Today, I attended my first “White House Press Briefing.” Not at the White House, but next door, in the Old Executive Office Building, which is one of my favorite buildings in DC from an architectural standpoint. The interior is stunning as well, with a beautiful curved staircase (probably more than one), tall doors with ornate handles, carved columns, and elegant wooden cabinets.
But step into the briefing room on the 4th floor, and you’re in a theatre. There’s a stage, complete with curtained backdrop. The velvety blue seats have rockers, and they are arranged in a “stadium seating” style, so it’s a comfortable place to sit for an hour.
I wondered whether the comfy chairs were an attempt to make the audience (in this case, press and dignitaries) more receptive to whatever message was being presented there? Most people are in a better mood when they are comfortable, although I don’t think I let the fact that I have sat on the floor in some meetings have a negative impact on the story.
(Full disclosure: I generally do have warm feelings about meetings at which they have good cookies at the coffee breaks, but these are not associated with specific presentations).
In this case, the story was the announcement of a new AIDS education campaign, “Act Against AIDS,” a 5-year campaign to remind Americans that HIV/AIDS remains a real problem in the U.S. — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one American becomes infected with HIV every 9 1/2 minutes, hence the “9 1/2 minutes” theme of the campaign. Americans have become complacent about HIV, so they don’t worry as much as they should about risky sex, said Dr. Kevin Fenton of the CDC.
Another thing made this press briefing theatrical (it wasn’t risky sex, sorry.) There were rows of cameras behind the seats, filming the speakers, but there was one cameraman on stage filming the audience. The briefing was being Webcast, and I’m guessing that they wanted some “b-roll” footage to break up an hour of podium shots, but it was kind of a weird feeling to see the camera turned on me as I sat taking notes.
But turn about is fair play, I suppose. I’m using my notes from my attendance at the briefing to write a story, and perhaps the government organizations sponsoring the campaign will use images of the diligent press to bolster their publicity efforts. That’s just the first time I’ve seen the press being so obviously captured on film.