Former Chattanooga Reporter Holland Now Roams White House

Friday, March 9, 2007 - by John Shearer

When former Chattanoogan Steve Holland was a United Press International reporter in Knoxville in the early 1980s, he noticed that the newswire printer in his office always seemed to be typing out bulletins about important happenings in Washington, D.C.

“It seemed like something was always going on in Washington,” he said. “So I was determined to get to Washington.”

Today, the 1973 East Ridge High graduate is the one sending out the important stories from the nation’s capital. A White House reporter for 16 years and Reuter’s senior White House correspondent since 2000, he has reported first hand on some of the major events in the world during that time.

Assuming his job during the middle of George Bush Sr.’s term, he has covered three presidents.

He has been near the chief executives during some of the great events of recent history, including when George W. Bush was in New York City a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.

“That was the most remarkable White House story I have covered,” said the University of Tennessee journalism graduate, who has a down–to-Earth personality.

He has also been on two secret trips with President Bush to Baghdad, Iraq, and Kabul, Afghanistan. In fact, they were so secretive that he had to meet a senior White House official at a Starbuck’s on one occasion to get details.

“It is very exciting and very hard to keep that kind of secret,” he said.

During his time in Washington, he has traveled to all 50 states with the three presidents and has also been to 80 countries.

But on Feb. 21, he had an opportunity to travel with the president to a place presidents only occasionally visit - Chattanooga.

After he climbed off Air Force One at Lovell Field, he called his mother, Mrs. Don (Frances) Worley, from the tarmac on his cell phone to let her know the most famous jet in the United States had arrived. While he was talking to her, well-known Bush adviser Karl Rove jokingly grabbed his phone and, knowing Mr. Holland was from Chattanooga, began talking with her.

The whole visit to his former hometown was memorable, he said.

“It was a real thrill, particularly going to Erlanger, where I was born in 1955,” he said. “My brother (Al Holland) works there in the X-ray department.”

And when the president made a stop at Porker’s barbecue restaurant on Market Street for lunch, Mr. Holland was with him.

The visit to Porker’s also made him reflect a little on a visit he was taking to Mom’s Italian Villa on the same block back in 1980. He was filling in as the police reporter on a Saturday night while working at the Chattanooga News-Free Press and was on his way to Mom’s to pick up some dinner.

While out, he noticed an emergency vehicle going in the direction of what was then Ninth Street. Since he was on the police beat, he figured he better follow it.

He was the first person on the scene other than the emergency workers and realized three African-American women had been shot. Eventually, two people with ties at the time to a racist group were arrested.

That summer, trial verdicts favorable to the defendants later were followed by rioting in what was one of the tensest racial crises in the city’s history.

That same year, Mr. Holland moved to Knoxville. After three years there, he and his wife, the former Lucie Stephens, moved to Washington, where he worked at the UPI bureau.

In 1985, he moved to Paris. There he covered another hate crime trial, but one with more international implications. Klaus Barbie, who had been a member of the Nazi SS during World War II, had fled after the war but was later arrested by French intelligent agents and forced to stand trial.

Mr. Holland returned to the United States in 1988 and worked briefly at CNN before joining Reuter’s later that year. When an opening later came up for the White House bureau, he heartily volunteered.

“I threw my hand up and said I would like to do it, and I have been doing it ever since,” he said. “It’s a real thrill for a Tennessee country boy to be covering the president.”

He said that each of the three presidents has been somewhat different in dealing with the media. George Bush Sr. was probably the most accessible, and both he and Bill Clinton would regularly visit with the press corps on Air Force One during trips. George W. Bush does not, however.

“It is just a different way of controlling things,” he said.

But Mr. Holland has had one-on-one interviews with Mr. Bush and the previous two presidents.

“Sitting in the Oval Office can be very intimidating, but in recent years I've been able to overcome the terror and relax enough in there for a proper give and take with the president,” he said.

Mr. Holland was one of the reporters in the highly publicized meeting with President Bush before the November election, when the president said Donald Rumsfeld would remain as defense secretary. A week later, after the elections, Mr. Rumsfeld was replaced.

“The president admitted that he had been planning to replace Rumsfeld but was not in a position to tell us at the time because he had not been able to work out the details,” Mr. Holland said.

At least one of his interviews with the chief executives has been in a less serious setting, he added.

“Probably the most fun interview I did was of the current president after he took me mountain bike riding with him on his Crawford ranch,” he said “It was fun to get his feelings about the importance of exercise, and for a 60-year-old guy, he's in remarkable physical shape.”

Despite the competitive nature of Mr. Holland’s job, he has also developed a good rapport with fellow members of the White House press corps, many of whom have familiar names, faces and voices.

“The press corps is like an extended family,” he said. “We travel together and we work together. At the end of the day we all get along.”

Mr. Holland and Lucie have an 11-year-old son, Carter, and live in an older home in the historic section of Alexandria, Va. Mrs. Holland, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gerry Stephens, works in the auction world after several years of being a stay-at-home mom.

They are enjoying Washington, he said. And the news is still happening there, just as it was when he was in Knoxville 25 years before.

“It is a great place for a reporter because there is always something going on,” he said.

John Shearer
jcshearer2@comcast.net


Chattanooga Police Department Increases DUI Enforcement On Memorial Day Weekend

The Chattanooga Police Department will be partnering with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and other local agencies within Hamilton County to step up DUI enforcement this Memorial Day holiday.  “This is about preventing irresponsible and reckless driving,” said Lieutenant Adrian Gibb of the Chattanooga Police Department's Traffic Division. “We strongly believe highly visible, ... (click for more)

Public Meeting Set June 13 About Whitfield County Hazard Mitigation Plan

Whitfield County will hold a public meeting on June 13 at 9 a.m. at the Whitfield County Emergency Management Office located at 804 Professional Blvd. in Dalton to review and discuss a draft of an update to the Whitfield County Hazard Mitigation Plan. A draft copy of the plan can be found at www.whitfieldcountyga.com for review prior to the meeting. This Plan is required by ... (click for more)

Child Bitten By Dog In Bradley County

The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a child who was bitten by a dog. While saturating an area in Bradley County, a deputy observed a vehicle traveling on the roadway with a child not restrained and sitting in a passenger’s lap inside the vehicle. Once the deputy approached the vehicle, he noticed a child bleeding which was the result of a dog bite. ... (click for more)

Man Rescued From The Pocket Wilderness On Sunday

Rescue personnel started the Memorial Holiday weekend at the Pocket Wilderness hiking trails on Sunday morning. A man had been camping on the trails with friends Saturday night when the accident occurred. They had been gathering branches for firewood when he tripped and fell on a branch which impaled his thigh. With no cell service and having no daylight, the group waited ... (click for more)

Fruit Basket Turnover

I have been teaching for 21 years now, so I’ve been through my share of school leaders. Every one of them taught me something important. Whether it was Don Bishop from Red Bank High School who, after almost 30 years at Red Bank, taught me to invest in the longevity of my career, Wade Kelly who taught me to thoroughly weigh options before making a decision, Gail Chuy who taught me ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘Let Me Be Clear’

I have seen a lot of human beings who have gotten themselves in terrible messes in my time and more self-induced agony than I want to recall. Will Rogers famously said, “Give a man enough rope and he’ll hang himself.” That’s the truth and if you ever didn’t think that “Politics corrupts,” consider the genius behind the line, “It ain’t long those who get elected … begin to think ... (click for more)