September 21st, 2011
05:15 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNN) – As President Obama scurries around downtown New York City attending various events for his official visit to the annual United Nations General Assembly, only a handful of journalists are actually right there, to cover his every move – or at least every move the White House will allow. And as usual the theme to the day for the travel pool, especially when the President has a busy schedule, is “hurry up and wait!”
The “travel pool” is a small group of journalists who accompany the President on Air Force One, in the motorcade and to the many events where the entire White House press corps cannot be accommodated. It’s made of representatives from the wires services, still photographers, one print writer/reporter, and a 3-member team representing one of the five U.S. television networks- ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC. The travel pool producer is the eyes and ears on the ground for all five networks and shares information in frequent reports back to the rest of the group.
The TV networks have pool responsibilities on a five-day rotation, and Tuesday was CNN’s turn to follow the president.
The first thing on President Obama’s schedule was a trip to the United Nations building to meet with the new chairman of the National Transitional Council of Libya, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, and to have a high-level meeting on the situation in Libya. So we walked down four flights of steps through an internal stairwell of the historic hotel. Parts of the trek were through dimly-lit stairwells and hallways until we end up on the street level where the president’s limo, the Beast, was waiting. Some times making it to the motorcade requires running so that we can be in place before the President gets into his vehicle. We can always wait for him, but the rule is that he will never wait for us!
We jumped into our designated van within the motorcade and after waiting a few minutes for the president, we set off for the quick drive through the streets of downtown Manhattan to the United Nations. All the streets were shut down and people lined the streets to get a glimpse of the motorcade passing by.
Soon we arrived at the UN and had to sprint from the motorcade to get inside as quickly as possible. We didn’t have to go through security because we had already been “swept” but we still had to navigate the crowded halls full of delegations from other countries. After fighting to get through the crowd, we got into place in the conference room where the meeting on Libya would be held. We again waited for the president to enter the room but once he got there, the event began.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made some remarks followed by Jalil and then it was President Obama’s turn. While he was speaking, I was getting reports by email that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was leaving the U.S. due to the murder of the former Afghan President Rabbani. I checked in with White House sources to see if it was true and if that would affect Obama’s scheduled meeting with Karzai following the Libya meeting. I was assured by the White House that there were no planned changes to the schedule.
Once the President finished speaking, we were rushed out of the room and ran back to our van in the motorcade. Soon we were on our way back to the Waldorf-Astoria where many of the day’s events would be held. We went to the “pool hold”, which is the room where the pool works and files reports in between events.
The next event was a bilateral meeting with Afghan President Karzai. After a few minutes sitting in the pool hold, we returned to our “hurry and wait” positions. We were escorted to the meeting and waited in the hallway for about ten minutes when we were rushed down one flight of stairs and down a hallway into a room where Karzai and Obama sat at the head of a table and the two delegations stood behind chairs alongside their leaders. They both made quick statements about the bond and important relationship between the two countries and the murder of Rabbani. Before we knew it, we were being quickly ushered out of the room and back up the stairs to our pool hold room.
We hurried up and waited once again in a suite on the 36th floor of the Waldorf. After thirty minutes, it was time for the next movement and once again it involved the freight elevators and internal stairwells, definitely not the luxurious part of the hotel. This time we were taken to the Waldorf’s Grand Ballroom, a beautiful, ornate room where numerous celebrities and world leaders have held events for nearly seven decades. This time, President Obama was hosting a summit for countries devoted to the “Open Government Partnership”. We waited with the media from dozens of other countries, all there to cover their respective presidents or prime ministers. Before the meeting began, we lined up and waited to enter the “family photo-op”, a staged photo of all the participating leaders. The White House had given us a head start into the room but soon all of the other international media came charging in behind us! Lots of pushing and shoving ensued while the leaders stood smiling. Finally President Obama waved, indicating the photo-op would soon be over. We were unceremoniously rushed out of the room and back into the Grand Ballroom, the world media stepping trampling itself. Like every other class photo at every other international meeting, it always turns into a media circus no matter what level of planning has gone into it.
From our position in the ballroom we watched at the event began and eight different world leaders took turns talking about the importance of having an open government. The most unusual aspect of this event was that at three different times, aides crawled behind the row of world leaders to pass notes to President Obama. I asked the White House what those notes were about but even though it was in an “Open Government” event, they declined to give me a read-out.
As soon as the event was over, we were led out of the room, into the non-descript elevator and back to the pool hold on the 36th floor where we waited for yet another 30 minutes before a bilateral meeting between President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. A quick photo op and out. We repeated the exact same process from Karzai meeting earlier in the day: hurrying up to wait!
After about an hour of waiting back on the 36th floor, we were escorted one final time downstairs through the hotel kitchen to the motorcade. We waited in the motorcade until the President made his way to his limo. At one point during our wait the White House aides offered to take us to a coffee shop across the street. We had to go as a group and with a White House staffer or Secret Service agent so that we would still be considered ‘secure’ or rather "clean", as in we wouldn't have to be "swept" again. All of us were in need of a quick snack in order to have the energy to make it through the rest of the evening!
Our last event of the day was a DNC fundraiser about five minutes away from the Waldorf and once again, people lined the streets to get a glimpse of the motorcade. We arrived at New York’s Gotham Hall and entered through a back door. Actually, we found ourselves in a random office building and were ushered into a conference room where we would do the last “waiting” of the day. We had a quick bite to eat but soon it was time to go into the event. Or so we thought. We lined up to go in and then waited another ten or 15 minutes. After being together in this small group for 12+ hours, we were excited to see the end of the day in sight! First Lady Michelle Obama introduced her husband and then the president spoke to the group for about 25 minutes. Once the event was over, we were taken outside where the motorcade awaited. Again we hurried to the vans – this time it wasn’t to rush to another event, but in order to get back to our hotel!
After almost fourteen hours of being together in travel pool, we had experienced a UN speech on Libya, two bilateral meetings, one class photo, one open government event, one DNC fundraiser, and many hours of hurrying up and waiting in between.