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The 2004 Democratic National Convention - Boston, Massachusetts - July 26-29
Editor's Notebook
By Bob Collins, Senior Editor - News
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Over and out

After five days of this I'm worn out. The arguing, the fighting, the intramural squabbling over a single issue: is this a blog or what? I raised the issue a few days ago and got some e-mail from folks who were happy to tell me what this thing has to be to be considered a blog. Me? I don't much care. To me, these things are just letters home from somebody who's been away for a week , misses his family, but has been doing some interesting things and meeting some interesting people during his forced absence.

Back when I was growing up, we just called 'em letters from camp. The only difference is counselor Mike isn't here to threaten to shove us down the outhouse if we don't write Mom and Dad and, oh yeah, say something nice about counselor Mike.

But they closed up the camp here tonight, all the counselors got together around the fire and made us all sing Kumbaya and stuck us back on the bus with our dirty laundry.

I successfully got through the week without having to do an actual story about the bloggers, who apparently have been having some sort of food fight. Of course, the Kerry camp -- or is it Camp Kerry? -- made a big deal about these folks who were stuck up in the rafters of the Fleet Center to suck in what was said and dutifully type.

Apparently, the story goes, one blogger who was sharing the material on his blog with the official DNC page, said something bad about the keynote speaker the other night that wasn't entirely flattering and so the DNC dropped his stuff from the official convention page.

This was regarded as scandalous -- the idea that the Democratic National Committee would not allow the official blogger of the DNNC a posting on their site to the effect that "your guy stinks."

I imagine they'll get it settled before the next Democratic convention but you have to wonder: what will be the hot, new way of communicating online four years from now? Any ideas? Maybe we can start it now.

The one thing that is changing -- quickly -- in this country is political commentary. Once confined to the editorial page and then to Sunday mornings, and finally to the cable TV news outlets, political commentary is taking a new form with online add-ons like Flash allowing just about anyone to apply their talent.

At MPR, and I'm sure elsewhere, we talk a lot about getting content from our audience but, because we're converts from the "old media," we still define that word -- content -- as words on paper or, in the case of radio, on tape.

At some point in the future, I think, we're going to have to consider opening up a whole new section of our site to content that is actually new media. I first noticed the possibility with Bushboy.com, the site that went up when Norm Coleman was running for Senate, as an attempt to poke a finger in his eye. What caught my attention wasn't the message, it was the medium.

Earlier this week, my wife sent me an e-mail with a link to a little presentation on a site called jibjab.com (Click that and you'll see the place to get the presentation, but you'll need Flash on your computer). I didn't have any time at all to watch it until at the very end of the convention and I wish I'd seen it earlier because I could've told you about it earlier.

There are a lot of talented people out there with commentary to offer in ways that don't include just text-on-paper or words-on-tape. Are you one of them? Let's talk sometime about where that can take us.

-0-

This morning, the DFL delegates gathered as they did all week for their morning breakfast and pep talk. Rob Reiner came to say, well, vote for John Kerry. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich came to say vote for John Kerry, Toby Moffit, the former congressman from Connecticut suggested voting for... well... you get the picture. I had a picture of Reiner, or at least I took one, but when I went to edit it tonight, I can't find it anywhere. But you know what he looks like so close your eyes and think of that image and have someone read the rest of this to you and it'll be just like seeing a picture.

The party is "unified," I guess, although former Vice President Walter Mondale, the delegation chairman, spent a few minutes at the start of the breakfast , it seemed, trying to soothe some ruffled feathers, presumably over the effort to present all votes for John Kerry.

There were only four items on the agenda of party chair Mike Erlandson. But the breakfast is a little like the floor of the convention itself -- people negotiating for speaking time and all.

Three-and-a-half hours later, the "pep" rally ended with most folks having had -- and having lost -- a good amount of their, umm, pep. And as more and more speakers were added and hands were raised to remind the assembled that the last speaker left someone out while mentioning someone else.... you got the sense that bubbling just under the surface is the traditional tug-o-war in the DFL.

Unfortunately, the one group that got pushed aside was the one group that usually gets pushed aside, the kids. The college Democrats, who took a bus trip here, had stayed up for a good share of the night putting together a slideshow about their trip. But as more people bloated the agenda by speaking...and then speaking more... they told the kids their slideshow was kaput.

Too bad because I'll bet the pictures of the trip were pretty interesting, especially since so many got up to speak about the need to elect Democrats that by the end, you realized that the present speaker was addressing only people who had previously gotten up to tell them the same thing.

There were exceptions, of course, and here's one that has nothing to do with politics. Mee Moua, the state representative, told the story of crossing the Mekong River as a child, and coming to the United States, learning to speak English by watching Star Trek, and becoming a state legislator. And this week, she's rubbing shoulders with presidential candidates and some of this country's most powerful people. Strip all of the politics away, and that's about as neat a story about the possibilities in life as there is.

