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    Charles Bierbauer and Susanne Schafer

    Recording inside the Airstream studio for StoryCorps.

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December 2016

From the Dean . . .

StoryCorps and the Press Corps

Susanne and I were reminiscing the other day about our lunch together on Air Force One.  It was during the Reagan administration when she — my wife, Associated Press correspondent Susanne Schafer— and I were both covering the White House. In the four years our assignments overlapped at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we had lunch together perhaps twice. But once was on Air Force One, more impressive for the venue than the lunch, likely soup and sandwich.

We talked about this as we recorded a conversation for StoryCorps, the oral history project on public radio. StoryCorps is spending a month in Columbia collecting such conversations, and Susanne and I were asked to share some thoughts. Ours was a fairly anodyne talk about the experiences we’d shared as journalists covering the White House, the Pentagon, foreign capitals and a lot of politics. (Listen here »)

The StoryCorps archive — thousands of personal stories — is housed at the Library of Congress, one of the great institutions of government and nearly as old as the republic itself. More evidence that libraries are hardly fusty old places. Rather, libraries pulse with the lives of their communities and the nation.

Susanne and I recorded our conversation in the StoryCorps Airstream trailer studio nine days after the November election. Tension between President-elect Trump and the press corps was already evident. Trump had stiffed the press to have dinner out in New York without an attendant pool of journalists. Big deal? Not in itself. The press tracked him down to "21" and waited him out.

But the White House press corps takes seriously its responsibility to record the president’s comings, goings and doings. There is an assortment of pools to go where the entire press corps cannot go — Air Force One, the Oval Office, dinner at "21." They travel under the euphemism of "protective pools." It’s really a death watch, just in case.  Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in pre-pool days; Kennedy in a Dallas motorcade with reporters just a few cars behind his; Reagan outside a Washington hotel directly in front of pool cameras. I was in one pool when President George H.W. Bush learned about the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and hustled back to the White House. My CNN colleague Mary Tillotson was the pool reporter in 1992 when Bush turned ill at a state dinner in Tokyo, vomited on Prime Minister Miyazawa and was rushed away while the world wondered if he were even alive. The best protective pool is the one that arrives uneventfully back where it started.

Trump and his team will arrive at some working relationship with the press corps just as his predecessors have, some more grudgingly than others. There is nothing in the rules that requires an amicable relationship, though you’d always hope it would be respectful.

Well, that’s a bit of what Susanne and I talked about in our 40-minute session. Afterward, we both said we’d enjoyed the conversation.

Best wishes to all for the coming holidays and 2017. May your days be filled with fascinating stories. 

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Charles Bierbauer

StoryCorps will be recording in Columbia through December 19.


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