Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Politics: from Weirdsville

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Traveling in the local press pool, KKOB AM 770 Radio News’ Peter St. Cyr, had a chance encounter with Republican vice presidential nominee, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin at Albuquerque North Valley’s El Pinto restaurant where the candidates bought some salsa in a public outing early last Sunday afternoon.

Palin approached St. Cyr and spoke conversationally until the Republican campaign’s Traveling Press Secretary Brooke Buchanan interceded saying this is not an interview.

Nobody understood that better than St. Cyr. He had been doggedly asking for an interview, but to no avail.

Palin walked up to St. Cyr commenting on how beautiful New Mexico was.

St. Cyr, left, was a member of the press pool the last time McCain came to town, July 14-15 and rode the Straight Talk Express from Cutter aviation to the hotel, with Jeff Jones of the Albuquerque Journal, Barry Massey of the Associated Press, Kate Nash of the Santa Fe New Mexican and blogger Heath Haussamen on New Mexico Politics. The McCain press liaison volunteer from St. Petersburg Fla., awaits the signal that the airplane has come to a stop before escorting the pool to the bus. The local pool was not invited on the Straight Talk Express this trip.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is Arizona Sen. John McCain, Republican presidential candidate’s Straight Talk Express bus. It was leading a motorcade from Cutter Aviation at the Sunport passing the chartered airplane used on this trip by many members of the media. The plane is now used by Palin in her separate campaigning.

There was a second Straight Talk Express bus and motorcade for Palin seen in front of the candidates’ campaign plane by the same name.

Since the convention, the press contingency traveling with the campaign has significantly grown. The campaign’s attitude towards the press has also changed. McCain and Palin, along with their spouses and staff, flew on the Straight Talk Express airplane. There was a small media pool on the candidates’ plane.

A second campaign chartered airplane, only partially painted, ferried other members of the press. The media had been isolated from Palin since McCain announced her as his running mate.

The basic concept of a pool, whether national or local, is that a select group of represented media accompanies the candidate. There normally is a member from each kind of medium: reporters from printed press, radio, and television; in addition there is a video and still photographer to round out the pool.

At the White House, the pool is established by the press corps itself and is done on a rotating basis. Locally, the campaign seems to select the pool. In July, there was no TV or still photographer invited on the bus. TV stations had been guaranteed one-on-one interviews with McCain. This trip, the local pool makeup was: the Albuquerque Journal’s Jones, and Photographers Roberto Rosales on Saturday and Adolphe Pierre-Louis on Sunday; KOAT TV’s Matt Grubbs and Video Photojournalist Derrick Davis and KKOB-AM radio’s St Cyr. The rotation system does not seem to apply to the print category, because the Journal represents the only daily newspaper in the city. KKOB has been repeatedly selected because, though they aren’t the only radio news station, it seems that KUNM FM does not attempt to become part of the pool.

The pool often times is relegated to just going for a ride, to perform what is known as the deathwatch. Seldom does anything happen during a motorcade, but occasionally, a politician will make an unscheduled stop or, there will be an accident and the pool is present to cover such events.

One of the ground rules of the pool is that the member represents the entire press corps and the material they produce is available to all outlets. On the pool announcement is: “Please Note: Local Pool Coverage is not exclusive and all coverage obtained must be shared.”

Palin gave her first series of sit down television interviews to ABC’s Charlie Gibson late this past week.

John McCain has written about his views about responding to the media in this month’s Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists. It seems that his views are not binding on his running mate or enforced by his campaign staff.


The concept of a free and robust press is just that, a concept, which at times seems totally foreign to campaigns and law enforcement.

Both Denver and St. Paul police had a few incidents that illustrate this point. One of the most high profile incidents was the arrest of “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman by Minneapolis police at the site of a protest where two of her credentialed colleagues were arrested and charged with felony riot.

Thousands of protesters descended on the two convention cities and for the most, part the extensive preparations kept any disorder in check. Having things peaceful is an admirable goal, but at the expense of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment is unacceptable.

These conventions were nothing like the Chicago Democratic National Convention of 1968. The Walker Report to the National Commission on the cause and prevention of violence called the Chicago events a “Police riot.”

The protestors and the response by law enforcement shaped preparations for conventions that have followed. The Walker Report found high levels of provocation by protesters towards police that included; hurling verbal epitaphs, rocks and even human waste.