The one name I didn't hear all week -- and I heard a lot of names -- was Rep. Collin Peterson of the 7th District. Now, keep in mind that if you were running anywhere in Minnesota, somehow or other, your name got invoked at these things even if you weren't here. I never heard Peterson's.

He's a conservative Democrat, to be sure, and there aren't many of those left. Next month, one of them is going to address the Republican National Convention in New York.


Let's go to the mailbag

Bob, what do the Bostonians recall about John Kerry's time as a senator? What did he achieve or contribute that the folks you meet can remember? -- K.F.

I won't bother going into detail here, especially since I sent a reply personally to KF earlier today because I wasn't sure I would use her question. But all of the other submissions I got today were mostly affirmations that, yes, I really do look good for 50. And, umm, keep 'em coming.

Anyway, the Boston Globe did a good series on Kerry that took a look at his pathway. You can find it right here.

I liked seeing your pillow back support at the hotel work station. Have you ever had a "good" hotel pillow that wasn't either like concrete or flat as a pancake? Seriously, this behind the scences view gives a better flavor of "history in the making" and I like your perspective of things Boston has done -- but no world series yet for the baseball team! -- M.M.

Well, first, yes, I have had some great pillows but only once. Last week, my son and I went to Cincinnati to watch a Reds game and we stayed at the Westin Hotel in downtown Cincinnti and it was quite luxurious with great pillows and hangars in the closet that aren't configured so you can't steal them. So there you go.

As for the Red Sox, hey, the day the Red Sox win the World Series -- like the Cubs -- is the day they become just another baseball team and this becomes just another baseball town. Bostonians don't quite realize it, but their misery is actually a source of pride and if they were to become a championship team, they wouldn't be miserable anymore and would actually be happy for a short period of time; a fact that would ultimately lead to their unhappiness. Very complicated stuff. Politics is easier.


Do you have a transcript of the speech given by Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Commission (HRC)? I believe that she spoke at 6:00 pm Eastern Time on Wednesday, July 28. -- CS


I asked the incredibly talented Julia Schrenkler to get in touch with you with the answer earlier today because I was working on the Catholic delegates story, so I know you've probably gotten the answer but for any of you would love to relive the excitement of the convention, here's where all the transcripts are. Just scroll down to find the one you want. (Pssst.... here's the one you're looking for.)

-0-

Time to shut down, pack the luggage and try to get out of here before the rush begins (I'm going to visit with my mother for a few hours before heading to Hartford, but I digress). Around 12:30 this morning, I was just finishing up yesterday's ... whever we're calling it ... and I have to write these in the lobby of the hotel so I can hit the WiFi node. I pushed the elevator button and stood there looking at myself in the shiny elevator door. Suddenly it opened, revealing Joan and Walter Mondale, the only riders.

"Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Mondale," I said as I stepped on lugging a laptop and bunch of cords.

"Did you get your story done?" Mr. Mondale asked, smiling broadly as he usually is and giving every impression that he actually cared and me knowing full well that he probably doesn't know who I am.

I said, "yes" and told him briefly the extent of my workload and the door opened on my floor and as I stepped out, I turned back and said, "you know, I was just waiting for the elevator and looking at myself in the reflection and was thinking, ' boy, I looked a lot better earlier in the week.'

The door started to close as he said -- still smiling, as was Mrs. Mondale -- "you couldn't possibly have looked any better."

And that, my friends, is how a great politician gets a vote.

See you in New York.

Permalink Permalink | 07.29.04
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Turn around

Well, I see someone must've taught you the Editor's Notebook secret handshake and you've been able to find it. Thanks for stopping by. The good stuff, just to get this out of the way, is actually in the photo log today. Proceed ahead cautiously.

I spent a few hours down at Fleet Center this afternoon, talking to a few delegates for a story I'm working on for later Thursday on Catholics and the Democratic Party, and looking for a few nuggets for this very column. I usually don't stay for the evening ceremonies. They're not why I'm here and while I'm sure that a small horde of newspaper photographers, TV cameras and reporters will race to capture that exciting event when whoever stands up to reveal that "Minnesota is the land of the best walleye, the biggest shopping mall, and red lights that drivers consider only suggestions, and -- oh by the way -- Kerry gets all of our votes," I really don't see the value of experiencing it or telling you about it. And, besides, I found tonight that our credentials at this convention won't get me on the floor at all anyway.

But do you remember the recitation of virtues of any state that you don't live in at any political convention... ever? I have a hard time believing that at some point tonight (and I'm writing this before the roll call of states takes place), some person in Kansas is going to race to the computer to buy airline tickets to Minnesota, his eyes bugging out as his family keeps shaking him to get him to snap out of his trance-like state in which he chants "must....go....ride....light-rail....transit."

But I'll bet out of 50 states, broadcast outlets in 50 of them will report to their audience, something that their audience already knew. That means that news organizations far and wide spent money to send their crews hundreds of miles to dutifully report that hundreds of miles back in the other direction, things are pretty much the way they were when they left.

