EXCLUSIVE: ‘It was like summer camp on steroids.’ White House stenographer lifts lid on President Obama’s Air Force One and reveals how ‘Xanax and Ambien’ on long flights made ‘awkward hookups with colleagues funny and bizarre’
- Former White House stenographer Beck Dorey-Stein tells how traveling with President Obama and his press pool was like ‘summer camp on steroids’
- In her upcoming memoir, From Corner of the Oval, Dorey-Stein lifts the lid on her travels on Air Force Once and her affair with a staffer
- Everyone took their drug of choice on long flights: Sonata, Xanax or Ambien – which made ‘awkward intimacy with colleagues suddenly just funny and bizarre,’ she writes
- Beck found herself listening to old-timers telling stories such as when George H.W. Bush puked on the Japanese prime minister and Reagan fell asleep in front of the pope
- She broke protocol when she got involved in a hot and heavy sexual relationship with one of Obama’s senior staffers in hotel rooms
- Obama’s traveling staff was almost all women and dubbed ‘the Vagiants’
Beck Dorey-Stein was 25 years old and working five part-time jobs when she serendipitously answered an ad on Craigslist for a stenographer.
Two interviews later, she was offered a job in Barack Obama’s White House in 2012.
She went from feeling alone in the world to joining a pool of 13 reporters from the White House press corps, traveling with the president and tracking his every move.
Her assignment – with mic in hand – was to record everything the president said, type it up, and release the transcript to the press office and presidential archive.
She also made copious notes on the details of her personal life while traveling to more than 60 countries over five years on Air Force One, and witnessing Obama’s life in midair.
‘Traveling with the president is like summer camp on steroids – a week on the road is like a year at home’, Dorey-Stein writes in her new memoir, From the Corner of the Oval, published by Spiegel & Grau on July 10, 2018.
Beck Dorey-Stein (far left) recalls how traveling with President Obama and his press pool was like ‘summer camp on steroids’ while working as his stenographer. Above she is pictured during the 2015 White House Christmas Party
She made copious notes on the details of her personal life while traveling to more than 60 countries over five years on Air Force One, and witnessing Obama’s life in midair. Above the president is pictured on the aircraft in 2009
Her new job would give her insight into the obscure party culture within the press pool, a glimpse of the president’s personal life, and would even land her in a love affair with a White House staffer.
She worked out on a treadmill next to the president, who often ‘trash-talked’ her, goaded her to run faster, and taught her to be optimistic.
Beck saw how Obama coped with stress and grief over 60 foreign trips, cracked his Nicorette gum to keep from smoking, and on one occasion told stories about how he met Michelle and how she tried to pass him off to one of her friends.
Around the world, she watched a crew of smokers douse themselves in Purell sanitizer up past their wrists after grabbing a smoke so there was no lingering smell of cigarettes for Obama who had quit the habit.
‘No one deserves to be this lucky’, the author writes about this core group of staffers who flew around the world on Air Force One together.
Beck knew she wasn’t a good fit for a job at a Washington think tank, PR firm, or nonprofit after her semester-long tutoring job at Sidwell Friends School – ‘the Harvard of Washington’s private schools’ – ended in 2011.
Beck Dorey-Stein discusses her professional and private affairs while working as Obama’s stenographer in From the Corner of the Oval
The selective Quaker school in Washington has educated a lengthy roster of notable alumni from Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Richard Nixon’s daughter, Al Gore’s son, Chelsea Clinton, and the Obama girls, Malia and Sasha, as well as the children of members of Congress.
Beck intended to only live in D.C. for the duration of the job – three months…’because who wants to live in DC? – A one trick political pony town,’ she writes.
‘My job in the spring of 2011 was to help those hormonally-charged stressballs chill the f**k out’, Beck writes while casting an eye to what looked like ‘human Ken dolls in a short-sleeved button-down’.
Sitting across from one of them at the school one day flirting and thinking he was a teacher, the man told her he was working although he did not seem to be doing anything.
He was a Secret Service agent watching Malia.
In her new job assignment, Beck was advised by the hiring agency to stay away from the Secret Service agents as well as ‘stay with your boyfriend’.
She knew this was going to be her big break and felt confident leaving her boyfriend, Sam, back in Washington working for a PR firm writing speeches for gubernatorial candidates.
He was always encouraged her and supported her taking the job that would separate them.
But Beck broke protocol of the job when she got involved in a hot and heavy secret sexual relationship with one of Obama’s senior staffers in hotel rooms – and fell in love.
Left with a broken heart and feeling duplicitous with too many nights at a bar getting drunk, she says the stolen thrill was worth the heartache although it cost her the relationship with her boyfriend in D.C.
Boarding Air Force One for the first time with an overstuffed duffel because she didn’t know what not to pack, she thought she saw actor Jim Carrey sitting near the front of the plane.
He turned out to be the man she fell hopelessly in love with, Jason Wolf – the man she left her hotel room door ajar for in foreign cities.
Air Force One – where pool reporters had their own press cabin – has everything one could ask for in comfort – endless entrees, snacks, cocktails – except while on the luxury airliner, everyone paid for food and drinks.
Rushing to unpack the first time in search of her steno gear and dumping out her computer bags on the seat next to her, out fell what looked like a vibrator – while one of Obama’s traveling aides was standing there.
Beck’s job was to record everything the president (pictured in 2008) said, type it up, and release the transcript to the press office and presidential archive
Her new job would give her insight into the obscure party culture within the press pool, a glimpse of the president’s personal life, and would even land her in a love affair with a White House staffer
Red-faced, he hurried away.
It was only a little travel-sized hot pink silk bag that resembled a vibrator – she wanted to tell him but didn’t.
