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Opinion: Air Force One and the great pillowcase plunder

US President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One at Minneapolis-Sait Paul International Airport in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 1, 2022.
Kerem Yucel
AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One at Minneapolis-Sait Paul International Airport in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 1, 2022.

I was working the late shift out at Joint Base Andrews when a gaggle of White House reporter-types strolled off Air Force One, and a Secret Service agent shouted, "Okay, Washington journos! Put down the plates and glasses, quiet-like, and they'll be no trouble. Do you want to make this easy, or hard?"

Air Force One, the official aircraft that carries the president of the United States around the world, is outfitted with sophisticated security systems. But it is apparently defenseless against the larcenous souveniring of journalists who travel aboard to cover presidential trips.

A recent inventory of Air Force One conducted after one of President Biden's trips in February found that drinking glasses, gold-rimmed plates, towels and even pillowcases were missing from the section where reporters sit.

The White House Correspondents Association reminded reporters not to pilfer items from the plane, and the White House press office reportedly indicated that quiet returns would be welcome: Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Small boxes of M&M's, embossed with the presidential seal, are provided aboard the aircraft. But I imagine reporters griping, "Only plain? No peanut?"

I have spent most of my life around journalists. I am astonished that Air Force One still has wings. I would have thought by now some reporter would have said, "Gee, those things would look great over my sofa! Would you help me get 'em into an Uber?"

I have never been aboard Air Force One. I have covered a couple of papal trips, and briefly wondered if I could pocket some of the napkins handed out with beverages onboard the papal plane that said, "Visit of his Holiness." Then I thought, "When the time comes, how will I explain this napkin to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates?"

But perhaps there is a way to both replenish Air Force One and redeem the sticky-fingered souls of reporters.

The annual White House Correspondents Association dinner is a couple of Saturdays from now, April 27. There will be a stellar turnout of celebrities from journalism, politics, and show business. I, of course, am not invited.

Why not use the occasion of this dinner to declare a full, official amnesty to return all the looted Air Force One accoutrements? The way public libraries announce an amnesty for people to bring back all the books they've never returned.

Reporters could pile up all those the plundered presidential napkins, coasters, soup spoons, coffee cups, and pillowcases in the middle of the ballroom. Trust in journalism could be restored!

Just be sure to pat down reporters on their way out.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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