So Michael Khoo, like me, spent some time talking to delegates for a story on the role parties play in politics (who's throwing them and what they want out of doing so) and then headed out to find some. And I headed back to our MPR convention headquarters (OK, it's a hotel room) to begin writing this column, edit the pictures I snapped today for the photo log, and work on the Catholic story until around 1 or 2 a.m. when Michael will submit his copy for my edit, which, only takes a few minutes anyway because Michael's one of the finest writers I've ever met and the beginning of his story about the search for unity in the DFL will show you why I think that.

I took the subway back to Central Square and walked the confined streets of Cambridge back toward the hotel when I met Leslie, or rather, she met me. She was putting the trash out, I think, and saw some credentials hanging around my neck and she called across the street, "are you a delegate or a reporter?"

"Well, I'm actually an editor," I said as I walked to her side of the street, knowing full well that she was probably unaware of the structure of royalty in your typical newsroom.

"You're kind of going......in the wrong direction," she said. "The convention is that way," pointing back to the subway station.

"There's plenty of folks to tell you what's going on there tonight," I said, suddenly wanting desperately to tell her about walleye, shopping malls and red lights.

She figured out I am from Minnesota and I told her I work for Minnesota Public Radio. You don't have to tell the folks in Cambridge, Massachusetts about MPR thanks to Garrison Keillor and it's communities like this that made Keillor what he is today. I don't think she quite got my role as an online journalist, a broadcast editor and -- this week -- a broadcast reporter. But that's OK, neither do 99% of the people I work with. But I told her that my job isn't to be in the convention, it's to take the political temperature and the only way to do that is walk around and talk to people and when everyone's attention is focused in one direction, I like to look back in their direction because usually that's a better story.

Leslie started to probe to find out what was going on at the convention, oblivious -- I hoped -- to the fact that she was careening rapidly toward learning the Editor's Notebook handshake by becoming an honored entry.

"You have to tell me what's going on there; I can't get within 4 miles of there," she said.

Well of course, a comfortable chair and C-Span will take care of that, so I started listing all of the stories we've worked on this week, and could detect a slight lean in her posture that clearly would lead to a prone position soon.

"There's one story you've got to do," she said. "The concentration camp. It's outrageous."

The concentration camp is that section around the Fleet Center that is chain-linked off for protesters to do their thing. Someone called it a concentration camp because there's some barbed wire which, as near as I can tell, is placed over stairs leading up to the elevated subway overhead. Someone referred to it as a concentration camp before the convention opened, and it stuck and it outraged people who heard the term, heard the description, and bought the concept.

The only problem? I don't think a lot of people saw it for themselves. What they probably saw was a typical photo like this:

penfull_large.jpg


Forgetting the whole "concentration camp" theme for a minute -- or at least for the rest of this column -- you can see the news photographers snapping the pictures here. They appear in the local paper, you get the chain-link fence in the background and it's a pretty powerful image.

Here's what you don't see.

penempty_large.jpg


Hellooooooooo down there. Here I am up at the other end of the pen. First, you can see the amount of protest that's actually taking place here. Did you pick that up in the first picture? Second, do you see barbed wire? I don't. I see fences but here's the bulletin: there's fences all around the Fleet Center this week.

The moral? If you're always looking where people are looking, you'll miss the part of the story that you can only get by looking back in the other direction.

-0-

Tidbits:

Conservative talk show host Jason Lewis, known as Minnesota's Mr. Right when he was broadcasting locally was waiting for the elevator on the 3rd floor of the Radisson this morning when the car finally arrived, and opened and a carload of DFL delegates stared back at him as he started to get on and then noticed the elevator was going down and he turned around as he said softly, "Oh, you're going down." Then he caught the possibilities with the line he just innocently delivered turned and said with an entirely different meaning. "You're going DOWN!. You're going DOWN!" They waved their Kerry signs right back at him...and only the closing of the door broke the chuckles.

-0-

In the Editor's Notebook the other day -- and I no longer know what day it is now -- I commented about how the security forces have a "make some noise and let 'em know we're here" practice, usually with a large force of motorcycle cops riding in formation. I saw the same thing today downtown. A team of 8-12 cops were riding -- on bicycles -- through Downtown Crossing (the Boston version of Nicollet Mall). And they made noise. "Pling-pling. Pling-pling. Pling-pling." They were all leaning on their little bicycle bells trying as hard as they could, I guess, to be as menacing as cops with bicycle helmets and shorts can be. It fairly made folks want to buy them all ice cream and see if they'd mow the lawn for a couple of bucks.

-0-

Amy Klobuchar, the Hennepin County Attorney, spoke to the convention this afternoon. The 4-7 p.m. slot when few delegates have actually arrived and no media are paying much attention, is still a good chance for the party to give a little face-time. Still, the Democrats' press office diligently cranks out copies of the speeches for reporters, usually about 10 minutes after they give them. There are stacks and stacks of copies of speeches, the height of which generally don't get smaller. They didn't bother printing Klobuchar's.

