This is one of my favorite photos of all time. It was taken 25 years ago this month, in the real press room at the real White House, with me holding my then-six-month-old daughter at the podium. We were not having a press conference.
We were there thanks to my big-shot brother, Seth, who was then Special Counsel to Labor Secretary Robert Reich. He arranged for Martha and me (and the kid) to go on a special tour of the White House at Christmastime. Okay, it was special, if you consider that there were approximately 8,000 other people with federal employee connections who coincidentally were also afforded this privilege. I had been on the grounds at least twice before — as a bit of a big-shot myself in those years, hosting one of the city’s most popular morning shows, I had been invited by previous administrations to be a celebrity guest egg-signer at the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. Still, getting to go inside the White House on something other than the usual tourist tour was impressive -– to me, at least.
Anyway, we were working our way through the various displays (“How much of my taxes went for that ten-foot-wide gingerbread house?”) when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I glanced around, and was greeted by the steely gaze of a very serious-looking guy who asked me my name. I told him, and he introduced himself as a lieutenant in the United States Secret Service. Gulp! He then smiled and said he was a big fan of my show, and asked if I would like to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House.
It took almost a full second before I blurted out, “Sure!” So he took us through a hallway to the official White House Guest Office (where our daughter got to pet the Clintons’ cat, Socks), before proceeding down to the Roosevelt Room, the China Room, and the Cabinet Room. We even got to view The Oval Office, where the Marine guard at the door kept his eye on us the whole time.
Along the way, he filled us in on the history of this, the story behind that, and so on. We also went into the Press Room, which was empty, and took some photos at that famous podium with the White House logo behind us on the blue curtain that you’ve seen so many times on television.
Yes, it was pretty damned cool.
When we were through, I wrote down Secret Service Guy’s name and made a mental note to send him as much free stuff from my show as I could scrounge together. As we walked out to my car, I told my wife and brother that this was going to be the entire topic of discussion on the air the next morning.
Then I thought of something. Maybe Secret Service Guy didn’t want everyone to know that he was giving Radio Guy this private tour. I certainly didn’t want to get him in trouble. After all, he had just done me a tremendous favor — and besides, he was armed.
In my car, I picked up my cell phone and called the main White House number and asked for Secret Service Guy by name. In two seconds, I was connected to someone else in his office, and I again asked to speak to him. There was a click, then a pause, and then I heard him answer and identify himself.
I asked if he would mind my talking about the visit and VIP treatment on my show and he said he didn’t mind at all. But he asked that I not use his name, for security reasons. I said I understood completely — after all, the Service is Secret! — and again thanked him profusely.
While we were talking, I could hear a string quartet performing in the background. I remembered that they had been playing in the area in which the lieutenant had first tapped me on the shoulder. That’s when it dawned on me.
He wasn’t in his office. And he wasn’t on the phone.
Here I was, driving along through the District Of Columbia, talking into my cell phone with a guy inside the White House who was hearing me through his earpiece and talking to me through the microphone in his sleeve!
My mind raced: Isn’t technology unbelievable? Is this the coolest call I’ve ever made? Can you believe that I’m…..hello? Hello? HELLO?
Yep. As we turned the corner, the cell phone connection dropped.
Previously on Harris Online…