Adventures on the press trail with VP Mike Pence

It’s always exciting covering presidential or vice presidential visits, and my time as pool reporter for Mike Pence’s recent stop in the Mahoning Valley fit the bill.

I’ve been selected as “pool reporter” about a dozen times and have never been a fan of it.

The pool reporter’s responsibilities are — to quote the White House Correspondents’ Association — to be “eyes and ears of the press corps.” You travel in the motorcade and go to certain restricted events. You then write reports as quickly as possible and send them to other media who may quote you verbatim without attribution.

Basically, I run around and do a lot of reporting and turn over that work to whomever wants to use it. Then I have to write for my newspaper.

Previously this resulted in exceptionally long days with no real benefits — except riding in the motorcade is always fascinating.

I had contacted the vice president’s office earlier in the week asking who would be the pool reporter. When I got an email the day before his visit from Pence’s press office asking to call, well, it didn’t take a genius to figure out I was going to be asked to fill that responsibility.

That meant getting to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna by 10 a.m. to watch Air Force Two land, get in the motorcade and do a pool report on his tour of Lordstown Motors and a subsequent law enforcement and community leader event in the Youngstown police department garage.

Overall, the day was a good experience.

Being around many people and with COVID-19 cases surging, wearing a mask was part of my plan.

The White House even listed on the press advisory for the air base: “Per DoD (Department of Defense) guidelines, all press covering Air Force Two arrival must wear a face mask on base.”

So imagine my surprise when an air base officer said either keep 6 feet apart or wear a mask, but we shouldn’t do both. This occurred while we were standing in line, but about to be on the move.

While at the air base, hardly anyone but the media wore a mask, including Pence and his staff — and no one kept their distance.

It was no better at Lordstown Motors. The company had chairs distanced from one another for guests, but it didn’t stop people from mingling without masks.

State Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, sent the media pictures of him standing with his arm around Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel and another with Christina Hagan, the Republican nominee for the 13th Congressional District. No one was wearing a mask, though Tressel had one in his hand.

They weren’t alone, state Sens. Sean J. O’Brien, D-Bazetta, and Michael Rulli, R-Salem, were together without masks as were most people.

Pence toured the facility with safety goggles but no mask.

After including that in my pool report, Pence showed up in a mask at the Youngstown police garage, and I was thanked by one of his staffers for mentioning it.

Three days later in Texas, Pence touted use of masks, saying: “Where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea. And it will, we know from experience, slow the spread of the coronavirus.”

As for the motorcade, we took a scenic route primarily to stay on highways. It’s so impressive to watch law enforcement block streets and highway entrances while Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers go about 80 mph on motorcycles with precision, positioning themselves at turnarounds on highways so no one can get near the motorcade, even from the other direction.

We headed to the air base to see Pence board Air Force Two. A press handler asked if I wanted to see him enter the plane. I joked that I wanted to make sure he didn’t trip on the steps as he did two days earlier.

She sort of smirked and said she heard former President Gerald Ford was known for tripping. This took me by surprise as, unlike most others in Pence’s entourage, this particular person appeared around my age. (Most others looked to be in their 20s and 30s.) I said it was a running joke when I was a kid, and she looked at me like I experienced history.

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator, sister papers of the The Review in the Ogden Newspapers Group.



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