Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Day at the White House


On April 23rd my news director, Marybeth Jacoby, received an email from NASA stating that the 3rd National Climate Assessment would be released on Tuesday, May 6th.  She forwarded the email with a note “How can we make this BIG?”  I started thinking about how I would approach it.

I received a call from the White House just after our 7 p.m. newscast on Thursday, May 2nd.  It was Keith Maley, Regional Communications Director, and he was inviting me to the White House for the release of the 3rd National Climate Assessment.  I was being invited because of my work in educating viewers about how climate change was already affecting their lives and how it would impact them in the future.  WLTX-TV partnered with the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University and Climate Central to develop a program called Climate Matters.

The segments began airing in August 2010 and were highly focused topics used within the weathercasts.  Typically these segments ran from 30 to 60 seconds not including anchor interaction.

I was delighted to be able to accept their invitation.  What an honor!  As you can imagine there was a lot a planning to do at the last minute.  There was a scramble to book flights and hotel for an event taking place on Tuesday, May 6th.  I also responded to Marybeth’s email “It doesn’t get much bigger than a presidential interview. Mission Accomplished!"

My producer, Sharranda Neal, and I flew out of Columbia, SC, Monday morning and arrived in Washington, D.C., mid-afternoon.  We hit the ground running trying to shoot stand-ups for the evening shows and the morning show the next day.  There were a host of technical issues we had to overcome, but we managed to get the job done.

We returned to the hotel quite tired and prepared for the next day that we knew would be hectic.  We were not disappointed.

5:45 a.m.: OMG! It’s the alarm! Stop that noise!!

I rolled out of bed and got ready for the day.  About an hour later I called Sharranda and said that we needed to eat breakfast before going to the White House.  I had received word that they would not be providing lunch, but that we could bring our own.  Not going to happen.  I knew we would be too busy for that.  We finished breakfast and we were off to the White House.  Fortunately we left early in anticipation of the morning traffic.

8:20 a.m.:  Arrived at the White House

Some of the participants were already there, but I ran into Jeff Renner, KING-TV, Seattle, WA, and John Morales, WTVJ-TV, Miami, FL, going through security.  It was nice to run into old acquaintances. We were met by Keith and others and escorted to the Press Briefing Room of the White House.  In my mind I felt like I was reliving a scene from the television series West Wing.

Once there I immediately recognized Janice Huff from WNBC, New York.  Others began to arrive and soon everyone was there.  There were eight broadcast meteorologists that were invited to the White House:

1.            Ginger Zee – “Good Morning America” (ABC)
2.            Megan Glaros – "This Morning" and Chicago, IL (CBS)
3.            Jim Gandy – Columbia, SC (CBS)
4.            Bill Martin – San Francisco, CA (FOX)
5.            Al Roker – “Today Show” (NBC)
6.            Janice Huff – New York, NY (NBC)
7.            John Morales – Miami, FL (NBC)
8.            Jeff Renner – Seattle, WA (NBC)

It was great to see everyone.

From left to right: Jeff Brenner, Jim Gandy, Janice Huff, John Morales. Image Credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.

9 a.m.: First Briefing

We were escorted over to the Eisenhower Building for the first of three briefings for the day.  Here we met senior administration officials.  Each one presented information about the findings in the assessment and how their agencies were involved.  It was a short summary, but enough to get a sense of the enormity of the effort by the federal government.

First briefing of the day with administration officials. Image Credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.

There was an opportunity to ask questions, and I started the questions with Robert Bonnie on the economic impact of climate change on forests and agriculture.  He said that there would be impacts, but it was difficult to put a dollar figure on it.  Supporting jobs to these industries would be affected as well.

9:50 a.m.: Interviews

It was time to move to the South Lawn of the White House for interviews with the administration officials.  As you can imagine it was a tall order to get the interviews done in an hour when you have eight broadcast meteorologists vying to get interviews.

Jim Gandy preparing for interviews. Image credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.

My first interview was with Robert Bonnie.  Forests and agriculture are big businesses in South Carolina and this was great.  I was able to follow up on my question in the briefing.  Turns out that Mr. Bonnie was well aware of South Carolina and its forests.  He had just spent some time in the Francis Marion Forest.  We talked about how climate change would impact forests from heat, droughts, and disease.  He also discussed how extreme heat and intense rains would impact the agricultural community.

Interview with Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary at the US Department of Agriculture. The photographer is Danielle Gill, WUSA-TV. Image Credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.

Next I got a chance to interview the president’s science advisor, Dr. John Holdren.  He was very gracious to give me such a long interview.  The full interview is available on the website at: .

Interview with Dr. John Holdren, president's science advisor. Image Credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.
Wait, what’s this?  Stop the presses.  Enter Bo and Sunny.  I could see the handler bringing the dogs from the Rose Garden and you guessed it.  All interviews stopped.  Everyone (officials, mets, producers, and photogs) had to get their picture taken with the dogs.  What a nice diversion.

Me with Bo & Sunny. Image Credit: WLTX.

My final interview was with NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan.  This agency includes the National Weather Service, Ocean Service, Fisheries, and National Climatic Data Center.  I was only able to get a couple of questions in as time was running out.  However, I was able to ask her how this assessment differed from the previous assessment.

NOAA administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan. Image Credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.

11:10 a.m.:  Second Briefing

We were running a little late with the interviews so time was slipping for the next briefing.  This was with John Podesta and Dr. John Holdren.  It was an overview of the assessment and how the administration plans to address climate change.  The strategy consists of three parts: mitigation, adaptation & resilience, and international efforts.