The First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition for grievances is problematic when some, set on provocation and violence join, the otherwise peaceful protesters to cover their own violent intentions.

Over the years, protesters have perfected their techniques in disruption while police have perfected their techniques in suppressing such disruptions. Citizens and peaceful protesters have been in the middle. Some might call them unwitting rubes at the hands of embedded violent offenders. However, they are conscientious citizens exercising their political right to dissent.

In both cities, several members of the media were arrested in what has been characterized as non-threatening incidents.

Carlos Miller’s blog, “Photography is Not a Crime It’s a First Amendment Right,” follows incidents involving governmental interference with photographers and is worth viewing.

In the early 1970’s, Albuquerque had a series of anti-war demonstrations that culminated in arrests. Most often, arrests were for a failure to disperse after engaging in acts of civil disobedience.

“I consider this an illegal bust,” this braless woman shouted as she was arrested. This photograph also entitled, “I consider this an illegal bust,” was an award-winner in the “Focus on Politics ’72,” Newsweek/Konica camera Election Year Photo Contest.

The media had free reign of the scene. It mattered little whether you were a photographer for a well-known news outlet or a freelance documenter, like the young man standing in front of then Deputy Chief Don Daniels, far left, who was on scene to supervise the arrest of protesters that had sat down at the Louisiana Boulevard and Gibson Avenue gate into Kirtland Air Force Base.

Back to Albuquerque Sept. 6, 2008.

Upon arrival, McCain’s wife, Cindy, right, emerged from the plane wearing a fluorescent green dress with a fluorescent orange vest. She had three pins visible on the dress: Two bejeweled pins in block print reading NAVY and USMC, and a small blue star flag. It immediately struck me that through the color of her fashion, she over-powered her husband’s running mate. I posed a fashion-pseudo-psychology question about it to fellow blogger M-Pyer’s Marjorie Childress.

“When Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, joined the campaign,” according to a New Yorker magazine article, “Cindy became markedly perkier: suddenly there was another woman around to deflect attention from her.”

Ariel Levy wrote the September 15, 2008, The New Yorker article, “The Political Scene the Lonesome Trail Cindy McCain’s nontraditional campaign.”

Levy’s take is completely opposite to what I perceived and also favors Childress’ observation.

At the bottom of the airplane stairs, McCain and his wife briskly met with the assembled local Republican greeters, finishing the six-person line before Palin finished hugging and chatting with the first.

McCain and Palin were scheduled to hold a rally at the Convention Center where more than 6,000 tickets were distributed.

Obama supporters and anti-war activists held a counter rally on Civic Plaza, then relocated to the corner of Second Street and Tijeras Avenue.

Listen to the audio and view the protesters confronting rally attendees.

This unidentified protester approached photographers and said he was going to smoke marijuana. However, he could not get his lighter to work.

A half-dozen Albuquerque police officers with the Emergency Response Team were assigned posts along the south side of Tijeras and the east side of Second Street.

I attempted to photograph a particular officer in juxtaposition with the protestors, but he told me, “Don’t take my picture.” He then said he couldn’t order me not to take his picture, but asked that I not take his picture. I told him he was a public servant in a public place. As I moved around to capture his subdued ERT patch, he told me not to stand behind him for “Officer Safety.” I told him I was a retired officer and he should not worry about my taking his picture.

More Analysis

The phrase “Officer Safety,” is the product of a fundamental philosophical change in police training about 20 years ago. A group of commercial trainers engaged in fear mongering as a means of alerting officers and cadets of potential dangers facing officers on the street.

In Albuquerque, such training has a history of acceptance and rejection, especially after the commercial vendor produced a video on the threat of knives and cutting instruments that literally scared the daylights out of officers. At least one officer involved shooting resulted in the death of a man who posed no actual threat. The Public Safety Advisory Board in 1991 made recommendations that lead to suspending the use of the video and vendor.

It’s important that officer’s engage in a high level of situational awareness, however, what this officer was doing was not as the world should be. It’s not his fault; he was taught that way. Vendors need to make a living and there were those who believed that their use of “shock reality” to emphasize their officer safety message seeped back into the training regiment.

The officer had no personal identifiable markings on his uniform. This violates one of Sir Robert Peel’s principles, “Public safety requires that a policeman be given a number.”

