Like a group of campers being told that no bears prowl the route of their upcoming hike and that sleeping in the woods will be fun, the White House press corps gathered this week to learn about its impending move.
The roof over its head in the White House West Wing is in danger of collapsing (weakened by the weight of partygoers at events held on the roof in earlier administrations), so the corps is going to be moved next door to the Executive Office Building while repairs are made.
Word of the move unleased an old fear: that this was a ruse to get reporters permanently out of the White House into more distant quarters where they would see less and be more easily controlled by their not-always-welcoming hosts.
Sam Donaldson of ABC-TV was typically quick and direct in giving voice to the big fear.
"When this is complete, the press is coming back here, right?" Donaldson asked expedition counselor Larry Speakes, a deputy White House press secretary, whose task it was to explain the move to reporters.
Speakes promised. The move is scheduled to take place Aug. 1 and last at least 60 days.
As Speakes described the reporters' temporary home to an anxious audience that included Ralph Harris of the British news agency Reuters, who was in the middle of his vacation, other concerns arose.
Lesley Stahl of CBS-TV remarked on the inconvenient location of the ladies' room. Several worried aloud about the placement of telephones in their temporary home, the auditorium where most presidential news conferences have been held.
In the unlikely event that the president wanted to hold a news conference during the two-month repair period, a laughing reporter asked Speakes, what would happen? White House reporters have been grumbling that President Reagan has been almost inaccessible to the press since returning to the White House April 11 from the hospital.
Speakes noted that while the American news agencies AP and UPI would have enclosed booths as they do now, Reuters and Agence France Presse would share a space. Speakes suggested building a low partition to separate them.
"A language barrier," Bill Lynch of NBC-TV suggested.
One problem taken a little more seriously was that the Executive Office Building does not have central air conditioning and the window units are noisy. Broadcast reporters would have to turn off the units while filing.
In a general discussion of building partitions, someone asked what would happen if you had a windowless, and therefore air conditionerless, space. "You die," Jeremiah O'Leary of The Washington Star suggested helpfully.
The most serious concern for both reporters and White House officials is the freedom of movement -- or lack of it -- the reporters will have in their home away from home.
Speakes drew protests when he announced that reporters would have to take one of two elevators to their new fourth-floor quarters. The stairs, he said, would be blocked off and the elevators would not stop on the second or third floor.
"Because some poor, forlorn soul might wander off on the third floor, go into some National Security Council office and steal some secret documents," Speakes replied, stating the extreme case.
Speakes promised to explore the availability of a staircase.
From problems of access to news, the reporters' attention turned to problems of access to sustenance.
Helen Thomas of UPI, the dean of the corps, wanted to know who had decided reporters could not eat in the Executive Office Building cafeteria. Lester Kinsolving of Globe Syndicate pressed the point. "Did anybody explain to you the reason to keep us from the cafeteria?"
Tiring of the subject, Speakes told Kinsolving he couldn't eat there because "You'd probably spill gravy on your tie and embarrass everybody over there."
What Speakes called "the good news" is that the present press area will be remodeled while its roof is being repaired.
It won't get quite the treatment that Nancy Reagan and her decorator, Ted Graber, have given the family quarters of the White House, but Speakes said new blue paint, blue carpet and white curtains will be installed. s
There will be 48 permanent seats in the briefing room instead of the present odd collection of chairs and sofas. More storage space will be provided for the TV crews' gear.
Speakes also promised two kinds of lighting: bright lights for broadcast and dimmer bulbs, which he called "mood lighting."
Naomi Nover, a longtime member of the corps, had a special concern. She wanted to be sure that the refrigerator makes it over to the Executive Office Building and back.
She donated the refrigerator to the press corps some years ago in memory of her late husband.
She was assured the refrigerator would not be left behind.