Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Circus Came to Town

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Maryland Gov. Spiro T. Agnew, Republican Party candidate for Vice President, visited Albuquerque’s Highland High School, on Saturday Nov. 2, 1968, three days before the general election. Agnew and his presidential running mate, Richard M. Nixon, defeated Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey to become President of the United States that year.

Presidential campaigns are spectacular events. In the past 40 years, there have only been two other campaigns that did not include an incumbent president running: the election mentioned above, when Lyndon B. Johnson chose not to run for reelection in 1968, and in 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale.

This past week, the Democratic presidential campaign came to town in anticipation of the Democratic caucus Feb. 5, with four events:

Thursday Jan. 31

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. made an appearance at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in support of Democratic Presidential hopeful and fellow Senator, Barack Obama, D-Ill.

The affair was intimate, for a public event, with about 200 supporters packed into a small meeting room.

Kennedy had joined the campaign after his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, threw her support behind Obama, comparing his qualities with her slain father, President John F. Kennedy.

Local support came from former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris, D-Okla., former State Attorney General Patricia Madrid and State Treasurer James Lewis, right, who Introduced the Senator.

The media access was extremely open and Kennedy walked amongst the public with only a staffer to assist. Visible security seemed limited to two private security guards.

Kennedy answered questions and did short, stand up interviews with every outlet that seemed to want to ask a question. Navajo Times reporter James Snyder, left, a former classmate did a walking interview with the Senator, who was accompanied by his wife Vicky, center.

Later that afternoon, the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., had its heaviest weight surrogate, former President Bill Clinton, attend a rally for his wife at the University of New Mexico’s Johnson Gym.

About 2,800 people turned out, by my estimate, to hear Bill Clinton praise the initiatives of his wife’s campaign policy statements.

The media was corralled in the back of the gym more than 100 feet from the podium. Only the local photographer, hired by campaign, had unlimited access.

Every campaign has its own personality. This event, though billed as a Hillary campaign affair, had all the old trappings of the former president’s, especially in the treatment of the press.

During his presidency, the press was always allowed, but photo stands were usually kept at extreme distances. This day was no exception. I told one of my colleagues, I didn’t realize the snow was so deep in Grants, referring to the winter weather that hit the western part of the state.

As an ex-president, he is entitled to the protection of the Secret Service. The detail seemed equal to what he had when he was in office, seven years ago. Of the four events, his protective contingent was, by far, the most visible. Security was not overbearing, however, the control of the press was.

Local Clinton campaign Communications Director Kristin Lee, center, originally from the Sacramento, Calif. area, and working in Washington, D.C. until this campaign, seemed a bit overwhelmed by the hardened weekday crews at the event.

Local photographer Toby Jorrin was one of the members of the media who escaped the press pen. Local Clinton campaign workers double-teamed and hounded Jorrin, top, as they tried to get him back to the pen. The effort included former Democratic Party of New Mexico Executive Director Matt Farrauto, center in blue shirt, who according to a Jan. 28 campaign press release, now acts as a “rapid responder” to “push back” negative attacks.

Jorrin did his best to ignore those trying to control him as he continued to photograph. The staffers resorted to asking UNM police to help. The officer approached and ordered Jorrin back to the pen. Seated in front of where this confrontation took place was City Councillor Debbie O’Malley, right, next to Lt. Gov. Denish’s husband, Herb Denish. Neither seemed to say anything in defense of the First Amendment.

Jorrin left the building shed his credentials and reentered as a member of the public. “I went where I wanted and got all the photographs I wanted,” Jorrin said in a telephone interview. “There just was a lot of talk over my shoulder,” with his antagonists, about his rights, like any citizen with a cell phone camera, for him to also take pictures, he said.

Citizens, using cameras with long lenses caused a greater public safety danger by sitting in the aisle than did a member of the press refusing to be corralled.

Jorrin was not the only one to escape.

The “throw,” a media term, meaning the distance from the photo stand to the speaker’s position, was extreme. I realized that I did not have enough lens. So, after acquiring a few establishing shots, above, I tried to leave the pen.

