Ben Feller was the honored speaker as the recipient of the 2009 Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan on April 13, 2011. Feller is the White House Correspondent for the Associated Press and currently travels around the world covering President Barack Obama. When announcing their decision to award Ben Feller the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency in 2009, the judges issued the following statement.
“In the first year of a notably newsworthy and often contentious new Presidency, Ben Feller of “The Associated Press” proved himself to be both a master of deadline reporting and an astute analyst of the meaning and significance of President Obama’s initiatives and actions.”
With singular enterprise, Feller broke the story of the President Obama’s selection of Sonia Sotomayor for nomination to the Supreme Court and then set the tone for coverage of her confirmation by the Senate. In the diversity of Feller’s other articles the judges found that he portrayed a sense of President Obama’s character — reflecting in Africa his African heritage and honoring, in a midnight visit to Dover Air Force Base, the fallen soldiers who speak forever of the tragic cost of war. In all his stories Feller displayed insight and resourcefulness, and a quality of writing that was engaging, clear, and substantive on a tight deadline. The judges were unanimous in selecting Ben Feller as most deserving of the 2009 Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency.”
During his remarks, Ben Feller discussed his many experiences and personal observations reporting on Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. He also shared numerous photographs of his coverage of The White House and from his travels around the world on Air Force One. He gave his audience a wonderful inside view of the highest office in the land.
One of the stories he discussed contributed to him receiving the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize was his coverage of President Obama’s trip to Dover AFB to be present when the caskets of the fallen soldiers arrived from overseas. He mentioned that it had been a brutal time for the troops and had been the most violent and deadly month in Iraq and Afghanistan at this point in the wars. The President was deeply involved in deciding if he would send more troops into battle. The midnight trip was not announced to the public and the coverage was limited to the White House pool reporters. The return of the fallen troops had never been covered by the press; let alone covering the President attending the arrival. Coverage had been banned for years. His article captured the emotions he felt witnessing such a moving and symbolic moment in history.
He also talked about the numerous occasions President Bush visited the families of fallen soldiers. Out of respect for the families the President asked the pool not to cover those visits.
He discussed a memorable day in The White House Press Room. He talked about a slow afternoon in late December. The correspondents were told that President Bill Clinton would be visiting President Obama in the Oval Office, but no briefing was scheduled. Later the reporters were quickly called to the briefing room and told that their would be remarks by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Obama took the podium and introduced the former president and asked him to say a few words. A few minutes into the briefing President Obama excused himself to attend dinner with the first family leaving President Clinton alone with the press corp. He talked about how the former President took command of the room and began to share his thoughts on a number of topics. A slow day at The White House turned into a very memorable and interesting afternoon.
He shared a number of humorous stories that were well received by his audience. One of the stories had to do with former Obama press Secretary Robert Gibbs and a dunk tank. He talked about a hot summer day on the south lawn. The theme for The White House party was a carnival back drop featuring a dunk tank on the lawn. He and his colleagues were asking Gibbs about the possibility he might be taking the seat in the dunk tank. Gibbs emerges later in a wet suit and took his seat in the tank. Feller takes his turn and on his third and last throw the press secretary went plunging into the water. Feller shared photos of the infamous event and his winning throwing style.
He concluded his remarks on a serious note, talking about what an incredible responsibility and privilege it is to cover The White House. He told the audience that he and many of his colleagues take their jobs very seriously and that they are passionate about the accuracy of what they are reporting and that you need to be passionate about covering the President fairly regardless of party.
A reporter for 17 years, Ben Feller began on The White House beat in November 2006. Working as part of the AP team based at The White House, Feller covers all facets of President Barack Obama’s agenda. He has traveled around the world to cover Presidents Bush and Obama and written about dozens of topics spanning foreign and domestic policy. Feller won the Merriman Smith Award for print presidential coverage in 2010, presented by The White House Correspondents’ Association, for his coverage of President Obama’s surprise, late-night visit to Dover Air Force Base to honor the remains of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Feller, 39, has been with the Washington bureau of the AP since January 2003, when he began covering national education. Over nearly four years, he wrote about the politics and policies of education and went into classrooms to write about trend stories, many of them tied to the No Child Left Behind Act. In the 10 years before that, Feller wrote for The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Fla.; the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C.; and the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa. His beats at those newspapers included politics, higher education, state government, transportation and crime.
Feller grew up in State College, Pa. and moved to Vestal, NY in his high school years. He returned to State College to attend Penn State University, where he graduated in 1992 with a degree in journalism. He now lives in Washington, D.C.
Founded in 1846, The Associated Press is the world’s oldest and largest newsgathering organization, providing content to more than 15,000 news outlets with a daily reach of 1 billion people around the world. Its multimedia services are distributed by satellite and the Internet to more than 120 nations.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation sponsors the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prizes for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency and Distinguished Reporting on National Defense to recognize and encourage thoughtful, insightful, and enterprising work by journalists covering the presidency and national defense. The Foundation is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation whose programs are supported entirely by contributions and bequests in an effort to honor President Ford’s sustained commitment to public service.
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