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President Obama speaks in the White House briefing room Thursday. (AP)

Obama: Your Question, Ms. Keith?

by Tamara Keith
Apr 18, 2014

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Snapshots from a NPR White House correspondent's life. That's Tamara Keith's Air Force 1 selfie (bottom left), and her asking the president a question at Thursday's press conference (upper right).

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Tamara Keith

I officially became NPR's White House correspondent in January. But the job didn't seem real until Thursday at 3:56 PM, when the President of the United States looked down at a white note card and said "ahhhh, Tamara Keith."

That was my cue to ask a question — my first at a presidential press conference.

Here's what the experience felt like — and how it happened.

Almost every day, White House press secretary Jay Carney holds a briefing where he takes questions from reporters. Sitting in NPR's seat in the second row, taking notes and asking a few questions is a regular part of the job. Truth be told, it's not all that exciting.

The briefings drag on, lots of people ask the same question in just slightly different ways, and I can count on an e-mail from my dad or a friend telling me my hair was out of place or I had a strange look on my face.

But by early Thursday afternoon, it became clear that this briefing wouldn't be like the other briefings. First, there was an e-mail saying it would be delayed until 3:15. Then came another e-mail from someone in the White House communications office asking if I was planning to be at the briefing.

This was a sign. The president was probably coming to the briefing, and he was probably going to call on me. I e-mailed my NPR colleague Scott Horsley, a veteran of the White House beat.

Was I interpreting this right? Yes, that's how this works. Staffers needed to know which name to write on the president's white note card.

President Obama needs the note card because he doesn't know us all by name. In my case, I'm quite certain he couldn't pick me out of a lineup. Which organizations or reporters are chosen — and why — remains a total mystery to me. [At Thursday's briefing, he took questions from the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, La Opinion, Politico and NPR.]

My skin was suddenly warm, in that cold sweat nervousness kind of way. There was no guarantee I would get a question in — and no guarantee the president was even coming to the briefing. Still, I needed to prepare. I polled my colleagues to see if they had any pressing questions, and wrote up about five of my own. Then, I went for a walk.

Clearly, I wasn't the only one who had seen the clues. There was a flurry of activity in the briefing room, a kind of nervous energy that simply doesn't exist for a Carney briefing. A man stood on a ladder adjusting the lights near the podium.

Normally reporters wait until we get a two-minute warning before rushing into the briefing room at the last moment. Not this time. When I went to take my seat, the room was already packed and it was still at least 15 minutes away from the usual warning. Another clue: The male TV correspondents in the front row were wearing make-up (which they often don't do for a regular briefing).

As we waited, I snapped a picture of the podium — with the presidential seal suddenly affixed to the front.

The president was definitely coming.

What I didn't know was when he would call on me...or even if he would.

Obama opened with remarks about the Affordable Care Act reaching eight million insurance sign-ups through government marketplaces. I looked down at my list of questions and added another one related to the health care law. My outline also included questions about Ukraine and immigration reform.

Obama pulled the notecard out of his jacket pocket.

"Let's see who we got," he said.

The first question went to the L.A. Times and the reporter asked about Ukraine. Then it was on to a reporter from La Opinion, who asked about immigration. After that, Obama called on me.

I was more than a little shocked that he pronounced my name correctly, given how often people get it wrong. But there wasn't time for that. The president had just called on me. I had to ask a question. I sputtered a little, then decided to ask a health care policy question I had just thought up moments earlier. So much for all that preparation.

There are certain milestones as a White House correspondent, that make this very big, high-profile job feel real. Signing off from the White House for the first time. Taking your first flight on Air Force One. And the rite of passage of asking your first question at a presidential press conference.

I can now say, I've done all three — and I have a selfie, a couple of screen shots and a press conference transcript to prove it.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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President Obama speaks in the White House briefing room Thursday. (AP)

Welcome, Spring — And More Importantly, Playoff Hockey

Apr 18, 2014 (All Things Considered) — Among NHL fans, there's a favorite adage: "There's nothing like playoff hockey." The start of this year's playoffs has been no exception. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis comments on the first few games.

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Snapshots from a NPR White House correspondent's life. That's Tamara Keith's Air Force 1 selfie (bottom left), and her asking the president a question at Thursday's press conference (upper right).

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The dream of epilepsy research, says neurobiologist Ivan Soltesz, is to stop seizures by manipulating only some brain cells, not all. (UC Irvine Communications)

One Scientist's Quest To Vanquish Epileptic Seizures

Apr 18, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Snapshots from a NPR White House correspondent's life. That's Tamara Keith's Air Force 1 selfie (bottom left), and her asking the president a question at Thursday's press conference (upper right).

