Concentrated Press Feeding Operation

Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Celebration Press Pass

Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Celebration Press Pass

The corporate media deserves criticism.

Occasionally they redeem themselves, as in Margie Mason’s coverage of slavery on Indonesian fishing boats for Associated Press, but mostly its people produce hack work and appear to do what they must to get through the day and draw a paycheck. Political writers can be the worst of the lot.

I secured a press pass for the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration July 17 and sat among them for a few hours.

It is important to exclude some Iowa reporters from a blanket condemnation. At the event I saw Dean Borg of Iowa Public Television, James Q. Lynch of Source Media, and O. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa, all of whom had had long days, and whose work is important and anything but journalistic sausage. I also think highly of Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times, Kathie O’Bradovich of Gannett, Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times and Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal. There are other good journalists missing from this inoculation, and I have no criticism of bloggers like me who work for beer money or no compensation at all. What went on behind the press pen in Cedar Rapids confirmed my worst fears.

Behind the Confinement Fence

Behind the Confinement Fence

The press area at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex was very much part of Iowa, including the fencing which surrounded the confinement. It was the kind one buys at the farm and fleet store or Theisen’s to fence in livestock. One entered through a private door to the platform where more than a dozen video cameras were configured on tripods. In front was a long table with chairs placed as closely as possible together. My movements were restricted the way pigs and chickens are in concentrated animal feeding operations. By arriving early, I got a center seat and an electrical outlet to recharge my mobile phone. I was happy just to be there.

The first faux drama had to do with Hillary Clinton. A reporter from a large news organization asked in a tone of moral outrage if I’d heard the Clinton campaign wouldn’t allow the participants in the pre-event rally on First Avenue talk to the press. My moral outrage having been burned up during the early George W. Bush years, I have been paying attention to the media’s favorite story, how “Hillary hates the press.” I simply said, “no I hadn’t,” not about to encourage her.

The person next to me was having trouble connecting to the Internet. I looked at her laptop screen and she appeared to be connected. Unsatisfied, she ended up calling her IT department and taking her computer outside the confinement. I hope she’s alright. Another journalist quickly filled her slot.

Before the event, in a bit of local color I glanced two seats over and noticed John Deeth was using a Windows machine. The author of Linux Monday responded:

I don’t think he had any choice, as he previously explained how Microsoft killed Linux on netbooks.

“I didn’t expect to see you in the press section,” said a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter involved with a local quilting project.

Throughout the build up to the main program people stopped by and chatted, having noticed me in the cage. A woman took a long video while walking the length of the press confinement, the way one photographs a group of zoo monkeys.

A state legislator offered to pass us food through the bars as press was excluded from the dinner. Now one knows that press descriptions of the “rubber chicken dinner” have more to do with their feeling of sour grapes about being excluded. From the look of things, these folks with their fancy bottled water and expensive clothing could afford their own dinner. Of course, I ate before arriving so as not to be distracted while observing the event. That is too practical for this crowd.

What was worse, other than the articles written during and after the event, was the constant chatter about set shots and internal company politics. Some were focused on anything but the proceedings on stage, to the point where I was surprised the press corps stood up for the pledge of allegiance. Some were paying attention, but I came away believing many stories had been set long before party chair Dr. Andy McGuire opened the proceedings.

I’d do it again given the opportunity. The best preparation is to go in having a plan and then work the plan despite the distractions. Importantly, pay attention to the actual event, something apparently not possible for many in the national press corps.

 ~Written for Blog for Iowa

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