The officer, to avoid being photographed, abandoned his assigned post. Whatever happened to slightly turning one’s body to place the perceived threat in their peripheral vision?

One should not have to ask the identity of an officer who might not want to engage in a distracting conversation.

An e-mail to Public Information Officer John Walsh requesting identification of the officer was ignored.

This may indicate a systemic problem that could mushroom if APD believes it’s OK for officers not to identify themselves.

I suspect some who never knew, or are proponents of the fear motivator mentality, wouldn’t recognize the concept of command presence demonstrated by APD downtown beat cop Robert Dorwin, photographed 40 years ago and a block south of the Convention Center. The concept of keeping your head up and on swivel to check your six – 6:00 o’clock – or your back now seems like a lost art, by some at APD.

Lines of enthusiastic supporters serpentined for more than a couple of blocks awaiting entry and passage through the Secret Service’s magnetometers.

Republican County Clerk candidate Rick Abraham carried a campaign sign and sought to register voters in the long line.

In the line, I encountered Charly Tipton, a New Mexico alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., earlier in the month. I asked him about his experience. 

An out of town couple, who had not made up their minds about whom they would vote for, were waiting in line, shouted a response to Obama supporters and were denied entry. According to a KOAT TV report, two visitors from Richmond, Va., Charles Anderson and Larissa Carpenter, had tickets for the event. While passing Obama supporters chanting on the other side of the street, Carpenter said she shouted, “Go Obama.” McCain campaign officials rescinded the tickets, calling the rally a private event. One campaign worker told Anderson to turn off his video camera, that, “you have no right to photograph me right now.” Albuquerque Police enforced the taking of the tickets and banished the couple.

The Republican Party, especially in New Mexico, is very intolerant of even the slightest possibility of dissension or protest.

A delegate from Albuquerque to the New Mexico Republican Party’s 2008 Quadrennial Convention, in Las Cruces, Patrick Marron, a candidate for the National Convention delegation, and a supporter of Ron Paul for President, was ejected for asking why he couldn’t videotape the proceedings. Marron was also ejected from McCain’s Memorial Day Speech in Albuquerque. Read about it in an earlier post.

Inside the Center’s East Complex’s 57,600 square-foot Fran Hill SE Exhibit Hall there was a stage in the middle of the room. The production vendor lit the room with stage lighting in addition to the existing light. Directly over the stage, the overhead lights were turned off creating a dark pool. Spotlights were then added in an attempt to equal the lights. For cameras, it created a color balance problem. The room’s light appeared to be mercury-vapor, which is blue and close to daylight temperature while the spotlights were slightly bluer.

The sound was offered up by a disc jockey who did not represent the traditional Republican taste in music. Journal Columnist and host of KNME TV’s Friday night political roundtable talk show, “The Line,” Gene Grant, called the event presentation as sexy. He provides a heavy metal music review. In the Journal he wrote of being the son of a hockey mom.

Southern New Mexico Congressional District 2 Representative and Republican US Senate nominee Steve Pearce provided the invocation.

The only recognized State Legislators were Representatives Larry Larrañaga and Justine Fox-Young who led the pledge of allegiance. Incumbent, Larrañaga is unopposed and Fox-Young was introduced as the youngest legislator elected. Other Republican legislators could not even get tickets for the event.

Bernalillo County Sheriff and Congressional District 1 nominee Darren White was introduced to strains of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going To Take It.…”
It’s a piece of music I know; a personal theme song I used during my union presidential run. The song’s beat and lyrics are a perfect motivator for taking on an incumbent, but it makes no sense when replacing a member of your own party and your mentor, Heather Wilson.

It seemed particularly strange when Rep. Heather Wilson, whom Pearce defeated in the Senate nominating primary, for the abandoned seat held by six-term Sen. Pete Domenici, gave what could only be characterized as a continuation of her losing stump speech.

“Now at first I had some reservations about John McCain,” Wilson said. “You see I went to the Air Force Academy and most of you know that John McCain started out as going to a little technical college back there in Maryland, but he recovered from that.”

Later in the week, it became apparent why Wilson spoke and not Pearce. The McCain campaign announced she was appointed one of 19 national members of the “Palin Truth Squad,” according to a press release. The release cited a Sept. 9, Wall Street Journal account of a 30-member Democratic Party investigative team sent to Alaska to research Palin.
…the McCain-Palin campaign today launched the Palin Truth Squad to counter recent attacks on Governor Sarah Palin, her family, her friends and her record of accomplishment. The Palin Truth Squad will set the record straight against Internet and liberal smears of Governor Palin.

