Friday, November 14, 2008

Stolberg Confesses: It's Cool To Fly On Air Force One!

Is it appropriate for a Times White House correspondent to confess her awe of Air Force One -- and things like the quality of service and how fast it flies? Maybe it's the truth, but it's also a bit sad to think that a reporter like Sheryl Gay Stolberg can be so swept up in the trappings of power.

All week long, Stolberg has been answering readers' questions on the Times website with such earnest honesty that it's been a tough slog for readers noodling around for actual insight.

A few tedious tidbits: If she could cover any president it would be Lincoln. A Washington Post reporter once took delivery of her lost laptop. Jenna Bush turned her down for an interview. She's been to the Lincoln Bedroom. She doesn't think she'll have as much access to Barack Obama than she did when he was in the Senate.

But this morning, Stolberg inadvertably revealed a sadly sycophantic streak in acknowleging her pleasure at flying on the president's plane.

Here's her answer, in full. You read it and decide whether she's the kind of reporter you want covering the president of the United States with considered skepticism in a time of national crisis.

Okay, I confess: It’s cool to fly on Air Force One. I’m surprised no one has asked this sooner.

The plane is a specially configured Boeing 747 (Actually there are two of them; it becomes Air Force One when the president is aboard.) I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures of the president and Mrs. Bush waving as they board the aircraft; they board through the front of the plane, while reporters and most White House staffers board a separate staircase in the rear. The press cabin, with about 15 or so seats, is at the back of the plane; although other presidents have made it a practice to wander back there from time to time, President Bush never does. Occasionally he does do roundtable interviews in his cabin on the way home from foreign trips, including one of his trips to Baghdad.

The seats are roomy, akin to business class, the food is tasty — Tex-Mex is often served, no doubt because of the president’s Texas roots — and the service is lovely; the cabin staff goes out of its way to make reporters comfortable. From a reporter’s perspective, one great thing about Air Force One is it has electricity; you can plug in your laptop and work. And it’s fast; when the president wants to get home quickly, as he often does, that plane can really move.

Then there are the treats. First-time Air Force One fliers are given a small package of goodies with some information and pictures of the plane, including a little box of M & M candies bearing the presidential seal and the signature of George W. Bush. My kids are already asking when they will get Barack Obama M & Ms.

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