“You can not leave,” the young staffer, who would later pursue Jorrin, said after confronting me, as I left the media pen.

The campaign had run out of credentials and had not been able to issue me a press pass. That’s fine with me, because I fundamentally see the issuance of a press pass often as a means of control over the press, rather than simple recognition of their existence. I was allowed to leave after the staffer asked if I was going to the restroom? I told her I was, I did, and I did not return to the pen.

The Democrat Party has a favored local photographer who gets unlimited access.

Without the Clinton campaign’s media credentials, I was viewed by ushers, event staff, UNM police, and others as just another citizen with cameras and had little problems.

Friday Feb. 1

Obama’s campaign held an economic summit in the 2,300-seat Kiva auditorium of the Convention Center. The first come first served crowd overflowed into two more rooms where the event was narrowcast by big screen projectors.

Obama went “off security” according to Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz, when the candidate addressed the overflow crowd on the civic plaza before entering the staged event.

Preliminarily, State House Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, literally sang the praises of Obama, with “It’s Obama time! Viva Obama!”

Major Democratic players present included: former U.S. Sen. Harris, above, State Rep. Al Park, City Councillor Rey Garduño, former City Councillor Miguel Gomez and former Mayor Jim Baca, below, who was photographing for his blog Only in New Mexico.

Sitting on the economic panel were: University of Chicago Economics Professor and advisor Austan Goolsbee: former State Attorney General Madrid who until earlier in the week was former Sen. John Edwards’ State chairmen before he dropped out of the race; former Denver mayor, U.S. Transportation Secretary, and Energy Secretary, and national campaign co-chairman for Democratic presidential candidate Obama, Federico Peña; Bonnie Greathouse, of ACORN; and Commerce Secretary William Daley.

Photographer Jorin had fewer difficulties, than he had with Clinton, as he worked an aisle beyond the taped off and barricaded press area.

Amongst the press, Obama had a rival. Jacob Schroeder, an 8-year old reporter for Scholastic Kids News caught the attention of the media. “I have to go interview the guy who has my dream job,” KOAT TV Political Reporter Matt Grubbs said of Schroeder. Eight-year-old reporters are perceived as a big deal among journalists. Lots of members of the press wanted to talk to him, including: Journal Columnist and Host of the local PBS station, KNME’s “The Line,” Gene Grant, who invited him to write a letter to the editor; and Eric Maddy, publisher of the Rio Rancho on-line newspaper, The Score.

Schroeder’s mother, Heidi Schroeder, above left, home schools, accompanied and assisted him.

The CBS videographer traveling with the Obama campaign made room for Schroeder to take pictures.

Schroeder wasn’t the only young journalist; a group of La Cueva High School newspaper students were also present and a bit tentative about jumping onto the press line. The Obama campaign marked off the press area favoring television cameras, but in the spirit of, “we all have a job to do,” the TV cameras made room for everybody. I had one of the La Cueva student’s stand in front of me; it helped that she was short and I could photograph over her.

Saturday Feb. 2

Sen. Clinton held a rally at Highland High School before, what Albuquerque Fire officials determined to be 3,000 people, yet my estimate was about 1,500 more than that.

She was accompanied by a group of Democratic leaders, including: former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros; Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez; United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta; and State Auditor Hector Balderas.

In the stands were several Democrat Party dignitaries, including: former Gov. Toney Anaya; former U.S. Ambassador to Spain Ed Romero; State Senators Mary Ann Garcia; State Representatives Joseph Cervantes and Rhonda King; State Attorney General Gary King; City Councillor Ken Sanchez; U.S. Congressional District one candidate and former Health and Social Services Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham; Expo New Mexico General Manager Judith Espinosa; and the Lt. Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director Kate Nelson.

Mayor Martin Chávez’ ex-wife, Margaret Aragón, in white, who has suggested an interest in running for mayor, was near former Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Director Loretta Armenta, partially hidden, waving sign, in the upper left, her daughter, Monica Armenta, who is a public information officer at Albuquerque Public schools. They were with APS Board member Robert Lucero.

