Five Miles Up with … Ed Henry

Deborah Hopewell
ed henry mug

Like voters headed towards the polls today, Ed Henry, Chief White House Correspondent for FOX News, is anxiously awaiting the election outcome. "Here we are in the final hours and both sides are talking a good game, but nobody really knows which side is bluffing and which is going to win," he says. "To be in the middle of this — I wouldn't want it any other way." Indeed, as part of the White House Press Corps, Henry and his colleagues have been hitting the road to do what they love best — "We all eat, drink and sleep politics." What's next on Henry's agenda? A vacation.

What's something you never fail to pack in your suitcase?

Pocket squares. I carry them in a little travel case with some neckties. I tend to bring one suit jacket, even if it's for several days of travel. I find if you bring more than one, you end up throwing it in a bag and it gets wrinkled. If you stick with one, keep it as clean as possible and steam it when you can.

How do you stay healthy on the road?
We've been calling one of our colleagues Patient Zero. She got sick first, then everyone else got sick. Knock wood,  I'm one of the only people who's been traveling with the president who has not had a cold the entire time. I think it's a combination of Emergen-C and getting as much sleep as possible. Napping is one skill I didn't have before I started campaign reporting, but now I can sleep anywhere. I slept three hours last night. After a 70-minute nap on the campaign bus, I feel like I slept eight hours.

Does the White House Press Corps mostly travel commercially?

We travel three different ways. Sometimes we get out of the bubble we're in with the president and fly commercially. Most of the time, we travel on a campaign charter where the TV networks, radios, and newspapers all chip in and pay our own freight. We've had the same plane for the entire campaign cycle for the past three months or so. You get a little more legroom. All your bags are in one place. And wherever we travel, we're expected to be ready to go whenever we land.

And the third means of travel? Onboard Air Force One?

A fair bit. It's one of most exciting things I've ever done. They even give you a flight certificate signed by one of president's pilots. We have a press cabin in back of the plane. The cabin in front of us is full of White House staff, but mostly Secret Service agents. If you peek through the door when they take their jackets off, you see these large weapons. It's a friendly reminder that you shouldn't wander out of your cabin. The president's cabin has an office, bedroom and a bathroom with a shower. The hard part about flying on Air Force One is you're always on and ready to work at any moment. The president can walk back and start talking, and you've suddenly got a mini news conference going.

How's the food on Air Force One?
The crew on Air Force One are Air Force service members who take great pride in flying the president around the world. They don't just serve random food. The Air Force One staff picks out ingredients from local markets around Andrews Air Force Base in (Prince George's County) Maryland and cooks homemade meals for the president, White House staff and media. They always serve creative things like Texas chili or special sandwiches. They care so much about every little detail.

How many days a year do you typically travel?

I never really thought about it until I tried to get a life insurance policy. I was told I flew too much for my job to be insured without paying an astronomical amount. A campaign year is odd. The last five months, it's been almost non-stop. When I'm filling out expense reports, I often can't remember where I was a week ago.

Have your days been all about campaigning?

A benefit about being the lead reporter on the president is he has a day job. He often has to go back to D.C .to deal with things, like most recently, Hurricane Sandy. That meant I got to go back to D.C. for a few nights and see my family. My colleague who covers the Republican side of the campaign has been traveling non-stop for over a year or so. Post campaign, we're going to be busy with many fiscal issues and others, but it will be nice to be busy at home rather than on the road.

What's it like traveling with competitors?

One of the funny things about the White House Press Corps is we're all competitive and from competing networks. People write about MSNBC vs. FOX or ABC vs. CBS, but we all travel together in this bubble. You get to know a lot of your colleagues from other networks. I've made a lot of friends on this campaign as I have on previous campaigns. Maybe it's a bit of Stockholm syndrome — we're all stuck here together. Despite who your employer is, you get along. That helps pass the time. If you were doing this by yourself it would be maddening, but you're with people who know what it's like, so it's a shared experience.

How many states have you've visited? Do you have a favorite?

We've mostly been criss-crossing 10 battlegrounds. Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire … Today, I'm in Lima, Ohio, where it's 35 degrees and I'm sitting in a high school shop class. Yesterday, I was in my favorite city, Las Vegas, where it was 61 degrees in November. It was such a tease to be there for eight or 10 hours and never see a casino, restaurant or hotel. Instead, we were on a high school football field. That's the thing about this kind of travel — you get to see the country, but not in the normal way. You see it through school gymnasiums and football fields.

And you've also traveled with the Obamas when they go to Hawaii?
Yes, every Christmas and New Year's they travel to (Oahu) Hawaii, where President Obama is from. People always think we're hounding him, but it's more that Hawaii is so far from Washington, God forbid something happens in the world, we need to be there reporting on what the president says or does. A few years ago, I was in Hawaii when the president was there, and on Christmas Day there was the underwear bomber who tried to blow up a plane over Detroit. So an "easy" day of covering the president on Christmas became an all-nighter really fast.

Has traveling to Hawaii with the president given you the experience of seeing it through his eyes?

In Honolulu, Alan Wong's original restaurant is just down the street from Punahou School, where President Obama went to high school. I did a story about what it's like to cook dinner for the president. Alan Wong graciously showed me the table where the president likes to sit and told me what he likes to eat. That year, the president dined there on the 26th and 27th. I went there on New Year's Eve with my wife and some friends. We walked in and sitting at one table was Jeffrey Katzenberg, Elton John, the (Ozzy) Osborne family. It was jarring to walk into a restaurant and see group like that. That's one of my cherished memories of being out in Hawaii at Christmas with President Obama.

What's the most unusual souvenir you ever came back with?

There was a trip to Africa with President (George W.) Bush that I went on a few years ago and brought back African drums. My kids love them.

Are you going on a post-election vacation?

We might go out to Nevada. My wife and I got married at the Wynn Las Vegas. One of our favorite getaways is going to Encore (Wynn's sister property) and using the spa, golf course and pool.

The one thing you're willing to splurge on above all else?
My wife, Shirley. She likes shoes. When she's been holding down the fort four or five months I've been on the campaign trail, I feel like during our post-election vacation, there's probably a couple of pairs of shoes, maybe even a purse, in her future.

Artists on your travel playlist?

Always Sinatra. I love Bruce Springsteen, but they play him at a lot of Obama events, and when I was at his concert this summer, it felt like being at work.

Where would you take someone visiting your hometown for the first time?
I'm from Long Island, N.Y., so I'd take them to see the storm damage (from Hurricane Sandy). My other great passion is baseball and the New York Yankees, so I'd also take them to Yankee Stadium.

What's your idea of the perfect vacation?

Going somewhere there aren't a lot of people. Last year, I discovered if you go to West Palm Beach in October, there's no one around, the rates are low, there's golf and the weather and sunsets are amazing.

What's the worst vacation you've taken?
Even a difficult vacation is better than bearing down and staring at your iPhone or Blackberry for a week.

You only get one more trip in your lifetime. Where will it be?

Italy. My wife and I've been talking about going to Tuscany and Lake Como. We'd drive around for a couple of weeks and have great red wine.