It was 1987, and former Senator Howard Baker had recently been named President Reagan’s chief of staff, replacing Donald Regan. Stories like these were National Journal’s meat and potatoes, and I was told to get a photo for the next week’s cover story on how Baker’s appointment would affect the White House staff.
A few years earlier, I had photographed Baker in his role as senate majority leader, which is when I also met Tommy Griscom, Baker’s press secretary. Like most Hill staffers, Tommy was protective of his boss’s time, allowing me only five minutes to take my photos and disappear. I accepted his conditions, entered Baker’s office with Tommy, and began taking pictures. After about four minutes, I thanked the senator for his time, packed up my gear, and headed toward the door. Baker, a renowned photo buff, put his hand on my shoulder and started talking cameras. I looked at Tommy and shrugged. After a few minutes, obviously miffed, Tommy turned on his heel and walked out of the office. The senator and I continued to discuss lenses and cameras.
Fast forward to 1987. Tommy Griscom was now White House communications director, and I had to go through him to get my cover photo of Baker. When I finally got him on the phone, his answer was set in stone: No way could he let me take pictures of Howard Baker, who was far too busy to take the time. After much pleading, he allowed that although he couldn’t deliver Baker, he could get me in with the president instead. That didn’t help me with the problem at hand, but you don’t turn down a one-on-one with the leader of the free world.
A few days later, I arrived at the White House Press Office and was escorted by an aide to the Oval Office waiting area. After a few minutes, I was brought in to meet President Reagan. I started clicking away, moving outside near the Rose Garden for a better background. Reagan was exceedingly gracious and cooperative. When I had all the photos I needed, I thanked him and shook his hand. He then asked me if there was anything else he could do for me.
“Mr. President,” I said, “I really need to take a picture of Howard Baker.” Within two minutes, I was taking pictures of Baker, both with and without the president.