The Reporter's Life
Barack: I Knew You When
February 2009

by Eileen Douglas

I knew this day would come. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois is President of the United States.

Now, if I may be permitted a personal story.

March 2007, one month after declaring his candidacy, the Obamas came to Manhattan, seeking funds. I was there watching. The grand ballroom of the Grand Hyatt was packed. Standing at the rope in front of the speaker's platform, the still photographers clicking away at my feet and the chockablock crowd at my rear, I listened as Michelle spoke first. Her husband was poised on a stool to the side, as we've now seen so many times since. She was funny and irreverent and clearly smart.

© Eileen Douglas
Michelle Obama introduces her husband, Barack, to a Manhattan crowd, March 2007.
Then Obama took the mike.

He had them, as they say in the song, "at hello" and held them rapt for as long as he spoke, striding back and forth up on the stage.

This was so early in the game there was not yet the massive media contingent, hanging on his every move. The photographers at his feet, arms raised like supplicants in prayer, numbered only a dozen.

But you could sense something was afoot. The venue, scheduled first for a smaller place, had to be changed to this much bigger space and there wasn't an inch free in it to move a speck.

© Eileen Douglas
Barack Obama, New York City, March 2007.
When it was over and the well-dressed crowd was streaming out, I found myself a spot on a sofa in the hallway and sat, a wee bit dumbstruck. As if I'd just witnessed something exceptional and needed to process. It was a feeling, a strong and sure one, not a hope or a wish or a preference, but an intuition that hit me. I said to myself, and to anyone I spoke to afterwards, Barack Obama will be president.

Why? Not because of his policies or his politics or his looks. Or my politics or preferences. But because, quite simply, he felt like a president. He sounded like someone would sound if he or she were already in the office. And handling it well.

Lots of candidates were in the race. More than you could shake a stick at. Early on, there were many experts who considered Obama a long shot in that cheek-by-jowl crowd of candidates lined up in both parties.

But I had that feeling and it stayed with me all the campaign long.

I was not surprised when he won Iowa. Or stayed in the race as others fell by the wayside like 10 little Indians. Or came out ahead in the after-polling for the debates.

That's because I knew. I already had the answer. As if someone had given me a peek at the end of a novel or a look inside the envelope with the name of the winner of the Academy Award before they announce who gets the Oscar.

© Eileen Douglas
Barack Obama speaks to a crowd in New York City, March 2007.
Let me say, I have seen many a candidate for office in my day. Also many a president. But I have never had that feeling before. Except once, back in college, when my friends and I headed down to an off-the-beaten-path coffee house with a bare concrete spot in the center for the entertainer of the night. While we sipped our drinks, an older-looking, very simply-dressed Mexican woman led a blind young man with a guitar to the stool under the spotlight, settled him there with his Seeing Eye dog at his feet, and he began to sing. Wow, I thought. There's something about this guy. A guy nobody's ever heard of. A year later, I heard him sing again. Everywhere. On the radio. Television. Wherever you looked. And, at that time, I said to myself, looking back on that night: No surprise. There was just something special about the guy. It figured he'd end up in the big time. Oh, the blind singer's name? It was Jose Feliciano.

It's not that I do this a lot. A reporter is supposed to observe and deduce and analyze. A strong intuition is not the way you admit you do business. And, in this case, this was not about any story I ever did as a reporter. (At least until now.) I did not say anywhere as a journalist, sharing my gut reaction, Barack Obama will be president because I JUST FEEL IT. This was just for me, feeling history being made before my eyes and knowing it for myself. Feeling I had an inkling where the story was going before it got there. For my own self to know.

On the other hand, reporters like to tell what they know. Then to share what they know, and, when they can, make a story of it. When you know something, you like to say --- here's what I've learned! Like when you've got a secret you want to tell. You just can't go public with it if it comes from "a feeling."

But now we've had the campaign. And the inauguration.

Having buttoned my lips for so long, now I can say it.

I knew it all along.

And now everybody else knows it too.

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© Eileen Douglas

Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for "ABC-TV's Lifetime Magazine," she is the author of "Rachel and the Upside Down Heart," and co-producer of the films "My Grandfather's House" and "Luboml: My Heart Remembers." She can be reached at