-0-

The days of handmade signs are over at political conventions. Not only are speeches submitted in advance to the Kerry team to approve (the exception being Ron Reagan Jr.'s speech on stem cells. He refused the edits from the Kerry campaign), but the signs that are waved must also be approved. In fact, they're all manufactured by the campaign. Nobody is allowed to bring in any signs.

Check out the photo log for more.

Permalink Permalink | 07.28.04
Tuesday, July 27, 2004

And now this message

Covering a political convention is quite like a week in a deprivation chamber. I have no idea how the Twins are doing -- or the Red Sox for that matter -- I don't know whether it's finally rained a bit in Minnesota or whether my tomato plants are now toast. Spend time in the confines of politics, and you can quickly lose touch with people. It's one of the reasons I think that my father-in-law, a wonderful and pragmatic man, describes Washington as "12 square miles surrounded by reality."

Political conventions are a campaign caffeine high for delegates and campaign officials for both parties. It's everything. Minor nuances to others, are major earthquakes to them. It's their world and they're commited to their ideals. But it's most certainly a buzz and you can see why it's addictive to those who dabble in it.

Here in Boston, the political seismograph is monitored constantly. Back home, Republicans are monitoring every word that's posted on the Web or uttered on the air, and sending out breathless bulletins about what we're saying about what the Democrats are saying. Thousands of kids went to bed hungry last night in America but this morning what was pinning the meter was the picture of John Kerry in that spacesuit.

At Norm Coleman's Republican "truth squad" news conference on Tuesday, they unfurled one of those "message backdrops" so that any photograph or video will not only show the squad member, but in the backdrop will be some sort of theme. Don't ask me what Coleman's said because I don't know, but also taped to the backdrop was that picture of Kerry in the spacesuit as if to say -- without actually saying it -- if you don't like his Vietnam protests, his vote on Iraq, the way his wife talks, or his lack of humor, hey he also looks like a dork in a spacesuit.

And around and around it goes, from now until November. Thrust and parry. (And if you write me a note criticizing my lack of knowledge of fencing so help me I will smite you with my terrible swift sword.)

Politics is important, but it's not life. What's life is the working stiffs around this city who are doing their best to make their own statement to "the other side" only in this case the other side isn't a political party. It's the "t" word that bubbles beneath the surface of everything at this convention.

There are a lot of dead Bostonians as a result of September 11th. Two of the planes took off from here so you can forgive these folks for being a little gun-shy. But they drew a big target on themselves with this convention (and so did the folks in New York) and then set about sending that message and it says this: "look at us, determining the nature of our own government. And we're not afraid to do so."

You have to give great credit to the upper crust of the Democratic Party who sat on a stage on Bunker Hill on Tuesday for the Salute to Veterans (See story). I'm not sure if I knew someone would love to take a shot at me, I'd be sitting there because despite all best efforts, any old shmoe can walk to within 5 feet of them because yesterday one old schmoe did. It was me.

But in tremendous irony, the most visible people in Boston this week, are also the most invisible. Helicopters hover over Fleet Center, the Coast Guard patrols the Charles River and Boston Harbor, there are groups of motorcycle cops, the mounted Park Police, the Secret Service, the Parks Service, the State Police... you name it, if it wears a badge, it's here.

We walk by them every day and I'm here to tell you I was dead wrong in predicting this city would be paralyzed by security and the restrictions on freedom would be unprecedented. I've never seen Boston work better, even if a fair number of Bostonians called in sick this week.

So what's it take to pull this off? It guys like "Dave," whose name or location I won't reveal, who was posted outside an MBTA (the transportation system) subway stop today. He's usually an instructor for the transit police. This week his job is to stand there and look people like me over, and look out for people like me. Dave says he hasn't seen his kids in 5 days, which may not be a big deal to you but he won't be seeing them for at least 4 more. He's working mandatory overtime. He has to work 17 straight hours each day and he doesn't have time to go home at the end of that day because by the time he gets home, it's time to turn around and come back. So he and his colleagues are sacking out in their locker room for a few hours, and then heading back out. Multiply his story times -- what has to be -- 10,000 (easily) and you get a picture of who's sending an important message to the people this week...and they didn't need clever backdrops or pictures to do it.

Now that's reality.

-0-

If you read Michael Khoo's article previewing the Minnesota delegation, you may have read the part about Linda Wilkinson. Her husband died as the result of Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. She's in college, and tuition was certainly going to be a problem for her. We're told that somehow word about this came back to John Kerry who asked someone what it would take to pay her tuition. He got a figure and paid her tuition.

-0-

A sign promoting Boston seen on an MBTA train today. "We created the first public school, the first public library, and oh, yeah, that democracy thing." Nice. Which just goes to show you, folks, that running public schools, or keeping a library running, or setting up a democracy is apparently nowhere near as difficult as winning a World Series championship.

-0-

Tonight's music at the convention leads us to ask whether we are musically "stuck" in the late '70s in this country and, if so, why? "Still the One", "We Are Family," "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher." Nothing happens by accident at this convention and this '70s theme is trying to tell us something but as someone who spun 45s (you kids, wouldn't know what those are) in some small, local radio station during the time these were hits, I'm pretty sure the message isn't "how do you like working for $110 a week?"

