story headlined "Ahi stuck here for the holidays," which bemoaned the fact that bad weather on the East Coast means less ahi tuna is being shipped out of of Hawaii. The story was so large that it was the only story on the front page.
Stop the presses.
Anyway, back to that editorial, which then leveled a little allegation at me and my colleagues for allegedly falling down on the job.
"Finally, the reporters get to claim they're working, even though most of these shots are taken in the vicinity of the Moana Surfrider, where many are staying, while the prime target of their coverage is in Kailua. Funny that they'd come 3,000 miles but forgo the last 10."
Actually the reason the media does not stay in Kailua is that it's a pretty small town that does not have a giant hotel to accommodate such a large group of reporters the way that Waikiki does. For this same reason, White House staffers also stay here at Waikiki and then shuttle back and forth to Kailua when they need to meet with the President or others in his party.
The media does the same thing. We stay in Waikiki but then every single day a rotating pool of reporters representing print, radio, and television organizations travel to Kailua to make sure that we have representatives right near the President if he commits any news.
In fact, I've had some people take the extreme opposite view of the Star-Advertiser and ask me why CNN and other organizations even bother flying all the way to Hawaii at all, let alone camp out in Kailua. "Why do you have to follow him even when he's on vacation" is the grumbling I've heard from various reasonable people.
I always patiently point to last Christmas Day's attempted terror attack in Detroit as the best example. It was important for the media to be at least near the president to gather facts on his response to that attempted attack, and be here to report on his comments on the matter over the course of the next several days.
Surely we can all agree that it makes sense for the media to at least be close to the president at all times, though we don't need to be traipsing through his neighborhood in Kailua at all hours of the days trying to report on whether he had a hot dog or hamburger at the backyard cookout. Even the president is entitled to a vacation, and there should be a middle ground where we're nearby for news but not overdoing it.
The Star-Advertiser ended its editorial this way: "Ah, well. Just as long as they pay their room tax and buy loads of stuff, all is forgiven."
And I feel the same way. I'm not really mad at the newspaper. I've taken the "hang loose" mentality to heart, which I think Alex Alvarez of mediate.com understands.
Alvarez wrote that I "gave CNN viewers the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus gift that keeps on giving by sharing footage of his hula lesson" on Ali Velshi's show. And he dropped in a little detail I didn't know about Velshi's producers.
"Others at CNN labeled the following footage 'Ed’s Version of the Hula' [onscreen]," Alvarez wrote. "Someone’s clearly jealous of both Henry’s job and dancing ability."
Well I wouldn't go that far. I have to admit the dancing was pretty awful. So I can't be mad at Velshi's producers for pointing it out.
Besides, I get to enjoy the ultimate revenge with three little words.
I'm in Hawaii.