Helene Cooper said she almost peed in her pants the first time she stepped on Air Force One.
The UNC alumna has been a White House correspondent for The New York Times since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, and her first interview with him was on Air Force One.
“All I wanted to do when I got on it is like steal stuff,” Cooper said at her lecture Tuesday in the George Watts Hill Alumni Center.
“So I was in the bathroom looking for Air Force One soaps when Robert Gibbs, who’s the press secretary, said, ‘The president is ready to see you now if you can remove yourself from the soaps.’”
Cooper lectured about her career as a reporter and her experience as the first person to break the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
She started her journalism career at The Daily Tar Heel as a sophomore.
“It took me like a year to get on the staff of the DTH,” Cooper said in an interview before the event. “I kept trying, and they were like, ‘No, get in line.’”
She said her most influential journalism teacher was Jock Lauterer, who taught her news writing class.
“I remember Helene fondly as a real go-getter,” Lauterer said. “When I found out she was a big rock star in the field I was not at all surprised.”
“My Humvee got run over by a tank the second night of the invasion,” Cooper said. “It was ridiculous, and by then I was scared out of my mind and wishing I hadn’t gone, but unfortunately I wasn’t hurt enough to get medevaced out.”
After a 12-year stint at The Wall Street Journal she moved to The New York Times, where she is today.
“My job is to paint a picture for readers on what it’s like to be president. What does it taste like? What does it feel like? What is it actually like to fly around in this tricked out plane? That is not always easy to do,” Cooper said.
“I’m always going back and forth with the president’s advisers, trying to paint a fuller picture than they are willing to present.”
Cooper said her biggest story was breaking the news that Osama bin Laden had been caught and killed. She said she was the first reporter to get the story, and within minutes of posting it, The New York Times’ website was close to crashing from views.
“After like a dozen calls I got this source high up in the government and I said, ‘I hear we captured bin Laden,’ and he said, ‘Killed, not captured,’ and he hung up the phone.”
Emily Palmer, a sophomore global studies and multimedia journalism double major, said she was inspired by Cooper’s lecture.
“I’m an aspiring journalist, and I’m really interested in doing something similar to what she’s done,” Palmer said.
“I could really hear the passion in her voice when she talked about getting the story.”
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