-0-

Tonight was the keynote address at the convention. It's a chance to showcase the party's rising star. That's the strategy anyway. But nobody in the entire 20th century, and I'm including 2000 as part of the 20th century, has ever gone on to become vice president or president.

-0-

OK, let's go to the mailbag and see what we've got...

Could you go all the other state delegations and find out how many of them are
related to someone in Minnesota? I think that would really bring this puppy
home, don't you?


Oh, yeah, that definitely nailed it. You realize, I only get 20 minutes to hit all the delegations on the floor, right? See, some radio reporter waits for the credentials I use to go get real stories -- like this -- and he's got to go interview someone about their hat.

So you'll have to settle for anecdotes in the elevator instead. Someone in the elevator usually asks someone else where they're from and when they say "Minnesota," we're off and running. Today I listened into the exchange.

"Where are you from?"

"Minnesota"

"Really, I've never met anybody from Minnesota who wasn't nice."

"I guess you just haven't met the right people."

That'll have to hold you until I can canvas the delegations.


-0-

Thanks for your blog! It's a shame it's so hard to find... on the radio MPR has
been pointing people to a blog on their web site from "Bob" who's at the
convention, but it's taken me two days of hunting to find it. Anyway, I agree
100% with your perspective on "You didn't answer my question." and I appreciate
your blog and the chance to read more than just the edited stories that hit the
airwaves.

Well, this is a serious internal question that I understand -- from 1,200 miles away, mind you -- is occupying the best and the brightest minds we have. Is this a blog? And if it is, why do we call it Editor's Notebook. One of the problems is while everyone at MPR is gung-ho about blogs, nobody actually knows what one is. They just know it must be cool, and it must be good because everyone has one. But we don't want to actually use the word "blog" because, well, everyone is doing it. Know what I mean?

The real story, since you asked, is to show you how things are handled at the convention this year. Seriously, there's very little printed information on everything that's going on, when it's going on and where it's going on. It's a security thing I guess.

So we figured we'd create a blog, call it an Editor's Notebook, and then make it impossible for you to find it. Frustrating, ain't it? Welcome to Boston.

But I'm glad you enjoy it because I'm like Leap Year. Every four years MPR is reminded that almost four years ago they decided never to send me to one of these things again.

Permalink Permalink | 07.27.04
Monday, July 26, 2004

'You didn't answer my question"

The one thought you hear constantly during this convention, of course, is the fact that there's no news. There's plenty of news, just nobody to give it to you. We're in a sound bite world and the political experts figured that out a long time ago. I'm reminded of an episode of The West Wing in which Sam Seeborn is running for Congress in Orange County and Toby Ziegler tells him to remember these words, "Orange County has miles of beautiful beaches that deserve to be protected."
lowerwideshot_small.jpg

"But what if they (reporters) ask about the tax plan?" Sam says.

"Answer with these words: Orange County has miles of beautiful beaches that deserve to be protected," Toby advises.

And that's the way politicians "get their message out," as opposed to answer the questions posed by reporters on behalf of, well, you.

But it takes two to tango and if the media weren't so crazy about having something that
"sounds" like news, perhaps we'd stop settling for what passes for it. Perhaps if our stories were "politician XYZ refused to answer a question about ...," maybe they'd start answering.

On Monday, a few of us Midwest reporters -- very few -- went to a briefing with a distinguished panel of Kerry strategists for Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota with Bill Knapp, a senior Kerry strategist.

You're not going to believe it, but this is the story they wanted us to write, "Kerry is better than Bush and we're confident we're going to win." In a half-hour assessment of these states, we were told that the Republicans are spending too much time trying to lock up conservative votes, which they "should've locked up by now," Knapp said. He highlighted several Republican states in which Kerry is competitive as an example of having to take care of business now that should've been taken care of by now.

I finally moved to the front of the near-empty room and asked "Minnesota is a traditionally Democratic state, yet John Kerry is in a statistical dead heat with George Bush, a Republican. Why? What is the weakness that nearly half the voters see in John Kerry?"

Well, of course, it's a sucker's question. They're not going to say anything negative about their candidate, but in doing so, it seemed to me, they cheapen the value of the expertise they're trying to offer. If you can't honestly assess a candidate and strategy in Minnesota, why bother holding a briefing?

Knapp, who was only doing his job, wouldn't touch it. He said that Minnesota as a traditionally Democratic state was a stereotype, and oh by the way, they're confident they'll win in Minnesota. But I framed the question that way deliberately because when the party apparatus sends someone to the Minnesota DFL hotel every morning for the daily pep talk, they're told -- as if they need to be -- what a rich tradition as a Democratic state Minnesota holds.

The briefing lasted a couple more questions. My colleague, Michael Khoo tried to get in a question about Ralph Nader but one of the handlers shouted "last question" just as he tried to ask it, and that was that.

