Drowning in Pool Reports

Freud might have said that Hank Paulson inadvertently revealed his true feelings.
Freud might have said that Hank Paulson inadvertently revealed his true feelings. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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Thursday, November 13, 2008; Page A03

Only 68 days until the inauguration. But for those assigned to watch the president-elect in Chicago, that may seem like forever.

Once he's in the White House, Barack Obama will be able to go about his daily routine -- exercising, grooming, dining, walking to his office -- on the premises and out of public view. Not so during the transition, where every beat in the circadian rhythm is recorded by a rotating group of journalists known as the "protective pool."

"President-elect Barack Obama's motorcade left his gym at 8:58 a.m., and Obama returned home seven minutes later," the Chicago Tribune's Emily Achenbaum reported in a pool bulletin yesterday. "Staff said Obama showered and changed at home as press pool held outside. Pool unable to get a clear view of Obama."

No clear view of Obama showering and changing? Maybe that's a good thing.

Just about everything else, however, is fair game. At 4:31 pm on Tuesday, for example, a pool report had it that "the president-elect stopped at the apartment of his friend, Mike Signator, to get a haircut. As staff explains, Obama's regular barber shop has now become a tourist mecca. . . . If the president can't go to his barber, the answer is to bring the barber to him." A follow-up bulletin said Obama, "apparently freshly coiffed, departed the Regents Park apartments at 5:24 p.m. and motorcade arrived at his home at 5:28 p.m."

The pool knows what he's wearing ("black-and-gray winter jacket and his White Sox baseball cap. Newspaper under his arm"); it knows where and with whom he's eating ("Barack and Michelle Obama left dinner at Spiaggia just after 11 p.m. Saturday night"); it knows what weather he is experiencing ("Chicago is damp, overcast and cold"). And it definitely knows about his daily trips to the gym ("Obama worked out from 9:30 to 10:32 Sunday morning at his usual spot").

But if this is a nuisance for president-elect and press, imagine the neighbors -- not all of whom are named Bill Ayers or Tony Rezko. Reports the pool: "Hyde Park Blvd next to the Obama family home is now closed for a block on either side of the house in addition to Obama's own street being closed off."

* * *

No news continues to bring bad news to the Obama transition.

"Today, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will hold private meetings in Chicago," spokesman Nick Shapiro announced yesterday morning. "There are no public events scheduled."

But political journalists abhor a vacuum, and they are finding their own news. On Tuesday night, the Associated Press reported that Obama "has hired veteran Democrats Sam Nunn and Warren Christopher to head his transition teams at the Pentagon and State Department," creating what the wire service called a "national security brain trust for Obama that is heavy on former Clinton administration officials." The news ricocheted around the world. "The man who ran against the ways of Washington turns to Clinton insiders and lobbyists," trumpeted a Los Angeles Times headline yesterday morning.

Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter swung into action. She issued a statement saying that "there's a lot of disinformation out there" and asserted that Nunn is playing only an "informal" role and that Christopher is not involved.

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