Thursday, December 3, 2009

The High Cost of Hosting the President

Those are cookies served to the media as they waited to cover the president's speech at West Point this week. Yeah, they actually had cookies with his picture on it.

That made me wonder - just how much did this little event cost?

I was there: I'll tell you what I saw and you can speculate along with me.

First, incredibly tight security at the gates. Several officers at each gate, dogs, security at almost every corner. Cadets were given vans and told to drive in front of reporters to make sure they parked in the appropriate lots.

From there, we were sent to the hall where the president would speak. The White House press office had a mobile office there, very sparse indeed - a couple of laptops and some harried looking people in suits.

Next door was the huge room for the media. Lines and lines of long tables, each with power and internet hook up times four. Then they brought out the food.

It was a nice gesture - they made us arrive at least eight hours prior to the speech, so they decided to feed us.

There were cold cut platters, salad and dressing. There was chili. There was lasagna. There were cookies, brownies and the very special petit fours and Obama cookies. Coffee, tea, iced tea, soda. And a spectacularly carved watermelon which spelled out "West Point".

Don't picture a bunch of fat reporters sitting around for hours eating well. Within fifteen minutes of laying out the food, we were kicked out of the building. Too bad if you hadn't eaten. It was time for the security sweep. We were left outside for the next three and half hours. At least it wasn't raining.

I spoke with a photographer who ended up going back into the building at the request of the Secret Service. He said he'd never seen anything like it - high tech equipment, dogs, had to have cost a fortune.

Then there was the routine security - boats and divers in the river nearby. Secret service patrolling the grounds. Dogs. I stopped to take a photo of a particularly interesting tunnel and was surrounded by men with a dog.

"Can we help you?"

"I'm just taking a picture cause it's cool," I replied breezily.

It was a total lockdown. We're in a post 9-11 world.

I didn't stay; I'm not sure if they fed everyone again around dinnertime. I'll bet they did. The speech didn't begin until eight.

Then factor in the cost of flying the president to West Point, the motorcade, the police, the traffic control.

How much did all this cost?

It was no cheap outing for the media either.

It made me wonder: wouldn't it have been cheaper to fly some cadets to the White House and do it all there?

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