And there it is, the daily fight between reporters wanting answers, and politicians not only not wanting to give answers, but trying to give a soft answer to a question that a reporter would only ask in a politician's very deep rem sleep.

The key to a more informed electorate? Five words. "You didn't answer my question."

-0-

Security update. Forget that story. It's done. A gridlocked Boston? It didn't happen. Long lines to get into the Fleet Center. Not only were they manageable. They were downright pleasant. And, at least in my line, the Secret Service person was pleasant and funny (and, by the way, very good at what he does).

You simply cannot understate the show of force that's underway, however, and I'm starting to get at least one small part of the plan: make a lot of noise...let 'em know you're here.

A bit ago, I was outside by Memorial Drive, the main drag in Cambridge along the Charles River, when dozens of sirens broke the air. Motorcycle cops, riding in formation, obviously escorting some big shot. But... nope. They were just riding by, going nowhere in particular, making a lot of noise. The same thing happened this afternoon down by Fanueil Hall.

One observation: this government has a lot of big, black SUVs.

-0-

Michael Khoo and I went hunting for "the pen" this afternoon. That's the "free speech zone" where they're putting all the protestors. They're all fenced in. We kept looking for it until we realized we were in it. I heard it described as a concentration camp but it's not. It's just a fenced-off area where everybody can get together and be irrelevant because the flow of pedestrian traffic doesn't go anywhere near it.

We haven't run into any highly-charged demonstrations. There were one small parade whose breeding I didn't quite get. The chant was "Whose streets? Our Streets," although Khoo initially insisted it was something about peace. (Whose Peace? Our peace!) Whatever. They stopped chanted and disappeared. I've seen angrier crowds streaming out of Fenway Park.

-0-

The convention officials keep wanting to make a big deal out the bloggers. Every day, one of my bosses sends me another e-mail, forwarded by someone else about somebody that's blogging. And as we kicked around stories to pursue here, I almost bit on the blogging thing. See, this is an attempt to circumvent the traditional media that, for the most part, doesn't care about this stuff any more (correction: doesn't care about running the answers they're giving us to hard questions anymore). Blogging, still in its infancy, is considered by some to be some new form of journalism and we journalists debate whether it is or not.

You bet, the perspectives of delegates writing from their seats is rather neat, especially if it's incorporated into traditional coverage. David Lee, of the Minnesota delegation, is blogging at www.davelee.us although he told me this morning he really hasn't done much yet.

But some of the credentialed bloggers are Kerry supporters who run blogs called "I hate Bush." OK, check that, don't send me e-mail to tell me there's nobody here from ihatebush.com, I don't really know, my point is merely that if the bloggers, stuck high in the rafters, are basically Kerry supporters (or Bush supporters in the case of the Republican convention) with no pretense, isn't that the same as if Bill Knapp (see above) were running a blog?

More interesting, and gee why would I think this, are the traditional media that allow editors and reporters to sift through material that doesn't make traditional coverage. Arrogant? Yeah, it probably is but in terms of new ways of doing journalism, it probably offers more possibilities. There's a lot of room under the big tent of information, folks, so come on in.

By the way, that brings up a reality check. You know the key to information used to be a pad and pencil...or a bucket of ink. You know what it is now. It's AC and WiFi. In this new age, you can't report anything unless you have access to AC for your laptop, and WiFi to send what you've got to wherever it needs to get to, to get to you in a hurry.

There is no WiFi anywhere in Fleet Center that I've been able to find.

And if you're in Boston, I can tell you that one of the best WiFi spots seems to be coming from the hospitality room of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. It's stronger at spots in this hotel than the WiFi node in this hotel.

-0-

Now you've probably figured this out but I don't spend a lot of time on the convention floor or even in Fleet Center. I like to walk around and just observe things and pick up tidbits that -- if you get enough tidbits -- give you a better glimpse of what I call the political temperature than anything else. Thus the stream of consciousness that is the Editor's Notebook.

So here's a couple:

  • Democrats are just as good as Republicans at stepping over homeless people on their way to somewhere else. That's an observation I couldn't make at the last convention I covered in Chicago (Democrats) in 1996 and San Diego (Republicans) in 1996 because both of those cities moved their homeless away from the convention centers. Give Boston credit. They didn't. Now, there is a homeless veterans' shelter right down from the Fleet Center that is usually open only at night that now is open during the day, although nobody is saying it's because that'll help move the homeless inside. But they're here for everyone to see, and everyone to ignore.

  • I think people naturally want to impress other people with their kindness as long as those people are from somewhere else. This area is working hard to be nice to people. Sure, they've got the baggage of the stereotype of the East Coast and as a person from the East Coast, maybe I'm more inclined to be an apologist. But people see these convention credentials and assume I'm from somewhere else and they want to talk to me, which is good because I like talking to people I don't know, since the ones who know me usually don't want to talk.

    Now I worked in Boston for a few years, I went to college here and I've been coming into the city since I was old enough to read a bus schedule. I've given, perhaps, thousands of $1 bills to the person sitting in the transit authority booth at the subway stop, sometimes trying to get a word out of 'em, sometimes not and never -- not ever -- have I had success.

