We Got Briefly Lost At The White House

Yeah, the briefing room totally looks like a TV set.

Yeah, the briefing room totally looks like a TV set.

After a really difficult couple of weeks at work (which I’ll get into someday), producer Nick Fountain and I took the two and half mile Uber ride to the White House to interview Megan Smith. She’s the new U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and formerly a senior executive at Google. We went to three wrong gates until winding up at the right one. Process of elimination!

Then, we found ourselves wandering the White House grounds without anyone guiding us where to go. This happened to be the same time the press corps was gathering for an afternoon press briefing with the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest. So Getty photographer Alex Wong tried to help us find our way, but that meant following him into the briefing room to figure out what was next.

It was very disorienting to walk into that tiny room we see on TV everyday, as everyone’s rushing in for a press conference. Everything looks bigger on TV, for one, so the photographers in the back were joking that everyone’s in the way no matter where you stand. I made some comment about egress. (No one uses that word anymore. Maybe they never did.)

Quick photo together before the afternoon press briefing.

Quick photo together before the afternoon press briefing.

Luckily, my friend Colleen spotted me and hung out with us so we weren’t so awkward. She covers the White House for the WSJ and you might remember her from That Time I Ran Into Obama In Denver, earlier this year. Took a few photos cause it’s not everyday you get lost and wind up in the White House briefing room. Then the press sec came in and Nick and I tried to be invisible, scrunched along the back wall, until someone finally fetched us and got us out of there. Later, my old assignment editor from South Carolina, Kim Deal, tweeted that she saw me wandering around in there.

The Megan Smith interview, which happened at the neighboring Old Executive Office Building, went great.

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Do You Remember … Dancing In September

Goofing off with Googlers.

Goofing off with Googlers. Photo by Bruce Gibson.

Here are some things I learned from Google Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt last night. He and Jonathan Rosenberg were in town as part of their book tour, and I was honored to moderate a conversation with them before a hypersmart DC audience of 600, at the Sixth & I Synagogue.

He likes those Hershey’s miniatures as much as the rest of us. When we were hanging in the green room before the show, I think he consumer about 17 of them in a row. Rosenberg even quipped, “I don’t think those are on your diet.”

He uses a Motorola Razr X, running Android, of course.

He prefers generalists over specialists, because the number one quality he looks for in people is passion. “It can be passion about anything,” he says. “But you can’t teach passion.” In other words, they want people who really care a lot, and they don’t care particularly about wedging people into particular roles. I love that.

He has new appreciation for Stephen Colbert and other comedians after learning how much time and energy Colbert spends getting into his character and preparing mentally to be so witty.

He’s not sure about the whole selfie thing, he says. But he gamely agreed to shoot a selfie of us. Luckily, photog Bruce Gibson caught us doing it, above. So meta.

Anyway. I’ve spent the last two months in such a state of constant motion that at no time have I not been rushing somewhere, recovering from what came before or preparing for what comes next. In no particular order I have: spoken in London on wearable technology and love, flew halfway to Cleveland to moderate a panel on the tech community in Ohio (only to be canceled at O’hare), reported stories on fashion that comes in a box, the PayPal-eBay split, net neutrality and other stuff I can’t remember anymore, spoken to public radio programmers about risky reporting situations, presented to the NPR board about Ferguson, threw a 2nd birthday party for my daughter, and interviewed billionaire Googlers about the inner workings of their company. On the same day, as if the random subjects I’ve been speaking on weren’t random enough, I was invited to moderate a panel on the future of reproduction.

Just the subject-shifting alone is enough for total cognitive overload. I do love nothing more than meeting new people and engaging with fresh ideas. But I also think I need some time to just not prep for anything or recover from anything. Onward.

Quick Jaunt to London Town

If you're thinking, ew, you put your shoe by your fish plank, I'd remind you that I was already committed to eating greasy fried fish off a piece of butcher paper.

If you’re thinking, ew, you put your shoe by your fish plank, I’d remind you that I was already committed to eating greasy fried fish off a piece of butcher paper.

Back from four days in London. Too bad I only hung in England and didn’t get over to Wales, cause my real obsession this year has been on the Welshmen Michael Sheen and Matthew Rhys. Sheen is the star of Masters of Sex, which I somehow worked into my talk at a London Wearables and UX Design conference on Tuesday. This is what mad crushes do to a person. And I am crushing all the time.

I didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee and I hit a lot of the touristy things before. Notably, the time I went to London at age 18 with six of my best pals from high school. I still feel horrible about our folly of indiscriminate youth while there: Clearly under the influence, we got on the tube and started chanting USA! USA! USA! to a crowd of irritated Brits. I am so, so, so sorry, England.

This time in London, I: enjoyed drinks and much catching up with my rival for 8th grade student council president, Billy Simpson, who now lives in London. Wandered the British Museum. Took a walk around Bloomsbury and Covent Gardens. Ate a fried fish plank as big as my size 9 shoe. Stopped by to see the Government Digital Service office, a cabinet level agency in the UK that’s revolutionizing government there by making it “digital by default.” Lunched and toured the BBC HQ with the intrepid Ari Shapiro, my colleague at NPR and our London correspondent. Met one of my Twitter pals in person and talked over drinks. Went the wrong way on a bus one morning, almost missing my talk at the wearables event. Made it just in the nick of time. Got purposely lost in a lovely bookstore called Foyles. Drank lots of iced tea with too little ice, because the Brits think we Americans are crazy to be so fixated on ice. Never got rained on. Really enjoyed myself.

Thanks, London, and sorry again about that embarrassing USA chanting incident so many years ago.

 

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What I’m Reading: Post-Labor Day Edition

How did this summer pass us by? I think it might be all the doom and gloom. I’ve tried to not think about it too hard, to avoid a malaise spiral in which I end up playing Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ over and over.

Anyway, now that I’m more or less recovered from Ferguson, I’m back to reading too many periodicals and posts. Some of them are:

The Worst Governments in America are Local Governments

Contrary to what we hear all the time about local governments being more responsive and accountable, this Jonathan Chait piece shows how state legislatures merely get elected because of the national mood, and local governments can be worse — downright oppressive. Ferguson’s problem is not police militarization, he argues, but the Orwellian attitudes that come with it.

With Big Data Comes Big Responsibility

Friend Om, who inspired me to put together these What I’m Reading lists in the first place, wrote this piece a couple months ago and it comes packed with a lot of big ideas. One of them I’ve been wrestling with is that so much of our privacy and subsequent feelings of security online are due to the benevolence of the Googles and Amazons of the world. How long will they be benevolent?

The WTF Did I Miss? recaps of Masters of Sex

If you’ve spoken to me anytime within the month of August, you’ve heard me wax rhapsodic about the wonder that is Showtime’s Masters of Sex, starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. Their acting is heartbreaking and the show plumbs the depths of so many topics that fascinate me; love, work, identity, intimacy. But reading these spot on and belly-achingly funny reviews took my Masters of Sex experience to another level. You must read them if you’re a fan of the show.

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After Ferguson: Helpful Links For Journalists Covering Protests

NASHVILLE — This morning I’m joining Bob Priddy, Gregg Leslie and Robert Brooks on a panel about media rights following the treatment of some journalists in Ferguson, Mo. during the unrest that broke out mid-August.

By the second week of protests in Ferguson, Amnesty International observers were on the ground.

By the second week of protests in Ferguson, Amnesty International observers were on the ground.

Except for accidentally getting guns drawn on me, I was treated fairly and within my expectations, just as the longtime journalists on the ground there explained to Poynter’s Al Tompkins. But in the weeks media swarmed on the ground in the suburban St. Louis town, police detained, threatened and harassed reporters who were trying to gather the news.

Do we have a First Amendment right to news-gather? How should we prepare to cover a protest? Here are some helpful links:

CJR: Journalists: Know Your Rights

This is a great primer for journalists if you’re headed into a situation where you might have to verbally scrap with police.

The Washington Post: Yes, You Can Record the Police

Know before you go. “Courts have held that, as a general rule, individuals have a right to record law enforcement officers carrying out their duties in public spaces.” Here’s a 2012 letter from the Dept. of Justice backing that up. 

Medium: Dressed for Excess (Tips for covering civil unrest)

Journalist Quinn Norton has been to more of these protests-turned-riots than a lot of us, and she offers really practical tips if you’re headed into a similar situation.

Vox: If police treat journalists like that, imagine how they treat residents

Ultimately, this story is not about us, the press. As calm set in on the streets of Ferguson and the National Guard withdrew from the area, international press was still parachuting in, making the situation feel more and more like a spectacle. Al Jazeera America Ryan Schuessler detailed those weird days.

