- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

The president had invited a few of us reporters over for a Christmas drink. I grabbed the yellow streetcar in Georgetown, and hopped off at Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street. Cutting through the Executive Office Building and across the White House lawn, I joked with the ceremonial guard at the West Wing door and went in. "Hey Millie, where's the boss?" Millie told me to follow the sound of gun shots: "He's out on the veranda trying out his new shotgun the Boy Scouts gave him."
Taking a short cut through the Oval Office, I saw the president happily plunking away at copies of last years' federal budget pamphlet. Melbourn Sedgewick, the president's martini-drinking press secretary, was leaning against one of the veranda's white pillars. "The president likes a slim target something he can blow away. He tried using the collected columns of Walter Lippman but they were impenetrable. The Office of the Budget suggested last year's budget at 50 pages, it fits the bill perfectly, no thanks to the president. If the appropriations committees were'nt so tight-fisted, we could have plumped up that budget pamphlet into a fat book in no time. But those Scrooges wouldn't even fund a one-lane bridge over the stream near the president's summer house. I'll give it to them, though, they won't spend the people's money on bridges for there own home towns, either."
Where else, but in America, could a fella wander in to see the president without having to go through high iron gates and gun-totting guards. And where else could gun shots from the Executive Mansion not give rise to alarm? Earlier in the day, a few of us had asked Sedgewick whether the president was worried about the state of underprivileged kids at Christmas time. "Not at all, they can't vote," he said, deadpan. "But those overstuffed farmers will desert the president in a moment if we don't keep the subsidies flowing."
Of course, none of us reported Sedgewick's irreverent words, they might be taken the wrong way by the public, and embarrass the president. Although I don't think any of the reporters there actually voted for him, it would break down the working relationship with the president if we reported every little rumor and snide comment made by him or his staff. Someday, there may be issues of war and peace facing the country, and it will be important for the president to be able to trust us reporters covering him. If we take cheap shots on the little things, he wouldn't be able to trust our judgment on the big issues and then we couldn't do our job informing the public on the things that matter.
"Millie, I'm out of birdshot" bellowed the president. "Wake up the national security adviser and ask him if he can run down some extra cartridges out at Fort McNair. He might as well earn his keep." Leading us reporters downstairs into the library, the president announced that, before he could join us, he wanted to call the German chancellor to wish him Merry Christmas. "But, gentlemen, the bar is open help yourselves."
Morrie Downs, the reporter for the New York Times, lit up a fat cigar and sat contentedly with a large glass of bourbon. "I don't give a tinker's dam for all that New Yorker artsy stuff. I'll leave that to the social page. But I can drink the president's bourbon all day and still report the hard policy facts against the president even if it makes him bleed. And I'll tell you something else, the president wouldn't have it any other way. I was with him when he was shooting tigers in the Punjab. He told me I could punch him in the nose when he deserved it, just don't knife him in the back. That's pretty good advice for any reporter."
After shooting billiards with the president upstairs in the Red Room, where he had his favorite table set-up, I headed home. We live down by the Pentagon building safest place in the world, I reckon. On the way home I stopped off at the Christmas tree lot. I splurged, a little. Bought a beautiful, fat 6 foot tree even though it cost $1.50.

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