February 11, 2009
A Historic Day of Reporting at the White House
It started with a phone call from a member of the White House press office on a chilly Saturday night. “I’m calling to let you know that Black Enterprise will be the first black publication to get an interview with the president,” he said.
My lips curled into a smile.
We were given the opportunity, in part, because President Obama wanted to share his perspective about his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to our readership. Like much of America, a number of B.E. readers have felt the devastating effects of an economic downturn unlike no other in the past 30 years — possibly since the Great Depression.
It was important that our readers heard, in the president’s own words, about how his economic recovery plan will help create jobs, provide much-needed relief, and open business opportunities.
It also meant coming full circle: Our magazine has covered Obama for five years, chronicling his impressive campaign to reach the U.S. Senate and his even more amazing ascent to the presidency of the United States. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk to him during cover shoots and interview sessions.
But interviewing candidate Obama was different than interviewing President Obama — even over the phone. This would be our magazine’s first interview with a sitting president.
I’ve never been starstruck. I’ve met and interviewed the nation’s most powerful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and politicians.
But sitting in the media relations office of the Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, this interview was different.
It’s not every day you talk to the leader of the free world. In fact, I brought two digital recorders. The moment is every journalist’s dream.
“Good afternoon, Mr. President. Thank you for granting this interview,â€ I said.
“Derek, it’s good to talk to you again,” he replied.
We spent the next 15 minutes discussing how his plan would create jobs, provide relief for the unemployed and distressed homeowners, and his administration’s plans to reform the Small Business Administration. Talking to me after the town hall in Elkhart, Indiana, one of the cities in the Midwest that has had the greatest growth in unemployment, he discussed the issues with his usual eloquence and clarity with a heavy dose of compassion: “Let your readers know help is on the way.”
(*Update: I received a call from Josh Gerstein of Politico soon after our interview published. Apparently, the interview was the first in print for President Obama since his inauguration.)
I also got a second chance to see President Obama and be a part of history. On Feb. 9, along with scores of journalists from the leading media outlets and some local publications, I got a front-row seat at a time-honored tradition: the presidential press conference. It was, of course, the 44th president’s first such session. Mine too. Representatives from print, online, and broadcast media outlets filled the East Room of the White