Helen Thomas retires

Helen Thomas

1962 March 1, Washington, DC, — Helen Thomas, UPI reporter in Washington, DC.
(© Bettmann/CORBIS)

White House Press Corps stalwart Helen Thomas has announced her retirement in the wake of the controversy around her recent comments about Israel. Thomas, 89, has been a part of the press corps since the early 1960s and traditionally ended all presidential press conferences by saying, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

The Special Relationship and Thirteen Days

I caught the beginning of The Special Relationship on HBO last night. It purports to document the relationship between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the 1990s (and the US and the UK in general). It stars Michael Sheen as Blair and Dennis Quaid as a passable Clinton. Blair is the protagonist, more or less, so the story focuses on him, often contrasting the pomp and luxury of the White House with the simplicity of Blair’s life, especially before he became PM.

I was very disappointed in the White House scenes. This is the first film I know of that has used the WHM as a resource—I was contacted during pre-production and exchanged several e-mails—but the interiors are not convincing. From what I saw of the first 30 minutes or so, there was a good North Portico, a passable Entrance Hall, and a good Oval Office. But the more private rooms were nothing like the real thing and often rather silly. The film depicts Clinton inviting Blair into a large, sofa-strewn sitting room just off the Oval Office in the space we know to be occupied by a little corridor, lavatory, a tiny study, and a private dining room. The Master Bedroom is depicted with a nod to the Reagans’ Chinese wallpaper, but not much else.

I imagine that the movie did not have a large budget and so they spent their pennies on the UK sets that were more central to the action and on the Oval Office.

By contrast, I happened to catch the end of Thirteen Days on TV earlier in the weekend and found its reproduction of the White House as faithful as one could hope, as Pete Sharkey’s write-up attested.

Roosevelt Room flags

I got a note today asking about the flags in the Roosevelt Room. The question focuses on the numerous streamers on the flags, wondering if they represent individual battles for each of the branches, if the Battle of Wounded Knee is included, and who decides which battles to include. I’ve never heard of such a thing. Anybody else?

Presidents playing poker

I don’t know what to make of this image. Conceptually, it’s a weird mash-up of the famous Dogs Playing Poker painting and the Boulevard of Broken Dreams painting (dead celebrities in Hopper’s Night Hawks diner). It’s also simultaneously hilarious and vaguely touching.

All I know for sure is that Nixon is going to clean the rest of them out. He was a poker fiend.

UPDATE: There’s one of Democrats, too! Check out Truman’s shirt!

West Wing in Sky

Sky, the magazine of Delta Airlines, has as their cover story for March some interviews and photos with some of the folks who work in the West Wing, including the president himself. The photos aren’t much to look at (they’re portraits mostly in the EEOB), but the interviews have some pleasant human interest about the pace, the treasure of small moments, and favorite rooms. Deputy Chief of Staff Mona Sutphen says the Kennedy Garden. Deputy Assistant Danielle Crutchfield says the West Wing corridors, where the photos on the walls change frequently. Photographer Lawrence Jackson says the Palm Room.  Director of Online Programs Jesse Lee says the Diplomatic Room. And the president gives a total cop-out answer (where Michelle and the kids are).

Man up and say “the bathroom with the sports page.”

New front page and other changes

I’ve changed the front page for January. It’s a photo of the original Press Briefing Room created by Richard Nixon that I first used back in the fall of 2007.

Also, I’ve changed the menus a little. This puts Air Force 1 and the vice-president’s residence pages on the Home menu and moves About, Q&A, and Site Map over to Overview. However, I haven’t extended the change to every page yet, just the main ones.

My resolution for the new year is to rebuild the site in a format that is easier to maintain in this way, probably using PHP rather than straight HTML, or possibly using a wiki. This would break any links that outside sites have to the current pages, which is something I hate, but I should be able to figure out some automated way of making sure it degrades gracefully (automatic redirects, etc.).

I’m open to any ideas about layout changes. Since I designed the site in mid-2006 (3-and-a-half years ago), the collection of photos for each room has ballooned enormously. I hate galleries of images that are displayed in separate pages or pop-ups, but loading all the images can be tedious.

New: Air Force One page

At last, with the fantastic help of Peter Sharkey, I’ve created a page for Air Force One. You may recall that there is already a page for the 3D model of Air Force One, but the new page includes a full history and photos of all the different versions of the airplanes of the chief executive, from Sacred Cow to SAM 29000.

Don’t forget that you can keep an eye on Pete’s work on Wingnut’s Workings.

EDIT:  Weirdly, I happened to be watching Stephen Fry in America episode 7 (because I’m cultured, you know) and he visited, among other places, the Air Force moth ball facility in the desert. I immediately picked out one of the 707-based Air Force One aircraft among the planes, altho the tail number was obscured by sun.

Crashing the White House

Huge tent on the south lawn (Getty)

A couple apparently crashed the White House state dinner the other night, held in a fantastic tent on the south lawn that I think the Bushes used a couple of times. I don’t typically blog about news events, even as they pertain to the White House, but I just wanted to note a couple of things about the coverage.

  • It’s a slow news day, so anything of national interest is going to make headlines.
  • Even proper party guests don’t get into the White House without being screened for weapons.
  • People who represent a serious security risk would not have gotten in.
  • That was a beautiful dress.

I regard this as less a breach of security than a breach of state protocol, but the couple will obviously face some serious questioning, and shrugging it off as a harmless prank isn’t going to cut it. I see a public apology and community service in their future.