Channel 12 personality Aaron Harber may be many things, but he's not Barbara Walters -- so landing a one-on-one with General David Petraeus the very week the military man made his long-awaited report to Congress about the American adventure in Iraq was quite a coup. The interview, first reported in this September 10 More Messages blog, took place on September 14, and Harber's e-mail account of his journey to the nation's capital and back is downright effusive. "You should have gone on this trip," writes the host, who's seen in the photo above with Petraeus and Boulder's Matthew Silverman, a former U.S. Senate page who accompanied Harber on the trip. "You would have loved it." Still, some significant obstacles had to be overcome along the way.
Problem one for Harber was getting to Washington, D.C. at a moment's notice without bankrupting himself. After all, The Aaron Harber Show airs on a modest PBS station in Denver, not a major network affiliate. Fortunately for him, Frontier Airlines found seats for him as well as for eight people he brought along "as a reward for their work on my television program or other supporting roles they played."
These folks weren't supposed to actually shoot and record the Petraeus conversation; Harber hoped to find D.C.-based personnel to tackle that chore. But it wasn't to be. "None of the camera crews we thought we could get made it to the interview," he notes. "Some told us just thirty minutes before we left for the Pentagon from our hotel in Alexandria that they would not be able to do anything. We found out from one of them they couldn't help us while we already were at the Pentagon. Not only was a Friday afternoon tough, but everyone wanted their own news team on the story or were already booked covering a last-minute press conference" co-starring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After getting sorries from ABC, Discovery, PBS, Tribune Broadcasting and even area public-access stations, "we ended up assembling our own rag-tag production team with the staff we brought."
Harber and company wound up getting turned around on the way to the Pentagon, and once they finally arrived at the proper entry point, "The Pentagon police launched an attack on our Colorado group," Harber maintains. "They detailed most of my team for an hour because one of them took a picture of a Pentagon police officer giving a ticket to a Dominos pizza delivery man! They were about to arrest six of the nine people we had there. And I didn't make them fond of me, either! These guys were like little Nazis... The police even called the Department of Defense's Threat Management Team to investigate the 'situation.'" Harber hoped that the folks who'd helped him arrange the interview would talk the cops down, but they weren't picking up their calls. When they heard the story later, however, "they all laughed," Harber reports. "To them, it was terribly amusing."
Guess that's what qualifies as Pentagon humor these days.
Getting inside the enormous structure didn't guarantee success. Harber soon learned that Petraeus was running late and his slate of chats was filled to overflowing. "He decided to bump the Wall Street Journal interview he had scheduled before me so he still could fit me in," he allows. "That was really nice of him to give me such a high priority."
Because the aforementioned Gates-Pace press conference took place in the studio where Harber had expected to videotape his session with Petraeus, another makeshift location had to be secured at the last minute. Then, to complicate matters further, Gates and Pace wanted to meet with Petraeus once they were done, which would have cut back radically on the amount of time Harber had with him. Instead, Petraeus sat for long enough to fill an entire episode of Harber's namesake production. "He was very gracious and could not have been nicer," Harber recalls.
Petraeus subsequently "agreed to do exclusive satellite interviews with me in the future, if I can make the arrangements at this end," Harber states. "I'm already working on that. It would be great to talk with him every ninety days or so." The general also invited Harber to visit him in Iraq, and the host says he's thinking about it.
After escaping the clutches of the Pentagon police, Harber should be ready for anything. -- Michael Roberts