Jim Long - Digital Media and Culture

Our Secret Trip to Iraq With President Bush


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Veil of Secrecy

I was editing a video in my home office when the call came in. The caller ID showed the number for the NBC News desk..that’s never good on a day off. On the other end was my deputy bureau chief. In cryptic, enigmatic language, she was telling me that me our departure schedule for the President’s trip to Australia had changed. What she never actually said, but i heard loud and clear, was that the President of the United States was going to Iraq.

And so an otherwise languid day off before an overseas trip, quickly became an urgent day of preparation. On this trip, I was assigned as soundman to veteran NBC News cameraman Rodney Batten. With us were NBC White House correspondent John Yang and Senior White House producer Antoine Sanfuentes, plus uplink engineers from our New York technical operations department. We actually loaded a satellite transmission pack on Air Force One, which we believe is unprecedented.

Jim Long and Rodney Batten

Because of operational security, none but the “travel pool” are given even limited details of the trip. As far as the news desk at NBC knew, Air Force One was departing on Monday. So as the NBC pool team was about to enter the base under a cloak of secrecy Sunday, an assignment editor dutifully called us with our Monday “in-time”. As some of my readers know, I’ve had a close call in Iraq, so I’m never too jazzed about going over there. But if there were ever the safest time and place in Iraq, this was it. Still I was glad to be getting it out of the way at the beginning of the trip.

We met on Andrews Air Force base at an unusual location, where a security detail confiscated all of our cameras, phones, and computers. All of us were then taken to a special hangar on base that houses the two 747’s primarily designated Air Force One. Seeing those two birds looming above, facing nose-to-nose, as we drove into the hangar was an inspiring sight. Once all the travel pool press had boarded we were sealed in our cabin. We were told to keep the windows shut on the plane and to remain in the press cabin. The president was secreted out of the White House in what we later learned was a small, two car motorcade package.

Wheels Up to Iraq

After an hour or so of sitting in the hangar, we could feel that we were being towed. And at 20:05 we were wheels up for Iraq. Press secretary Dana Perino came to the back of the plane to “gaggle” about the details of our trip. That’s when the destination was confirmed: Al Asad airbase in Anbar province. Reporters pressed her on whether Bush was actually on the plane or not. Turns out he was, as was Secretary of State Rice.
White House spokesperson Dana Perino briefing press on AF-1

After a twelve hour flight, Air Force One gently touched down at the Al Asad air base in the Anbar province of Iraq. Mr. Bush stepped off the plane to begin a day full of meetings, some for cameras, others not. The President met with troops, his cabinet, local tribal leaders, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (I errantly refer to him as “President” in the video.) It was was a seemingly endless day of photo-ops, motorcade movements, and absolutely no time to spare.
Air Force One on the Flight Line at Al Asad

Katie Couric of CBS News

In a brief break in the action during closed meetings we were escorted to a “hold” where we bumped into Secretary Gates’ traveling press pool and former NBC colleague Katie Couric. It was a nice little reunion and she introduced us to her new boss, CBS evening news executive producer Rick Kaplan. Kaplan was acting as her second camera crew shooting with a small DV camera. The day was capped with a series of one on one interviews with the President and TV networks. We were then rushed to the motorcade, then out to the plane to begin our journey to Australia.

The entire time I was there, I was desperate to get some dispatches from Iraq out on Twitter. Newsweek photographer Khue Bui kindly offered up his powerbook so i get some tweets out. It was great to get such kind thoughts and well-wishes from the Twitter community. I’m still going through replies, but it buoyed my spirits to see that folks wanted to make sure I was safe. That really meant a lot to me. Like I’ve said before, no matter where I am in the world, I’m never traveling alone.

  • http://twitteringontheedge.blogspot.com/ Ann

    As soon as I saw that Bush was in Iraq the first thing I did was look at the last time you had tweeted…24 hours had passed. That’s unheard of and I quickly figured out where you were and why you left without a wave goodbye.

    We are quite a caring community and we do worry about you when you are away, even when you are with POTUS–but your tweets from the road are always great fun…

  • Mike

    Dittos to Ann on the “where in the world is Jim” context. Your safety was foremost in my mind as well, but I know that no unnecessary risks would be taken. We really do enjoy your Tweets – from kid stuff to Iraq. I think of you as “Real” mediajim. :) Carry on, Skipper.

  • Brenda

    I did the same thingas Ann while I was watching the news Monday morning and changed the channel of the morning news I was watching as though I had no control over the action…lol. It is always good to hear when you are back on US soil after these trips and on your way back to the family. The best part of your trips, for me, is the behind the seen blog posts and tweets! It really is the most interesting part of it all. Travel safe!

  • http://banannie.com/blog Annie Boccio

    Me three, my husband came in and said “hey, Bush is in Iraq” and I said “Jim Long must be, too!” Like I said on twitter, that’s a pretty wild life you lead, dude.

