How to Photograph a White House Chief of Staff

Richard A. Bloom
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Richard A. Bloom
Dec. 11, 2015, 5 a.m.

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.

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