This is the first in an occasional series we’re calling D.C. Press Pass. The idea: take MinnPost readers behind the scenes into places off-limits without a handy-dandy press credential, in the hopes of lifting the curtain a bit and showing how the media in Washington really works.
WASHINGTON — It was a postcard-quality morning here today. Blue skies with a few wisps of cloud high above, cherry blossom trees in full bloom and temperatures in the high 60s. Fitting weather for arguably the biggest outdoor event in the D.C. society calendar, the White House Easter Egg Roll.
The White House Easter Egg Roll began in 1878, when access to the White House was much more open. Currently, it’s the only day each year when folks not on official business get a fairly free run of the White House grounds. The origin of the day is a great story all its own and the National Archives has a fairly comprehensive accounting of it.
On the south lawn of the White House, a downsloping stretch of grass that one can’t really see from the street out front, stood a small army of costumed characters. The Cat in the Hat, Dora the Explorer, Clifford the Big Red Dog and several Easter Bunnys (male and female) were all here, as were celebrities like Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, actress Reese Witherspoon, the cast of “Glee,” Olympic short-track speed skater Apolo Ohno and the crowd’s easy favorite, teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.
Of course, they were mere specks in the throng of parents and small children (at least one under age 12 was the rule) who had flocked to the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll. Here’s the media’s-eye-view of all the festivities:
- There’s a special press credential for the egg roll, one that has to be requested in advance. White House press regulars mentioned (several times) that there were probably more folks in the briefing room before the egg roll than for insert-any-hard-news-event-here. That certainly appeared to be true — I counted at least three times as many as were there when Haitian President René Préval came to town.
- Different segments of the White House lawn were marked with green-painted snow fences. The press holding area was set up next to the egg-rolling area, just across from the Oval Office and Rose Garden. That gives one a great view of kids, well, being kids.
- Actual egg-rolling consists of gently pushing a brightly painted wooden egg down a sloped lawn with a cooking spoon. That’s the idea anyway. Several toddlers in bright floral dresses didn’t quite have the motor skills required for that task and required Mom or Dad’s help. One young man with an apparently bright future in hockey displayed the mother of all wrist shots, launching his egg high into the air and down the entire length of the about-20-foot-long course, crossing the finish line still in the air. Each child gets to go home with one of the wooden eggs at the end of the day.
- One of the beauties of covering anything involving kids is that they tend to be kids. One young boy looked eagerly at the Obama girls’ play place, then started to cry when his dad told him he couldn’t play on it. The little one got over it when Dad suggested they go listen to one of the celebrities read a book.
- First lady Michelle Obama made multiple appearances throughout the day, but President Obama and the press only saw the second of five groups to grace the South Lawn today. All told, the White House said 30,000 people will attend, in one-and-a-half hour shifts. The event was live-streamed on the White House website.
- President Obama walked past the press area twice, heading to his basketball court to shoot hoops with kids and then again coming back from reading a book to kids. We couldn’t see the basketball very clearly, but the pool reporter said Obama (in a blue button-up and slacks) missed his first free-throw attempt, then hit the second. He went 1 for 3 from behind the three-point arc.
- On the first pass, a reporter shouted a question inquiring what the president’s favorite part of the job is. Obama replied, “This is, the Easter egg roll.” On the second pass (and in response to another yelled question), Obama reported that he’d read Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.” “It’s a classic,” he said. My question — “Mr. President, what’s your biggest legislative priority for the rest of the year?” — went unanswered.