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Processing My Weird Week In #Ferguson

Moments before SWAT officers swarmed our car, fixing their rifles on us.

Moments before SWAT officers swarmed our car, fixing their rifles on us.

I was as far as once can be from a conflict zone — Aspen — the nights Ferguson, Mo., first erupted over the fatal police shooting of a young black man, Michael Brown. Busy meeting about the future of the internet, the details of why the QuikTrip in a St. Louis inner suburb burned were hazy to me.

When I got home on Wednesday night, August 13, a fast-moving flood of tweets indicated police were moving in on protesters — and journalists — in a siege that seemed like something out of a wartorn nation.

I was born in St. Louis and lived there until age 13. I even moved back to Missouri for college. Ferguson is not the community I called home, but greater St. Louis certainly is, so I sent an email saying I’d be happy to help in any way. The next day my editor called. “You ready to go to Ferguson?,” he said. And, he said, buy a one-way ticket.

I got there on early Saturday morning to looted businesses. After a night of calm on Thursday, the chaos returned Friday. On my first day on the ground I found myself sitting uncomfortably on the floor of a church, surrounded by already work-weary journalists, listening to Gov. Jay Nixon announce he was imposing a curfew on the town at midnight. The curfew would be indefinite.

The curfew didn’t work. Both nights it was in place (it only lasted two nights), a curfew seemed to only increase the tensions that many young black men said had been simmering all their lives. Before I left, my next door neighbor Miss Essie, asked if I could just stay home, instead. Miss Essie, who is black, has a 24 year old son. She said she saw what happened to Brown as something that could easily happen to her own 24-year-old son, Nate.

Monday, the National Guard moved in. I never did get used to the weird juxtaposition of heavily armed military staging in a suburban shopping center full of big box stores. And Monday is when I got caught between a line of protesters and police, flames flying across the windshield of a local girl’s car I’d ducked into for safety. A series of pops — fireworks — were followed by the launching of smoke grenades. Then I saw a flame flying at the police line, which they later said was a Molotov cocktail. Then the loudest blasts I’d ever heard at close range went off. Tear gas and gunshots, fired almost simultaneously.

I was still ducking there, stunned, when suddenly an armored vehicle blasted its lights at the car where I hid. The rest of the press had gotten pushed back before the tear gassing began. But because I’d sought cover in the car wash, and then a stranger’s backseat, I got separated from my media brethren and was stuck in a dangerous zone. In a matter of seconds, the masked tactical unit — at least a dozen men — raised their rifles and pointed them at the car. The girls in the front seat had their hands up as soon as the lights blasted us. I dropped my phone and rolled down the window. “I’m press! I’m press!” I screamed. One of the armed men gestured to let us drive out of the melee, while the rest kept their guns trained on us.

But rolling down the window meant getting the worst of the gas wafting. It burns your eyes. It burns your nose. It burns your throat. It wasn’t until we were out of the most dangerous zone that other strangers could help us, handing us water and warning us not to rub or touch our eyes, or it would make it worse.

“My life just flashed before my eyes,” said Orrie, the driver who so generously gave me cover and navigated numerous police barricades to get me back to the command center, aka Target parking lot, safely.

I composed myself to file a report for our overnight newscast. Then I drove home to wash my eyes out some more and start reporting again on Tuesday. And again on Wednesday. And Thursday. Today, after a relative calm held for a few nights in a row, I got to come home. Being safely home has never felt so good.

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What to Eat And Drink in San Antonio: Your Recommendations

God, it’s so hard to be away from Texas. I miss it so much. The only state my 1.5 year old daughter can identify on a map is Texas, a testament to how obsessively we harp on and on about a state where Eva’s never lived.

I certainly don’t make it back enough to get a regular dose of the drinking and eating that made my experience in Texas so delicious. Things are getting desperate. As HeyElise readers know, it wasn’t that long ago I went home to Austin for a few hours and consumed 4,000 calories in 30 minutes.

Austin, Dallas and Houston were my homes. I even lived in Waco for gloomy nine months. But San Antonio, for all its charms, I’ve only visited. One time I ran the city’s marathon. It was miserable.