Santa Fe Mayor David Cross, Moriarty City Councilor Steve Anaya and Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, who stood by herself, Above, in a void within the crowd, were also spotted.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish introduced Clinton.

The former First Lady followed her husband’s visit two days earlier. Her 28-year old daughter, Chelsea, accompanied her and was well received by the crowd.

Editor in Chief Deborah Martinez, of Highland High School’s newspaper, The Highlight, covered her first major political rally.

I didn’t recognize fellow blogger Heath Haussamen of on New Mexico Politics. However, when I saw his images on his site, I realized he was directly in front of me, one tier down, in the lower right corner.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

The current pictures were taken from virtually the same spot as this 1968 Agnew picture. Note, in 1968, only three “CP-16 sound on film” cameras were present, while now, 40 years later, the press gathering is exponentially large.

The nature of technology and breadth of outlets has drastically changed.

Agnew was in the final crunch, while we are only a month into the primary process.

The stakes are no higher now. Then, the Vietnam War was raging out of control. Nixon was proposing a war on crime, claiming to be the “Law and Order” candidate. We were in the midst of the cold war with communist countries, dominated by the Soviet Union and jointly had nuclear missiles pointing at each other.

Martinez and a fellow student were a bit tentative and unsure of how a press line worked as they were ready to photograph. They hardly took note of how two of the traveling press photographers sharing the stand were women.

Associate Press Photographer Elise Amendola, left and an unidentified traveling photographer, electronically filed pictures with their respective agencies, also represent a big change. The woman’s movement hadn’t quite taken hold as an organization in 1968. If you Google AP Photo Elise Amendola you will recognize her work.

Photographer Diana Walker on assignment for Time Magazine was also covering the Senator.

Security and media management are two distinct activities. The campaigns handle them differently. Under security, the Secret Service maintains a firm hand while allowing visual access most of the time. Though, as events progress, a fluidity also occurs and the dynamics of the ground rules change. Seldom do Secret Service Agents interfere directly with the press. Campaigns normally have the local authority do their dirty work for them. Quite clearly, local law enforcers are not recently or adequately trained, or they simply ignore the intricacies of the First Amendment.

There was a huge incongruity shown within the Clinton campaign between the former President’s event and the Senators. What was so apparent was that the poor relations between the staff and media at Johnson Gym and the good relations at Highland High School was accomplished by the same small group of local people. The lay out of photo risers was better at the second event, Highland High.

Local Clinton campaign Communications Director Lee, center, with Cornelia Lang, left, handled the Saturday event quite well in comparison with the Thursday event.
There was a polish to Clinton’s contact with the public. Beyond pressing the flesh, she took time to autograph signs and books; she had an outstanding personal aide, Huma Abedin, above, who helped coordinate contact and became an ad-hoc photographer taking peoples cameras and cell phones and took pictures of the Senator posing with her supporters.

My Take

It is hard to imagine that the two events were part of the same campaign strategy, for they represented polar opposites. The Bill Clinton affair was classic rehash, while the Hillary Clinton event was as well handled as any I have experienced.

There is also something strange about handlers trying to prevent photographers from taking pictures that smacks of prior restraint.

In all fairness, lest the Democrats feel I am picking on them, I have never been able to judge the current President’s media handling inside an event, because I have never been able to cover him; not for a lack of trying.

The Republicans will hold their primary for selecting their presidential and all other candidates on June 5. The Democrats will also select all non- presidential candidates the same day.

The lead pictures in the Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton postings each have additional light. A serendipitous event that I call, “Sharing the Light.” It happens when someone closer than I takes a photograph using a flash and I also captured it. I chose these images to illustrate just how often it occurs and that some times they enhance the picture.

1 comment:

Winston said...

Nice job - with the photos and with conveying the overall experience.

Question: if one doesn't have multi-thousands for equipment, which do you think is better for these kind of indoor events -- a high-quality superzoom (non-DSLR) or one of the lower-level DSLRs that would probably require 2 lenses to cover that distance?