The "Pool Reporter" - The Worst Job In Journalism

Nov 11, 2017

Pool reporter.

Most people outside of journalism don't know what that term means; and could not possibly care less.

I know, because I have been the local pool reporter on a countless number of visits to Cincinnati or environs by presidents, first ladies, vice presidents and others who have Secret Service protection.

And I consider it the worst job in journalism.

I did it for presidential visits from Reagan to Obama; and, repeatedly for President Bill Clinton, who just loved to come to Cincinnati to rake in campaign money and toss in an "official event" just to make it OK to spend the taxpayers' dollars flying Air Force One in and out of CVG.

Here's how it works.

The president (or the First Lady, or the vice president) usually travels with a rather large contingent of Washington-based reporters, photographers and videographers. Add to that an unusually large contingent of local journalists; and you have an official media mob.

Out of that mob, a handful of Washington and local reporters, photographers and videographers are chosen to be "the pool" – to go wherever the president goes and file constant reports on everything that is said or done.

You are called ahead of time and asked to be the pool reporter. You can decline, but that could land you on a cranky reporter list and you are on the White House press office's bad side forever.

As a local pool reporter, your job is to pass on regular pool reports on what the president is doing to any local news media outlet that asks for it.

It's a thankless job. You end up doing work for a whole lot of news organizations who are not paying you. And you end up writing a lot of vacuous nonsense, like so:

Pool report 1: POTUS greets locals as he steps off AF1. The mayor sneezes. POTUS says, "Gesundheit." POTUS waves at people who have been lined up outside the fence on the tarmac for hours on end and hops in lead limo. Everyone scrambles for motorcade vehicles and motorcades pulls away at 1:54 p.m.

Gripping, scintillating stuff like that.

And you must do it over and over and over again, even if you have very little to say.

The rest of the traveling press is taken to some other location (a hotel ballroom, a large work space in the airport) to write and file their stories from earlier in the day; and keep up with the pool reports as the motorcade heads to its destination.

Bill Clinton
Credit wikipedia.org

In the Clinton days, that destination was more often than not the home of Stan Chesley, who was a prodigious fundraiser for the Clintons and the Democratic National Committee. He has since been disbarred in Kentucky for his role in the fen-phen settlement case and retired rather than face disbarment in Ohio.

But, during Bill Clinton's White House years, Chesley was riding high; and he hosted the president in his home – then in Amberley Village – for high-dollar fundraisers. He ended up raising millions for the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton-Gore campaign.  

The pool, both national and local, were in vans in the motorcade from the airport; and, when we arrived, we were typically shuffled into Chesley's garage.

That garage was not the cluttered mess that most peoples' garages are. It was spotless. Not a drop of grease on the floor. No junk lying around. Maybe a rake and a hoe.

It was so clean, you could eat off the floor.

Which is exactly what we did.

Chesley was always thoughtful enough to tell the caterers for his fundraising events to bring trays of sandwiches and snacks out to the poor slobs sitting along the wall in his garage. So we did not starve, which was usually the case on other pool assignments.

We were kept confined in the garage by the Secret Service during the receptions, until the president was ready to make his remarks to the people who had forked over considerable money to be in his presence.

Once inside, we had to crouch down on the floor taking notes. As soon as the speech was over, we were hustled back to the garage to begin writing our pool reports on what he had said.

Usually, right in the middle of that process, the fundraiser would break up and we were ordered to hustle into our assigned vans in the motorcade. We were either headed straight for the airport; or, in many cases, to an event that wasn't on the schedule.

In 1999, Clinton appeared at a fundraiser at Chesley's place. Roxanne Qualls was mayor at the time. She rode with the president to and from the fundraiser.

On the way back down the interstate, thinking we were going back to the airport, the motorcade veered off the highway and into the heart of Over-the-Rhine, where it pulled up in front of Findlay Market on the Race Street side. It stretched nearly all the way to McMicken Avenue.

Qualls wanted to show Clinton Findlay Market, a historic landmark that was about to undergo a major renovation project.

Clinton walked about, shaking hands and chatting with the vendors. He seemed genuinely interested – then, again, the 42nd president, always seemed to be very fond of food.

He also had a habit of driving his staff and the Secret Service insane by lingering at events, when the clock was telling them they needed to be gone.

Back in those days, there was a Gold Star chili parlor directly across the street from the market. It's long gone now, but then it was a thriving little business. I think Clinton saw the word "chili" and decided he had to go inside. He went in, with a contingent of pool photographers and TV camera operators behind him, shaking hands with the patrons and ordering up two cheese coneys. With mustard. With onions.

The cameras clicked away and the TV cameras rolled as the president stuffed the coneys down his gob.

Man, these are good! I ought to take some of these home with me!

Joe Lockhart, then the presidential press secretary, looked perturbed when a reporter asked him if the president paid for his mid-day snack.

The president doesn't carry cash, Lockhart said, Don't worry, I'll take care of it.

We all got back in our vehicles and started motoring to the airport.

With my laptop perched precariously on my lap as the van rattled its way down Interstate 75, I wrote my pool report. I can't remember what it said exactly, but it was gibberish along these lines.

POTUS ducks into Gold Star Chili on Race Street. Wolfs down two cheese coneys (with everything) as he high-fives everyone at the counter. Proclaims them delicious and says he hopes to come back some day for more.

Very important stuff.

At least I didn't have to do the national pool report.

That poor slob had to explain to America what a cheese coney is.