Friday I walked up to the White House and saw a couple of hundred pipeline protesters singing outside the West Wing. Meanwhile, as I got closer to the entrance, I saw a homeless man on the ground. Not sure why. The police were cuffing him, but it didn’t look like either side was struggling or too committed to the process. The takedown appeared to be in slow motion and I could’ve sworn I heard the guy on the ground saying “I’m not weird.”
The Captain of the police waved as I went in. Someone offered me a cinnamon roll as it was my birthday and many of the junior staffers gave me good wishes for my birthday.
When I met up with Sean Spicer he told me he paid my wife to take me out – way out so I could walk home. He also wished me a happy birthday as the briefing began which was very nice of him.
For the first time in a long this week there wasn’t any new drama from the executive branch during the briefing. The administration is working furiously to get itself into something resembling routine. Spicer spent a lot of time telling us about economic upswings, new jobs and General Flynn. There was the usual bluster, but on "One Question" Friday most of us were limiting ourselves to a question and multiple follow-ups and Spicer was laying it on us about the great job report news. Only loud trumpets were missing. Actually that would be kind of funny.
Of course there were humorous moments. Spicer had the flag pin on his suit upside down and John Roberts from FOX, the minister of protocol, called Spicer on that and asked him if he was in distress. Later on Spicer – channeling his inner Melissa McCarthy – threatened to move the podium. The move was met with raucous laughter from the press.
The biggest drama came from – well the press. John Decker from FOX radio had apparently, according to a couple of reporters in the room, previously filed a grievance with the correspondents association regarding someone from an extremely right-wing organization who planted a representative in the press room. The guy was supposedly not quite a reporter, not quite an activist, but he was at the very least - according to Decker - a black-hating, Jew-hating racist.
The young reporter/activist said he was gay and Jewish. I just said under my breath, well maybe you’re a gay, Jewish hate monger - I mean who knows? Okay I'm paraphrasing what I said out loud. It was much funnier when I said it. The young man in question laughed - so I hit my target audience. But, as I never heard of his organization and could care little about it, I merely tried to mind my own business - which sometimes is the best thing to do when people become interesting.
The young man, who had been previously introduced to me and appeared polite enough to be in civil society, claimed Decker physically assaulted him – which didn’t happen. Decker was upset, but not physical. At least not in front of me. I guess he could've pummeled the guy into unconsciousness and then revived him only to beat him again, but I saw no blood trails nor evidence of bruising to back up such a tale. I'm sure that won't stop a few people, but seriously.
Meanwhile, as if this couldn’t get more bizarre, a reporter from a Russian news service came to the aid of the right-wing activist. “Calm down. Calm down. Everybody relax,” he shouted. I told him that was a good idea and he could start with himself.
Finally Spicer came in to conduct the briefing and all the children settled down and things became more or less rational.
Afterward, photographers began taking pictures of the young activist/reporter who held his own gaggle outside the White House press briefing room doors. Sigh. He was eating up the attention and drawing a fair amount of it to a website of which I'd never previously bothered to become acquainted. If Decker sinned, then it was in giving the guy attention - because no one really knew or cared who he was until Decker pointed him out. I say that with some degree of certainty because no one took a picture of him or really noticed the guy until Decker pointed him out.
Meanwhile a guy identifying himself as Breitbart’s lead investigative reporter – there’s a thought – approached me and asked me what I saw. I told him my name was Sam. Last name Donaldson. I spelled it out for him. He laughed. But before that I asked if he was just talking or wanted a comment – and he said on background he was just wondering if the kid from the far-right website had been assaulted by Decker and if Decker “went after him.”
Healthcare, General Flynn registering as an agent for a foreign government, the problems in the Middle East, the Far East and heaven knows what else and on my birthday I watched a FOX News reporter, a Russian news service reporter, a far-right website representative and the “lead investigative reporter” for Breitbart in a dust up and its aftermath in the White House. Was it an intramural rugby scrum?
I obviously was having that LSD flashback my dealer promised me back in 1982 and none too soon.
I told Decker I had his back regarding the assault that didn't occur. I told the Russian wire service reporter he should’ve minded his own business because he exacerbated the problem - actually I told him he didn't have a dog in that fight - and I told the Breitbart guy I was Sam Donaldson. Hey it was my birthday - I was due a few laughs.
A photographer from NBC was very cautious in speaking around the Breitbart reporter, but said, “This is what is going to happen. They’re going to send these people in to provoke us. We can’t take the bait.”
On this he may be right, but it isn’t for me to say who gets credentials and I confess I don't really care – as long as everyone acts professionally.
I will clarify and defend what I told a young reporter who asked me this question last week – is it proper to say you’re a supporter in that room or should you take sides? This came after a reporter declared himself a big supporter of the President.
My response? Never. I will not make the mistake of taking myself seriously, but the job is serious. When you walk into the White House as a reporter you abandon your own bias as much as is humanly possible. You are there to ask questions, bring up issues and search for facts. And truth be told I’ll be harder on those who think the same as I do because if my bias can’t stand vetting, it isn’t worth having.
In that regard, I try to remain a "disinterested, third party," participant in events as much as possible. For the love of all that is holy quit telling me what you think - unless you're writing a column. Notice how I did that, right?
You may mingle in the club. You may be welcomed to the club. You aren't in the club. Be kind. Be professional and be stubborn.
Okay - anyone else want the soapbox?
In the first 50 days of this administration I’ve seen everything but someone pulling multi-colored scarves out of their mouth. On my 56th birthday I’m pretty sure I finally saw members of the media do just that.
Bourbon anyone? And popcorn. I could definitely use some popcorn.