  • http://levite.wordpress.com jon

    and I was driving through northern Wisconsin when we heard about the trip to Iraq and wondered (and assumed) “Jim?!”

    What made the world incredibly small was having our daughter handle twittering you as I drive, and then hearing back from you. For a 16-year-old to touch the other side of the world while riding in rural America is a pretty amazing thing. Imagine what that will do for her and for us in the future.

    Thanks, Jim.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

    This sounds like a crazy trip! It was really cool that you Twittered it. Will ad dyou to my follow list!

  • steph

    Frank came upstairs to tell me that you had just tweeted from Iraq on Monday. I had wondered why you weren’t letting the twits know when you were departing on your Australia trip. I am glad that you are now safe ‘down under’!

  • http://blogumentary.typepad.com Chuck Olsen

    Jim, thanks for this riveting inside look!
    Exciting stuff.

  • http://aconnector.com Mark Forman

    Yep-and good to have you Tweeting in pretty much the same time zone as me :)

  • http://www.cc-chapman.com C.C. Chapman

    Thank you for sharing this. When I saw the news I wondered if you might have gone along for the ride.

    Amazing times we live in.

  • http://alphabunnyphotos.blogspot.com/ alphabunny

    I love how technology allows us to “see” your side of the news. Keep Twittering, Jim! It is so cool to follow you.

  • http://www.danmosqueda.blogspot.com Dan Mosqueda


    You know I wish I could have gone with you! I’ve had several airmen doing missions at Al Asad and even a really close soldier friend of mine. Twitter was immediately abuzz wondering your wherabouts! I know I said a prayer for you – always do when you’re on the road.

    I know the Prez isn’t all that popular, but I love when he does stuff like this. It shows he’s a people-person. Plus, imagine his glee at actually driving to Andrews with only 2 cars!!! No flashing lights, almost like a regular American. Very cool for him.

    Keep up the great work.



  • http://www.filmosity.com Chris Cavs

    It was exciting to see your tweets from Iraq. Sometimes I really enjoy the news biz (mostly I don’t, but hey). But you had a lot of people thinking about you and wondering where you’d gone. It’s cool to see the inside.

  • http://everydotconnects.com Connie Reece

    Jim, please convey our thanks to Newsweek photographer Khue Bui for helping you send Twitter updates from Iraq! Your “tweeps” were eager to hear from you, as always. I love the way you seamlessly blend old and new media to give us a fuller picture of the news than we would otherwise get. Keep up the great work!

  • Steve garfield

    great post Jim thanks for sharing

  • http://blondebydesign.typepad.com/my_weblog/ Sprite

    One thing for sure, Jim, life with you is never dull or boring. *grins at you* Although we may never be sure where you’ll tweet us, we know good news, and hard facts will follow. Behind the scenes is so much more interesting sometimes. Having you in Iraq is like having one our family there, and of course we’ll all worry until you’re home & safe, but oh myy… what a historical trip you’ve just made. While you give good camera, you tweet and we follow. *laughs* And the news becomes much more interesting. Maybe, through your help, we’ll catch up with the rest of the world. Be safe, enjoy the history you’re a part of, of course, tweet us all about it! (p.s. although I hate to admit this, I’m much more interested in where YOU are than where POTUS is. Sad, but true. He’s just not on my friend list. lol *sighs*)

  • http://www.socialdays.com Jane Quigley

    Jim – Inspiring post, but as you know, we were all holding our breath a bit till you were in AUS. But how cool was it that you Tweeted from Iraq? Did you discuss Twitter with your comrades? Take care and have a great time (now).

  • http://www.vergenewmedia.com Jim Long

    You guys are all inspiring to me. Thank you for cheering me on as my colleagues and I worked to cover the story!

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  • http://nycphoto.interactivenyc.com Mary Reagan

    Love getting the behind the scenes glimpses. But I’m very glad you got in and out okay.

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  • Anonymous

    i dig this behind the scenes stuff, and i like your writing style.

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  • special edd

    u r weird

  • http://audioattitude.com Brian

    Thanks again for sharing behind-the-scenes.

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  • http://www.statair.com AIR AMBULANCE

    Wow amazing story!!! I still remember when Bush went to Iraq to get that shoe thrown at him…

  • http://www.statair.com AIR AMBULANCE

    Wow amazing story!!! I still remember when Bush went to Iraq to get that shoe thrown at him…

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  • http://www.kentnishimura.net Kent Nishimura

    whooooaaaaa it’s a old photo of rhodney!!!!! :)

    • newmediajim

      Imma tell him you said that Kent!! 😉

      • http://www.kentnishimura.net Kent Nishimura

        go for it! i hope to see you awesome gents (yes, even mr. jason reed) again…this summer…i hope. :)

        • newmediajim

          me too!!

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