3 NPR Correspondents Change Beats
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
As the new year begins, some of the familiar voices you hear on NPR will be coming from different places. Call it our own version of musical chairs. Our colleague Philip Reeves has been covering Europe from his base in London. He's now moving to Pakistan. Replacing him in London is Ari Shapiro, who's been our White House correspondent.
And congressional correspondent Tamara Keith is moving up Pennsylvania Avenue, leaving her perch on Capitol Hill to take over the White House from Ari. We thought this was a perfect moment to chat with our three colleagues as they make this transition, and they spoke with our David Greene.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So let me start with you. I'm so curious. You've all covered so many stories on your old beats and there must be some that are sort of hanging there, you wish you had gotten to them. Phil, what story is sort of still there in Europe and you think Ari should pick it up when he gets there?
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Yes. I think the most interesting story that he's likely to encounter, at least in the next 12 months, is the fate of Scotland. The Scots are going to hold a referendum to determine whether they want to achieve full independence and separate from the UK or whether they want to remain within the union.
Although the polls suggest that it's unlikely to happen, the issue is still extremely interesting and important. It affects the whole standing, really, of the UK on the global stage. If opinion was to change over the next year in Scotland and there was a vote in favor of leaving the union, then I think it would be a really very big deal.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Phil, can I ask, speaking of Scotland, when you interview people with a thick, say, Glaswegian accent, do you ever use a voiceover translation in your radio stories?
GREENE: Good question.
REEVES: No, because Scotland is only a few hours away on the train, and if I were to do that, I'm pretty sure Scottish gentlemen would be on my doorstep giving me what they call a Glasgow kiss. A Glasgow kiss, Ari, you might need to know this, is being butted on your forehead by his forehead, okay?
SHAPIRO: I hope I don't need to know that.
REEVES: And it hurts.
GREENE: I don't know if there's an equivalent of the Glasgow kiss in the White House, but...
SHAPIRO: Yeah, it's called being shut out.
GREENE: There you go. Okay. What stories are you leaving behind you hope Tamara will pick up?
SHAPIRO: Honestly, Tam, one of the stories I'm leaving behind started even before I was on the White House beat, and that's Guantanamo Bay. In the 2008 campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain said they wanted to close it and there was this real push in the early days of the Obama administration to close the prison camp. But here we are, at 2014, and there are well over 150 detainees still there.
So have fun with that.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Okay. It seems like political inertia has that one staying more or less the same.
GREENE: Tamara, I feel like you know a thing or two about political inertia where you're coming from, Capitol Hill.
GREENE: Is there a story that you wish you had resolved before leaving?
KEITH: The story that I've been covering since before I started covering Congress, when I got this call saying, hey, could you start a couple weeks early, was this sort of rolling crisis to crisis budget fight. But I feel like they've come to this point in Congress where it looks like there could be a ceasefire, and maybe this story will go away or quiet down and the budget wars will move to the background and reporters covering Congress could begin to do more stories about other policy fights.
GREENE: So you feel like this jumping from one crisis to the other, it's really consumed you and made it hard to dig into policy and other stories that were kind of there and interested you.
KEITH: Absolutely. I mean I feel like I was the budget junkie. And in some ways it's not that it was preventing me from having time to do other stories. It's that it was preventing Congress from doing other things. It truly sucked a lot of the oxygen out of Congress for the last several years.
GREENE: Well, those are some of the stories on your minds. I'm curious to know if there are little tidbits of advice in terms of reporting or even living in the places in which you'll be operating. I mean, Phil, what about life in London? Are there a couple things that Ari just needs to know since he's going to be living in a new city?
REEVES: When I came here, I made one vow, which is that I would not travel unless I had to on the London underground. You know, it's quite a beautiful city in places and the underground is hell itself in my book. So I took to cycling. Surprisingly, it's a big city, but you can get across it in half an hour on a bike and so my tip would be enjoy the cycling, but keep your eyes out and watch out for the other cyclists.
I mean I'm a fairly portly gentleman and the little lanes they give you to cycle in are narrow, and so I'm puffing along in those and, you know, the real serious cyclists can back up behind you. They can't get by and you can hear them growling and muttering. Then, when finally you get to sort of the area where there is a bit more space, they all stream by like a gusher in a pipe, muttering as they go.
So you have to watch out for them too. They can be quite unfriendly. But it's good fun.
GREENE: And Ari, you're a big cycler, right?
SHAPIRO: Oh, yeah.
GREENE: Well, Ari, one thing a lot of people, I think, don't know when they hear you at the White House, is NPR has this tiny little booth in the basement.
SHAPIRO: A booth where you sat for many years when you were White House correspondent.
GREENE: For many years, that's right. A lot of life sort of revolves around that place. But what can you tell Tam about what it's going to be like there?
SHAPIRO: Well, listen. I would say there are a few things. It's important to get off the treadmill. NPR makes that easy by having three White House correspondents. You'll be working with the extremely talented Mara Liasson and Scott Horsley and taking one week in the White House and then two weeks out of the White House physically gives you the perspective and also the access that you need to do the job well.
And the other thing that I would say is that when you're in the thick of a really huge story, take a moment to appreciate that you are witnessing history. It is really easy to get spun up and obsessed with your deadlines and your stories that you have to finish, but amid all of it, you should take a step back and realize what a privilege it is to be in the White House, to be able to witness and report on these historic events that so few people actually get to see in person.
GREENE: You know, it's so funny, you and I never talked about that, but when I was covering it, I mean I said to myself, if I didn't walk in that building each day and feel this sort of majesty, then I shouldn't be in the job anymore.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, exactly.
GREENE: Tamara, I think a lot of people would assume that you would want to get the heck out of Congress as quickly as possible, given a lot of the wars and battles that we've had. But I'm curious, what are you going to miss?
KEITH: I think that I'm going to miss the access. It's truly remarkable that I can go into the Speaker's lobby, which is this room right off of the House floor, and just talk to members of Congress. That's sort of that majesty that you guys were talking about. It's amazing to be in this building that most people only see as just this big dome and actually be inside and be able to say, hey, member of Congress, let me ask you a question, or let's just talk. I'm not even going to record. And they'll stop and talk to me.
GREENE: And they'll talk to you. You have a question, you know you're at least going to be able to ask it, even if it's not an answer that will help. Ari, jump in here, but I feel like...
SHAPIRO: Yeah, that's not way the White House works. If we could just wander the halls of the West Wing, I mean, you know, I think that's the way it works in shows like "Scandal" maybe, but not in real life. The pitfall covering the White House is that you become a stenographer to power.
Today, the president said, today the president did, and you really need to work to get behind that and find stories that other people are not telling.
GREENE: Well, I'm so excited to hear all three of your voices from new places. Thanks so much for coming and chatting.
SHAPIRO: It's a pleasure, thanks.
KEITH: Thank you.
REEVES: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: Talking to David Greene, that's NPR's Phil Reeves, our new correspondent in Islamabad, Pakistan; along with our new London correspondent, Ari Shapiro; and our new White House correspondent, Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.