    But today, at the Central Square stop, a wonderful woman asked me where I was from. I said "Minnesota," supressing all urges to say otherwise. "Really," she gushed. "My brother in law is from Minnesota, but they live in San Francisco now. They have a house there and house in Colorado. And a plane."

    "You'd like Minnesota," I said. "It's a good place to be from if you now live somewhere else and are rich." She laughed, I laughed, she said something about being 50.

    "I'm 50 too," I said.

    "Get outta here," she said, although technically she said, "get outta hee-ya," then added "hey, you look pretty good for 50."

    Geesh, and they say there's no news here.

  • Permalink Permalink | 07.26.04
    Sunday, July 25, 2004

    Psstttt.... we're over here!

    It didn't take long for most of the Minnesota delegation -- OK, the Minnesota press delegation -- to figure out the secret to providing security at this convention. There will be no signs telling you where anything is. There will be no postings on a bulletin board. No paper. Nothing. Everything will be word of mouth. The terrorists can't find us if we can't find where everyone is supposed to be.

    First the usual stuff. The Minnesota delegation is staying at the Radisson Cambridge, fairly far away from the action in a hotel that by Boston standards would please anybody who has just spent a long day driving on I-90 and needed a place to spend the night in Terre Haute. Usually, little things like hotels and convention seating show the importance of a delegation. I'll show you photos tomorrow but on the floor of the convention center -- which I haven't been to yet -- Minnesota has a prime location. If you know hockey, and of course you do -- the stage is where the team benches are and Minnesota is sitting on the left face-off circle. Wisconsin is along the crease. South Dakota is right behind Minnesota. Massachusetts, by tradition, has the center front. North Carolina, home of Sen. John Edwards, has been moved down front too. Texas is up back. Go figure.

    There's grumbling about the hotel. But the Rad is a Minnesota company and it's only right. Besides, these delegates pay their own way here and as we've pointed out in a story somewhere on this site, this is a young delegation with a lot of "kids" (I can say that now that I'm 50) with not a lot of money. Money counts and Boston is much more expensive than when I lived here.

    But back to the security. I drove in from Central Mass. this morning after driving up from Hartford on Saturday. If you happen to be driving in Massachusetts, go as fast as you like. All of the police are standing on streetcorners in Boston and they're not that concerned about how fast you're driving...somewhere else.

    Security concerns became obvious as I neared Harvard stadium on the Mass Pike (I-90). Coming out of the toll plaza, two large SUVs were parked, and two men in black jump suits were staring at the cars coming through. They're obviously looking for terrorists but what are they looking for? How do they tell one from say, me? I wanted to take a picture of them as I drove by but I was pretty sure that someone taking a picture of them was part of the answer to my question above. And it makes sense keeping a sharp eye out because the "Pike" runs directly beneath the Prudential building, the convention hotel center and by the Hancock Tower.

    longline_small.jpg

    I was selected to pick up the credentials for me and reporter Michael Khoo. Based on previous conventions, I figured I'd drive in, park, run into the Westin, grab the credentials and head for the hotel for check-in. Three hours later -- and $24 for parking -- I had 'em. The line for the electronic media was enormous, indicative, I suppose, of the fact there's something like 3 journalists here for every party member or delegate.

    After we picked up the credentials, we had to pick up the bag of goodies that these conventions hand out. But, again, no signs, just word of mouth. We finally met somebody who knew somebody who heard from somebody that the DNC was set up at Copley Place, a few blocks away. Paydirt!

    Now you can learn a lot from these giveaways because it shows what corportations are in the Party's good graces. First, donkey-shaped macaroni and cheese from Kraft are back after a hiatus in 2000. Seems Kraft is owned by a large tobacco company that was being sued by several high-profile Democrats around then. We have a notepad from Crane Paper in Dalton, Mass. Tucked away in the Berkshire Hills, Crane paper has been making stationery for presidents since Washington, I'm told. They also make paper -- at that one plant and only that one plant -- that's more important to you: the paper money is printed on. There's a book of sayings from John F. Kennedy. There's one of those razors from Gillette -- a Boston company -- though colleague Michael Khoo got a pink and one and gave it away. There was a mini-copy of the "blue book" from the National Automobile Dealers Association, handy, I guess, if someone makes an offer for my rental car while I'm here. And that was about it. Slim pickings and I'll leave it to you to conclude what that may mean....politically speaking.

    Upon my arrival at the hotel, I found that Khoo and the rest of the delegation had left for their welcoming party in the city's financial district. As before, there were no signs anywhere where they were going. The invitations said 225 State Street (or was it 45 Franklin)... no matter, it wasn't in either location. It was as 1 Liberty Place, a location so secret that none of the cops I asked had ever heard of it...although one looked at me suspiciously, as if I may have been speeding on the Mass Pike at some recent time.

