Newsroom Meeting for the New President

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009; 6:29 PM

There hasn't been this much excitement in The Washington Post newsroom since Brad Pitt dropped by.

Barack Obama, here for a meeting today with Post editors and reporters, did what came naturally for a politician: He worked the room. The whole room. The whole room of grizzled journalistic veterans, most of whom stood and, well, stared.

Note to media-bashers: There was no standing ovation. Although one clerical employee was heard to shriek that he had shaken her hand.

The mob scene (while not quite as large as when Pitt was studying the newsroom for a movie from which he later withdrew) underscored one thing: Obama is not just on the verge of assuming the presidency, he is a worldwide celebrity.

Camera phones flashed as Obama, trailed by Post Co. chief executive Donald Graham, began his stroll around the fifth-floor newsroom's perimeter, shaking hands and greeting nearly 200 staffers. "Where are the sportswriters?" he asked. "I want to ask about the Redskins, Nationals and Wizards."

The shouted questions were about what you would expect from the heart of one of the world's great newspapers.

"Did you like Ben's Chili Bowl?" asked Metro reporter Theola Labbe-DeBose, referring to Obama's recent visit to the downtown eatery.

"That half-smoke's all right," Obama said.

Another staffer asked about the family's dog search.

"Haven't decided yet," said Obama, who visited USA Today earlier in the day.

The president-elect had the foresight to ask about the weather. "What's Tuesday looking like?" he wondered.

By now he had circled past the Metro staff and obit desk and was making his way toward the North Wall of top editors' offices, where he stopped to chat with Deputy Managing Editor Milton Coleman, who gave him a copy of the paper's special election edition proclaiming Obama's victory. Then it was into national-staff territory, where Obama asked one campaign reporter if he had recovered from the trail but seemed surprised to learn that another, Philip Rucker, had spent 13 days covering him in Hawaii.

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