President Bush is in Baghdad (surprise news) and NPR's White House Correspondent David Greene was on the plane (welcome news). That was the lead as NPR editors and program producers gathered for their morning meeting. David had, in fact, already filed a couple of news spots and had an update for NPR this morning. The president left Camp David in Maryland last night, excusing himself from an after-dinner talk with high-level security advisors. He flew by helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base and then on through the night to Iraq. The White House says he'll be in Baghdad for five hours and will meet with members of the new Iraqi cabinet. Those left behind at Camp David will join them for a teleconference.
Just as I heard David Greene sign off one of his news spots, he called in from Baghdad to tell me about the trip. He still sounded surprised. Yesterday afternoon he was covering the president's war council in Maryland when he got a call from the White House. He was to report to a hotel in Virginia (he left his suitcase behind at his Hagerstown, Md., hotel). He was going to Iraq.
"David, did you have any warning, any idea?" I asked. "Not at all," he told me. "I was told not to tell anyone, including my girlfriend." He was allowed to call his editor and NPR was able to equip Greene with an international cell phone, essential for communications out of Baghdad. All news outlets were trusted to maintain secrecy and the story of the Bush arrival broke first on Iraqi television.
David said he did manage to get some sleep on the plane. Then came the corkscrew-like evasive maneuvers as the 747 roared in for a landing. The president was evasive as well. "He got off the plane wearing a baseball cap and carrying a duffel bag."
You'll hear David Greene's reporting — on that trusty phone — throughout the day. He'll do a lot of fast work before his Baghdad not-quite day trip ends.