News

Covering the White House

On the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, TIME’s White House correspondent talks to TFK about his job

January 18, 2013
PETE SOUZA—THE WHITE HOUSE

TIME White House Correspondent Michael Scherer (right) interviews President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One on August 21, 2012.

Thousands of people will jam the streets of our nation’s capital on Monday, January 21, to watch the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. Journalists from across the United States and around the world will cover the historic event. Among them will be Michael Scherer. He has been TIME’s White House correspondent since President Obama first took office. TIME For Kids met with Scherer at his office in Washington, D.C., to talk with him about his job and what it’s like to report on the President (scroll down for a video).

Vice President Joe Biden talks to TIME's Michael Scherer

BROOKS KRAFT FOR TIME
Vice President Joe Biden talks to TIME's Michael Scherer

TFK:

What do you like best about your job?

MICHAEL SCHERER:

The best part of the job is you get to see history happen right in front of you. So, if the President is going to do a press conference that is going to be shown live to the American people in prime time, I’m sitting there in the audience watching it happen. If the President goes to China to visit with Chinese leaders or to Russia—I’ve been able to travel to, I think, 14 countries now with him—I get to travel on Air Force One, which is a pretty good way to travel. Although [journalists] are in the back of the plane, it’s still better than flying coach class. And, you end up writing about things that are really important. [Each] decision the President makes effects millions or billions of people. It changes what happens in the world. And I’m the one—or one of the people—who communicates to the rest of the world what he’s deciding and why he’s deciding it.

TFK:

Can you elaborate on what it’s like to be aboard Air Force One?

SCHERER:

The front of the plane is almost like a private plane. It does not have seats like a normal plane. There’s a bedroom for the President. He has an office. He has several conference rooms. There are rooms with computers. There’s an oven on board Air Force One, so the food is not terrible. The movie industry gives movies to the President to watch on the plane, and there are usually new releases. I saw the Avengers there. The Recording Industry Association gives albums for the playlists on the headphones, so you can listen to the latest Beyoncé album as well. They give you free M&Ms. M&Ms makes candies that come in a box with the Presidential Seal on them and Barack Obama’s signature—before that [during the previous administration] it was George W. Bush’s signature. You can get official presidential M&Ms.

TFK:

How do you prepare for an interview with the President? Most kids might be nervous about conducting an interview like that. How do you get ready?

SCHERER:

Well, most adults are nervous. I was nervous. The issue with interviewing the President is that his time is very tightly controlled so you get a limited amount of time. You know going into the interview that you are only going to be able to ask six or eight questions, and you want those questions to get him to say something that he hasn’t said before. [My] interview was in August of last year—in the heat of the Presidential campaign, shortly before the conventions—and my goal was to try to get him to talk about how he was thinking about this election. Another interesting issue, when you interview someone on a plane, it’s pretty noisy. I realized only afterwards that my tape recorder hadn’t really picked up anything he had said. Luckily, the President—whenever he does interviews—has professional transcribers recording the exchange. So, I got a transcript from the White House.

TFK:

TIME named Barack Obama Person of the Year for 2012. Can you tell us why and how that decision was made?

TIME editors chose President Obama as 2012 Person of the Year. Michael Scherer wrote the cover story.

Cover Photograph by Nadav Kander for TIME
TIME editors chose President Obama as 2012 Person of the Year. Michael Scherer wrote the cover story.

SCHERER:

Person of the Year is given to the person—a man or woman—who has had the greatest impact on the news, for better or worse. It’s not an award for being a good person, but [for having] the greatest impact on the news in the previous year and the potential to have more impact going forward. The editors met starting in November and concluded that of all the possibilities from this year there was no one who had a bigger impact on what our job was—reporting the news—and the world than the President in this election.

TFK:

TFK’s oldest group of readers is about 12 years old, so they will be able to vote in their first presidential election in 2020. You’ve written a lot about how the Obama campaign reached out to young voters. How do you think campaigning, the election and voting will be different for TIME For Kids readers in 2020?

SCHERER:

It’s a great question. It’s actually one of the most interesting things in politics. The technology around politics is really being revolutionized, and every four-year cycle you have a whole new set of tools that campaigns are using. They are really changing the way campaigns are run. I can’t predict what the difference will be between now and 2020 but what I can say is this technological shift means more people are getting involved in more ways in campaigns. Hopefully that means that more people are voting, and more people feel an ownership in the democratic process. Right now, roughly half the people who can vote, vote in most elections. It would be great for everybody if that number goes up, if more people feel like they should vote. Because if you don’t vote then someone else is speaking for you. Your voice isn’t being heard.

TFK:

My third-grade friend Jake from Phoenix, Maryland, really wanted me to ask you: Having been in the White House, what kind of sports equipment or activities can you do there?

SCHERER:

At the White House, you can do a ton, actually. The White House is both the office building for the President of the United States and his senior staff, and the home for Obama and his family. The sporting side of the White House is just for the family. There were tennis courts in the back that Obama converted. He took out the tennis net and  put in a basketball court because he prefers basketball. Sasha and Malia have jungle gym play equipment and a swing in the back as well. In the residence, there’s a gym where the President works out religiously, every day, and so does the First Lady. Interestingly, all through the federal government [buildings] around D.C., there are athletic facilities. Bizarrely, at the Supreme Court, on the upper floor, there is a basketball court. I think the FBI building has a basketball court. Often on the weekends, the President will get in his motorcade and go with friends to one of these indoor basketball courts.


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