So I called upon you all to help come up with recommendations for the great eating/drinking available in one of Texas’ most underrated cities. I love the Tex Mex at Rosario’s, and drinking fancy cocktails at Hotel Havana, Liz Lambert’s relatively-new joint. Here’s what you had to suggest for my editor Uri, who is headed there tomorrow:

Breakfast (which mainly consists of breakfast tacos)
Taco Haven
Get the Torres Special – beans/cheese/bacon/guac or the Dos-A-Rita
Las Palapas

Tacos:
Tito’s Tacos
Taco Taco Cafe

Cocktails/Drinks:
Friendly Spot
Feast
The Esquire

TexMex:
La Gloria
Mi Tierra
Los Barrios
Guajilo’s
Acenar

Pizza:
Dough

Burgers:
Madrid’s
Chesters

Bakery:
Guenther House for enormous, delicious sticky buns al fresco.

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Heartbreak Tally

Awarding of arbitrary points for things that happened today:

My emergency #NED jersey didn't help, I guess.

My emergency #NED jersey didn’t help, I guess.

+ 15 Got into Uber and the driver asks me if I’m headed to watch the game. I say yes. He offers to sell me his last remaining Team Netherlands jersey from his trunk. It’s Van Persie and it’s $40. The kismet drove me to make the purchase.

- 100 After 120 minutes of soccer without a score, the match ends in a penalty kick shootout, in which the Dutch lose after our first kicker gets his shot blocked. Gonna take a while to recover. Still no world championship trophy for the Dutch team, a longtime European football stalwart.

+ 10 Having my old friend and Denver Post sports columnist Ben Hochman to watch the game with me.

- 75 Ryan Gosling is apparently having a baby with Eva Mendes, which links them together for life. Crest. Fallen.

+ 90 All Things Considered aired my five-minute+ rumination on whether a burrito is a sandwich, an idea inspired by Noah Veltman’s five minute lightning talk on a side-passion of his, at the Knight/MIT Civic Media conference last month.

TOTAL: -70

Had I not lost Ryan Gosling, the chance to go through sandwich taxonomy on national air and get myself a Netherlands jersey in the nick of time would have ended this day on the positive side of the ledger.

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Left DC, Went All The Way To Denver And Obama Showed Up

DENVER — It’s weird living in the nation’s capital, with Marine One constantly buzzing over your house as POTUS or VPOTUS head to Andrews Air Force Base. And “powerful people” wearing special lapel pins to indicate they are lawmakers or People Who Are Professional Pundits On Cable TV hanging around at the same restaurants and parties you do. It’s nice to get away and go to the real Amerricuh, where you can remove yourself from the proximity to power and its pitfalls.

But tonight, my escape to Denver was thwarted by the President. Blocks away from the bar where my friends Tim and Danielle were awaiting my arrival, my cab got blocked by cops. There was clearly Something Important Happening. I ended up walking to where I needed to be, only to be stopped because at the same moment I was supposed to arrive at the Wyncoop Brewery (co-founded by now Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper), a guy named Barack Obama pulled up with at least a dozen other black SUVs in tow.

As I’m outside being blocked from entering, the press pool rushes by, scurried in through a back door. That’s when my colleague Scott Horsley and I ran (almost literally RAN) into one another on the sidewalk. No time to talk, Secret Service rushed him in. I should have just joined them and snuck into the restaurant in that confusion, but instead I obeyed the rules, got pushed to this gawking area behind a barricade, until I talked two cops and a secret service guy into escorting me into the bar while the President was upstairs playing pool with the governor.

See all those people behind the motorcade? That's where I was stuck for a few minutes until talking my way into a personal escort into the bar. Thanks Secret Service!

See all those people behind the motorcade? That’s where I was stuck for a few minutes until talking my way into a personal escort into the bar. Thanks Secret Service!

My gal pal Danielle wanted a photo with the President's personal physician.

My gal pal Danielle wanted a photo with the President’s personal physician.

Best part of this whole random Denver incident was running into my journalist pals in the traveling press corps. There's old friend Colleen Nelson waving at me after the pool had to leave but regular bar patrons could stay inside.

Best part of this whole random Denver incident was running into my journalist pals in the traveling press corps. There’s old friend Colleen Nelson waving at me after the pool had to leave but regular bar patrons could stay inside.

Hadn't been this close to him since the time I interviewed him in a bathroom.

Hadn’t been this close to him since the time I interviewed him in a bathroom.

After POTUS got in the car, Hickenlooper (right) hung back. I later asked him to join us for a beer, like that one time in Salt Lake City, but he had to go to two more events.

After POTUS got in the car, Hickenlooper (right) hung back. I later asked him to join us for a beer, like that one time in Salt Lake City, but he had to go to two more events.

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