From the Pool – Assigned to the bus of boredom

Pool reporters dubbed the yellow press bus "Big Bird." — Photo by Steve Myrick

Media outfits organize the White House press pool as a cooperative effort to follow the president nearly everywhere he goes, so that if there is some sort of news, independent observers are there to report it and record it.

Pool reporters rotate according to a schedule. Newspapers, radio, television, wire services, photo agencies, and often, a local reporter take a turn on the pool bus. The pool must share all observations, video, and photos with other media organizations. It is a practical arrangement to avoid the logistical impossibility of hundreds of separate news organizations following the president.

It usually involves lots of waiting, and sometimes, but not always, a well-orchestrated, tightly controlled glimpse of the president.

Irreverent slang

Here is a glossary of slang terms used by the often irreverent poolers and white house staffers, trapped together on the bus of boredom.

Pencils — a vaguely derogatory term the White House uses for print reporters, to differentiate them from TV and radio reporters.

Flack — a vaguely derogatory term reporters use for the press secretary and staffers, who deflect the many questions and requests to interview the people actually making news.

Press wrangler — the White House staffer assigned to herd reporters on and off buses, and round up stray media.

Big Bird — the giant yellow bus, complete with wireless signal, televisions, and sometimes dysfunctional bathroom, used to ferry the pool from place to place.

Optics — a relatively new term meaning the message a picture conveys. For example, the White House may be concerned about the “optics” of the president playing golf while many people have cancelled their vacations.

Clean — a term not often associated with traveling reporters, but in this case it means the reporter, along with his computer, phone, and briefcase, have been searched, sniffed by dogs, metal-detected, and cleared by the Secret Service.

A run — a warning to pool reporters that they will need to cover some distance to catch up to the president at a public event. Reporters interpret this as a signal to exit the bus at full speed, with cameras, tripods, and briefcases flailing. Often a hilarious sight for people waiting to see the president.

Full lid — what the press wrangler says when pool duty is done. It is a promise not to make any more news that day, allowing everyone to go home without worry that their competitors will get a scoop. Often it’s the only term the White House staffers use that pool reporters actually want to hear.