Obama’s traveling staff was almost all women and dubbed ‘the Vagiants’.
This wasn’t the case when he first took office in 2009 when there were few female senior staffers. Now it was the choice of the women to give themselves that name.
‘Prudish? I would especially love it if the men in the West Wing nicknamed themselves the 10-Inch Senior Staffs’, she writes.
Beck was one of three stenographers rotating on the travel schedule.
On international trips, media chipped in and chartered a private plane dubbed the ‘party plane.’
Neither POTUS or senior White House staff traveled on it and the president stayed at a different hotel.
The press charter arrived a day ahead of POTUS and Air Force One so TV networks could set up their live shots.
On her first trip out, Beck found herself in $500-a night hotel rooms with breathtaking views of Cabo San Lucas before continuing on to Costa Rica, Tanzania, Laos.
She’d listen to old-timer boozy party animals tell stories about the different administrations, presidents, international incidents they’ve witnessed – from George H.W. puking on the prime minister of Japan, Reagan in Rome falling asleep in front of the pope, Monica Lewinsky, 9/11, and Katrina.
‘Pinch me because how is this scene my real life’? Beck writes.
Her first overseas trips on Air Force One took her to Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia where Obama requested an unscheduled stop at the Shwedagon Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world.
Beck admits she had a fling with a White House staffer Jason Wolf, who broke her heart
She recalls how the everyone in the press cabin took their drug of choice and how she’d listen to old-timer boozy party animals tell stories about the different administrations, presidents, and international incidents they’ve witnessed
Looking out of the plane’s window while flying into Myanmar, Obama saw the glare of the 451 diamonds encrusting the top of the Buddha and requested a stop.
Traveling on to Cambodia, Beck walked out with the press and left recording equipment attached in the room where the president had met with the Japanese prime minister.
This could have been interpreted as a spy tactic with a recorder still running. But any disaster was avoided by Wolf, who quickly removed the equipment.
Wolf never talked about his serious relationship with his girlfriend Brooke back home in LA whose father was a famous producer.
She’d leave her hotel room door open for him so he could sneak in at night.
They carried on across the globe while Beck tried to keep her boyfriend Sam out of her mind.
She describes experiencing ‘the best sleepover party ever’ where everyone took their drug of choice on long flights – Sonata, Xanax or Ambien – which made any ‘awkward intimacy with colleagues suddenly just funny and bizarre,’ she writes.
Heading for Delhi in India where the president met the prime minister, Beck was warned about the destitution, the starving children in the streets, begging mothers, sick and thin dogs lying around waiting for death and piles of trash everywhere.
But no one on this trip saw any of that.
Beck saw how Obama coped with stress and grief over 60 foreign trips, cracked his Nicorette gum to keep from smoking, and on one occasion told stories about how he met First Lady Michelle
They were always protected from seeing the poverty in these countries and instead saw a ‘glossy, two-dimensional Disney World version’ while motorcading manicured streets.
‘We do not see the slums or hear the screams. No matter where we are in the world, Dar es Salaam or Indianapolis, the field always looks the same: red carpet, white tent, blue velvet drape’.
Through a ten-day swing through Africa – Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania where they were advised not to drink the water, the physical risks didn’t compare to the emotional ones, according to the author.
‘Nothing is scary when the Secret Service is around you’, Beck writes, but she became ill in South Africa after ingesting water on a lettuce leaf.
In Jamaica, Obama visited the one-time home of reggae master Bob Marley and sang Marley’s hit, ‘Three Little Birds in his bedroom – and then on to Panama.
The crew traveled with him for the First Family Christmas vacation in Hawaii and for his summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.
Obama left the Vineyard to deal with ISIS on the rise in the Middle East, Putin revving his power in Eastern Europe and the outbreak of Ebola in Africa – before returning to the Vineyard when the news broke that ISIS had beheaded photojournalist Jim Foley.
POTUS made his televised statement the following morning after allowing the family to grieve.
‘No one in that room can deny the power and sincerity of the president’s address. But even more remarkable than the president’s palpable anger – the sound that follows his words: unprecedented silence’.
While traveling, they were always protected from seeing the poverty in third-world countries and instead saw a ‘glossy, two-dimensional Disney World version’ while motorcading manicured streets
The press were allowed no questions.
‘And then the president goes golfing’, Beck writes.
Negative news stories condemned Obama’s decision to play golf in the wake of such a tragedy but ‘that exercise is how POTUS copes with stress and grief’, the author writes.
‘Golf doesn’t provide the president an escape; it allows him the only breathing room he’s afforded’.
He can’t just go for a walk and hasn’t run outside since 2007.
‘His influence circles the globe, but his physical freedom is limited to eighteen holes’.
‘It’s lonely at the top’.
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With the end of Obama’s term in sight, Beck wanted to be outside the HRC bubble and away from what felt like power players in Washington hungry to prove something.
It was hard for her to imagine not traveling together with this crew of colleagues she had circled the globe with in Air Force One.
She remembered the words of Von, the White House butler on her first day who had told her: ‘It’s just a job.’
‘We are nothing special, just lucky,’ she writes. It was a privilege, an honor, and a job.
Her affair with Jason was over and he went back to LA and married his girlfriend.
Sam, her old boyfriend, was long gone and back in the arms of his first girlfriend.
The author stayed on with the Trump administration – or what she describes as the ‘insane clown posse’ – and the White House executive parking lot now filled with Porsches and Maseratis’s instead of Priuses and Chevys.
What was once joy has become ‘a waking nightmare. I’m now a stenographer in the Trump administration’.
From the Corner of the Oval will be released on July 10, 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
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