Mitigation involves efforts to reduce carbon emissions and a move to alternative energy.  Efforts are also underway to help communities adapt to an already changing climate and become more resilient to extreme weather.  Finally the administration wants to lead the international effort to reach agreement among all countries to reduce carbon emissions.  No pictures were allowed here.  Sorry!

11:50 a.m.:  Live Shot

I had to leave the briefing early to make it to my live shot for the noon newscast on WLTX.  Arrangements had been made with CBS to use their facility at the White House to do the live shot.  Kudos to the CBS crew.  They were super to work with and very professional.  The live shot looked great and they made the job easy.

The noon live shot from the White House with Darci Strickland. Image Credit: Mary Soto,WLTX.

12:10 p.m.:  Down Time

The second briefing was over and the live shot was done.  Time for a break.  Sharranda was down to less than 8% of battery power left on her phone.  All of the other pieces of equipment had used considerable battery power, so it was time to recharge.  We had about 40 minutes to take care of the technical side of television.  It also gave us a chance to push some items out on social media.

1 p.m.:  NASA Comes Calling

The White House had arranged to have Michael Freilich of NASA talk about some of the programs at NASA aimed at studying the earth.  There were 17 programs underway by the end of 2013 and 5 more will be launched this year.  Satellites have been able to determine that sea level rise has accelerated in the past couple of decades.

NASA's presentation by Michael Freilich. Image Credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.

1:40 p.m.: Preparing for the President

This time was spent relaxing and preparing for the interview.  The White House provided a makeup artist to help us look better for the interview.  Lord knows I needed it.  Turns out that the makeup artist had family in the Columbia area.  So many connections between here and Washington.  Had a great time visiting with her and talking about places in Columbia.

2:30 p.m.: Interviewing the President

Everyone moved to the Palm Room to get ready for the interviews of the President.  Ginger Zee of ABC was the first to go.  We would be escorted one at a time to be introduced to the president and do the interview.  Each one of us would get 3 minutes of the president’s time.  I was third in line to talk to the president.

The president was running late (imagine that).  The first interview was about 20 to 25 minutes late getting started, but once they got going things seem to move smoothly.  Then it was my turn to interview the president.  I was escorted and introduced to the president.  We exchanged handshakes and the technicians made sure everything was a go.

Just as I was about to start the sound technician said “Wait! Let’s let the plane go by.”  The White House is near Reagan National Airport and a loud plane was taking off.  As we patiently waited to for the noise to go away I looked at the president and said “Mr. President, can’t you shutdown National for about 30 minutes?”  He could tell I was joking so he thought a second and responded with “Probably, but I'm not going to try.”  A little humor while we waited.

Soon the noise was gone and I conducted the interview.  NBC was the pool photographer for the interviews and kudos to the crew.  They did a great job!  The interview was actually one of the easier things I did that day.  You can see my interview with the president along with the transcript at: .

President Barack Obama conducts a “Weather from the White House” interview with Jim Gandy, Columbia-CBS, to discuss the findings in the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, in the Rose Garden of the White House, May 6, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

3:30 p.m.: Stand ups for the Newscasts

Sharranda and I left to go shoot stand ups for each of the evening newscasts and the morning show the following day.  Our photographer from WUSA-TV, Danielle Gill, had arranged for the shots to be down at the CBS location as we did for the live shot.  The CBS crew set everything up for us and patiently helped us shoot our segments.  Our day was about done with all of the shows produced.  It was time to pack up and go home.

It had been a busy, fun, and exhausting day.  So much to do and prepare for.  In less than 24 hours I had done 10 stand ups, 4 interviews, 1 live shot, and a 1-on-1 interview with the president.  In addition, both Sharranda and I had been pushing things out on social media.  We frequently sent tweets using the hastag JimInDC.  This was proposed by my wife, Ann.  There had also been three briefings to attend.

The White House staff had been most cooperative and helpful in many ways.  Most importantly we never got lost (an easy thing to do).

3:50 p.m.: Jim Has Left the Building

It was time to leave and head back to the hotel.  I was beat as I walked to the exit gate.  There was a satisfied feeling of accomplishment.  This was only possible because of my crew (producer, Sharranda Neal & photographer, Danielle Gill) along with CBS and NBC.

Jim Gandy leaving the White House. Image Credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.

3:55 p.m.: PANIC !!!!!!!

It suddenly dawned on me that we did not have the interview with us as Sharranda and I walked to get a taxi.  What?  Could all of this been for naught?  We had been told by the White House that the pooled crew would give us the tapes of the interview with the president.  This did not happen.

I remembered seeing an email from the pooled crew and asked Sharranda if she had seen anything.  I couldn’t get to my email through my computer, but I had my iPad.  This gave me access and we were about to get the number for NBC to get the interview.  Turns out that the reason that Sharranda did not get the email was because they had misspelled the email address.

Everything got worked out in about 40 minutes.  NBC fed the interview to CBS which in turn fed it to WLTX.  This was a huge weight off our shoulders and disaster was avoided.  All of the stand ups and interviews made it back to WLTX and we headed to the hotel and then to the airport.

5:30 p.m.: Reagan National Airport

We arrived at the airport in time to check-in, go through security, and grab dinner.  We arrived at our departure gate with almost an hour to spare.  It was only here that I was able to catch up on email and Twitter.  Here I began to appreciate all that had gone on during my visit.  It was awesome!

Jim Gandy reflecting before boarding the flight to Columbia, SC. Image Credit: Sharranda Neal, WLTX.

Finally made it back to Columbia around 11:35 p.m. and in bed a couple of hours later.