    By the way, there are pictures of all of this somewhere on this site, I'm still trying to figure out the technical aspects of sitting next to the ATM machine in a spartan Radisson at midnight trying to pull this all together.

    keillor_small.jpg

    The big star at the party was Garrison Keillor who has just written a book proclaiming the utter joy of being a Democrat. Keillor dipped his toe in the political water after the election of Norm Coleman. He's jumped in fully clothed now and he clearly intends to be a big cheese at this convention. He's speaking to the Minnesota delegation tomorrow and giving pep talks to other Democrats as he invades the conventions on Monday. "I hope they let me in," I overheard him say in the elevator as he punched the button for the 16th floor (top floor) where the Radisson apparently accomodates the shy people. I rode up with Keillor (he wouldn't know me) and I rode down with former Twin Cities conservative talk show host Jason Lewis, who does. We had a nice chat about the state of the Twin Cities media and he sends his regards to all of you MPR fans, even though he's pretty sure you're all driving Volvos (old Volvos) and voting Kerry.

    Keillor worked the crowd and the crowd was only too happy to comply by adoring him.

    Not attracting a crowd was Kara Nelson. This 22-year old St. Olaf grad, originally from Slayton, is a delegate, among the state delegation's youngest. I haven't quite yet figured out what it means yet but there are a lot of new, younger faces here. Whether they're unified -- there's Kucinich delegates here too -- I don't yet know. And I don't yet know what this means for the DFL Party. Is it moving in some new direction. Is the lack of the old faces (has anybody seen Ted Mondale?) indicative of a new strategy? Stay tuned. That's why we're here.

    Interesting to note that Ms. Nelson is working in the campaign of 2nd District congressional candidate Theresa Daly. Now usually, candidates come to these things. There's good networking possibilities and maybe you can raise some cash. The seat now held by John Kline is targeted, and Daly stayed home, apparently at the request by the Democratic National Committee, which suggested that candidates knock on doors at home and try to get some votes, and leave the convention to others. Still, Patty Wetterling (running in the 6th District against Mark Kennedy) is here and is supposed to get a chance to speak at the convention. I'm not exactly sure when. Some of my colleagues know because they know someone who knows someone while I tend to favor signs and agendas and stuff stuck on a bulletin board.

    The Minnesota delegates wrapped up their evening with a concert on City Hall Plaza featuring the Boston Pops. We passed and headed over to Legal Seafoods near MIT instead -- Khoo, Eric Eskola of WCCO and Ashley Grant of the Associated Press -- for what's sure to be the only decent meal any of us will have time for this week. And it was.

    There's more information attached to the section of that's devoted to pictures so invest the time to figure out what to click. In the meantime, fill out the little form and ask a question and we'll be answering them for you during the week.

    Tomorrow, we start writing about politics!

    Permalink Permalink | 07.25.04
    Friday, July 23, 2004

    The Age of Observation

    OK, let's get this out of the way before the week begins. No, nothing unexpected will happen. Yes, there are lots of stories to tell.

    This seems paradoxical, given the way political conventions have been covered over the years. The focus has always been on the floor and on the podium and on the agenda. In the last few years, the traditional media has stopped providing gavel-to-gavel coverage, mostly on the strength of the argument that the result of the convention is a foregone conclusion. And to do any more would require, well, work.

    They're right. It's a foregone conclusion. But they are wrong in creating the illusion that since it is, there's no point covering the conventions in the first place. Any political discussion fairly whets the appetite for more, and the traditional media is guilty of denying our satiating that hunger by refusing to acknowledge that with a little work, they can certainly find stories that you'll find interesting. That's why bloggers will be a big story during this convention and while major networks probably won't be. Political coverage is becoming much more observation, and much less pontification.

    Look, the delegates have almost nothing to decide. They're props in a show directed by the political party. Don't believe me? Then watch what little live coverage there is and notice those cutaway shots of the cheering delegate. He or she has been carefully selected to present the proper image. Make it a game. Figure out what characteristic got that delegate "face time," and what message the party is trying to send.

    Me? Well, I'm from the Boston area originally and I'm looking forward to the delicious ironies of political conventions. Here we are in the birth canal of American freedom, in the midst of the every-four-year celebration of the political freedoms, and outside the Fleet Center, Bostonians, delegates, and others will have their freedom of movement restricted as never before.

    Read all about it. Right here. Let's hear from you. This week, we'll be engaged in a two-way conversation with each of you. Let's see the networks top that!

    Permalink Permalink | 07.23.04
    Send Bob Collins a question, or comment on his posts.


    Notebook Archive
    Document Over and out
    Document Turn around
    Document And now this message
    Document 'You didn't answer my question"
    Document Psstttt.... we're over here!
    Document The Age of Observation

    Send Bob Collins a question, or comment on his posts.

    Photo Log

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    To have and have not


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    The key to the city


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    And......action!


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    But first, the little details


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    The party begins



    Links & Resources

    Document Democratic National Convention (official site)
    Document List of all Minnesota delegates
    Document WBUR Election Coverage
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