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In the early 1990s, a young brain researcher named Ivan Soltesz heard a story that would shape his career.

His advisor told him about a school for children whose epileptic seizures were so severe and frequent that they had to wear helmets to prevent head injuries. The only exception to the helmet rule was for students who received an award.

"The big deal for them is that they can take the helmet off while they're walking across the stage," Soltesz says. "And that thing struck me as just wrong."

Today, Soltesz runs a lab at the University of California, Irvine, and he's taken some big steps toward helping people with uncontrolled seizures. Epilepsy drugs aren't enough, he says. For about a third of patients with epilepsy, they just don't work. And for many others, they have major drawbacks.

"The big problem with current medications is precisely that the medication is everywhere in the brain," Soltesz says. "It's affecting virtually all the cells all the time." That is one reason epilepsy drugs often cause side effects like fatigue, dizziness, and blurred vision.

So Soltesz, with major funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, has been looking for a way to stop seizures without drugs. "The dream of epilepsy research is really to intervene only when the seizures are occurring and only manipulating some cells but not all of the cells," he says. And Soltesz has done that — in mice.

Seizures occur when brain cells start firing abnormally and rapidly, like a car speeding out of control. Soltesz found a way to spot the first signs of trouble. Then, using a technique called optogenetics, he delivered a pulse of light that activated the brain's own system for slowing down runaway cells.

"We either decreased the activity of the gas pedal or increased the activity of the brake," he says. "And through both ways we succeeded in making the seizures stop when the light came on."

The approach only works in animals with brain cells that have been genetically altered. But a similar approach could be used to stop epileptic seizures in people, Soltesz says.

And that day may not be far off. President Obama's BRAIN initiative, announced a year ago, has made finding better treatment for epilepsy one of its priorities. Also, late last year the Food and Drug Administration approved the first implanted device that delivers electrical stimulation to the brain when cells begin firing abnormally.

This device can reduce seizures. And Soltesz hopes that future implanted devices will be able to stop seizures entirely in people with severe epilepsy, including children who must wear "seizure helmets."

"Imagine if those kids could just take the helmet off because they know that the seizures would be stopped with this new intervention," Soltesz says. "That would be just simply fantastic."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Donald Fagen (left) and Walter Becker of Steely Dan. (Courtesy of the artist)

Steely Dan On Piano Jazz

Apr 18, 2014

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Snapshots from a NPR White House correspondent's life. That's Tamara Keith's Air Force 1 selfie (bottom left), and her asking the president a question at Thursday's press conference (upper right).

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In Steely Dan, guitarist Walter Becker and singer-pianist Donald Fagen are masters of irony and erudition. They grew up listening to Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. Since the late 1960s, they have been a musical Rubik's Cube, continually honing their integration of jazz and rock. The pair performs Steely Dan hits "Josie" and "Chain Lightning" as well as standards "Mood Indigo" and "Hesitation Blues."

Originally recorded July 23, 2002. Originally aired in 2003.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Set List

  • "Limbo Jazz" (D. Ellington)
  • "Josie" (Fagen, Becker)
  • "Mood Indigo" (D. Ellington, Bigard, Mills)
  • "Star Eyes" (De Paul, Raye)
  • "Hesitating Blues" (W.C. Handy)
  • "Things Ain't the Way They Used to Be" (M. Ellington, Persons)
  • "Chain Lightning" (Fagen, Becker)
  • "Black Friday" (Fagen, Becker)

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
The War On Drugs. (Courtesy of the artist)

The War On Drugs On World Cafe

Apr 18, 2014 (WXPN-FM)

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Snapshots from a NPR White House correspondent's life. That's Tamara Keith's Air Force 1 selfie (bottom left), and her asking the president a question at Thursday's press conference (upper right).

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We are major fans of the band The War On Drugs. Today's show presents an epic live performance and interview with leader Adam Granduciel. The band formed in Philadelphia in 2005 and was critically lauded in 2011 for the album Slave Ambient, which put them on the map.

Their new album is called Lost In The Dream, and as we will hear in Michaela Majoun's interview, perfectionist Granduciel took a long time to get it right. We'll find out about his process, his relationship with early band member Kurt Vile and hear some amazing music.

Copyright 2014 WXPN-FM. To see more, visit http://www.xpn.org/.

Set List

  • "Limbo Jazz" (D. Ellington)
  • "Josie" (Fagen, Becker)
  • "Mood Indigo" (D. Ellington, Bigard, Mills)
  • "Star Eyes" (De Paul, Raye)
  • "Hesitating Blues" (W.C. Handy)
  • "Things Ain't the Way They Used to Be" (M. Ellington, Persons)
  • "Chain Lightning" (Fagen, Becker)
  • "Black Friday" (Fagen, Becker)

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR

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