Being a Washington press pooler is not that exciting. Usually it's observing stuff even too boring for C-Span. But last night, camped outside a friend of Obama's home, the press pool had an adventure with the Nation of Islam.
The press pool had gathered outside the Chicago home of Obama family friend Martin Nesbitt, where Obama was attending a cookout. They were waiting in a bus across the street. Chuck Todd started begging Ed Henry for a bite of his turkey sandwich. (Unconfirmed.) Little did they know, they had parked in front of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's mansion. The Times' Jackie Calmes was assigned that night to write the pool report, and she filed these emails from her Blackberry detailing the press pool's encounter with the Nation of Islam.
The White House Press Pool scrambled out of the bus for some air (no pushing!):
Immediately a polite man in jeans and T-shirt emerged to ask us to stay off the grass. Though this grass was the curbside city property, we obliged.
Soon, however, he was pacing and talking on a cell phone. He went inside the mansion's black wrought iron fence, crossed the well-landscaped yard, lifted a water bucket behind rose bushes and, voila!, a walkie-talkie. He was heard to refer to "the CIA" once he began speaking into it.
A co-pooler searched the Internet for the address and found it listed on a Web site called NotForTourists and another called Taxexemptworld.com.
Indeed, another pooler found a county Web site that confirmed this property is tax exempt for being a religious institution.
Reinforcements arrived - three men in T-shirts reading "Wide or Die!" One surly man has been staring daggers at us. Asked if this is Minister Farrakhan's house, he just stared at your pooler. Asked again, he said, "I don't have no comment."
Some time passed:
It's 8:45 and nearly dark; your pool has retreated back inside the van. We're outnumbered now by roughly a dozen Fruit of Islam agents for the Nation of Islam. As each casually dressed man arrives, he exchanges elaborate handshake/hug/double air-kisses with others. Two walked by your pooler chanting "Islam."
Several have filmed and photographed your poolers, the van and its license plates with their cell phones.
One came and stood close to a couple poolers and OUR [Secret Service] agent. He [the Secret Service agent] asked if he could help. No answer. He asked again. The man said no. The agent said, "Secret Service - Please move away from this group of people."
Soon the agent asked us to go in the bus.
But several poolers, hearing the call of nature, are asking whether they might ask the Fruit about using their bathroom.
Still holding. No pun intended.
Before long, 22 "Fruit of Islam" members had gathered around the bus. No doubt, many of the press poolers were blackberry-ing their final wishes to their spouses. Then this dramatic climax :
The power of pool reportage! Standoff ends, apparently with help of intermediary in Detroit:
Your pooler got a call at about 10:15 local time from a pool report reader who identified himself as the Rev. Gary Hunter, a Baptist minister in Motown who writes and blogs for the Detroit Times. He said he had called Minister Farrakhan and his son and asked them to have the Fruit stand down.
"I told him you were good people," Rev. Hunter said. "He said he didn't know you all were just waiting for the president."
As it happens, the FOI [Fruit of Islam] indeed had mostly gone by then.
…. Anyway, at 10:33 we pulled away and we are at the Obama residence.
Next week, the White House Press Pool goes inside the human body. [NYT]