In the event of false attacks, rumors and smears against Governor Palin, the Palin Truth Squad will issue alerts and statements to voters and the media to set the record straight. Additionally, the Truth Squad will be available to respond to inquiries from the media.
Wilson’s statements are not always accurate, making her role as a push back spokesperson questionable. Here are two examples from her speech:
She has been saying for a while that, “The most important responsibility of the federal government, before anything else, is to provide for the common defense.” Yet the preamble of the U.S. Constitution says:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Though providing for the common defense is important, it is not first or most important; its place in the Constitution is just about right. Some may argue that without defense there is nothing else. However, without a union, justice, or domestic tranquility, there is nothing to defend.

“Now that announcement kind of took the Obama folks a little by surprise.” Wilson said, in speaking about Palin’s nomination. “They’re saying, ‘well you know she’s a governor, but of a small state.’ Memo to Joe Biden; there are city parks in Anchorage that are bigger than Delaware.”

Chugach State Park is the third largest state park in the country at 49,5204 acres or 773.74873 square miles and is wholly contained within the 1,961.1 square miles of the city of Anchorage. Delaware is 2,490 square miles.

National Basketball Development League’s Albuquerque Thunderbirds, Storm Chasers dance team performed a couple of cheers and tossed McCain/Palin t-shirts to the crowd.

The second loudest response to an introduction seemed to be the noise made for movie actor Robert Duvall and his actress-producer wife Luciana Pedraza. “Give me an Amen,” said Duvall, quoting a line from his 1997 independent movie, “The Apostle,” which he wrote, directed and starred in as Euliss ‘Sonny’ Dewey.

Reminiscent of a World Wrestling Federation entrance, the Straight Talk Express bus drove through a cloud of stage smoke under one of two huge American flags, the bottom of which was slowly raised like a curtain. An interior spotlight illuminated the Sen. and Cindy McCain as they emerged from the bus.

The loudest cheers were reserved for Palin. It seems she makes people giddy. The former Miss Alaska beauty queen contestant seemed to have captured the attention of those who were caught off guard by this politically unknown woman. Many Republicans were disappointed that their original hopeful candidates dropped out during the primaries, leaving McCain the presumptive nominee. Palin’s views seem to bring the disappointed Republicans back with her more hard line conservatism than the top of the ticket’s representative.

Joe Monahan’s repeatedly requested a “glamour shot” photograph of Palin, showing how some of the media view her. Self proclaimed Republican blogger, at Sgt. Joe Schmedlap’s world finds Palin, “…smoking hott considering her age.…”

Listen to the speeches of Palin and McCain, brought to you by St. Cyr.

McCain waved around his only stage prop, a Sharpie pen, threatening to veto earmarked additions to budgets he will send to Congress; or what is also known as pork when someone doesn’t think the project is worthy. He said he would make such lawmakers’ name well known.

It makes one wonder if McCain was talking about his views on transportation earmarks for building bridges and highways in Alaska?

A quick peek at that darn Constitution will reveal that all revenue bills start in the House. Amendments may, of course, be added and will be. Article 1 section 7:
All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives;…
Any idea that McCain, if elected, would actually not negotiate with lawmakers over earmarks is to deny the reality of how the Constitution and Congress works in reality.

The media area and camera risers were not saturated with the traveling press. The late hour and the fact that the campaign had a successful event earlier in the day where almost three times as many people attended meant that the day’s stories were filed for the east coast, where those deadlines were already past. Albuquerque represented the same; just an echo. Nothing new was going to be said. The national press photographers worked the area between the stage and the railing. They got access for close-ups that I could not obtain.

Another local account is from Capitol Report New Mexico’s Harold Morgan in a two-part report. Part one and part two.

University of New Mexico Daily Lobo’s Photographer Vanessa Sanchez became enterprising. She asked a campaign press liaison if she could photograph from a roof access ladder. He checked with the Secret Service who allowed her to climb some 30 feet above the floor.

Enthusiastic photographers gathered behind the center head-on riser and photographed through the openings to see their candidates.

Supporters wanted to capture the moments with cameras and audio recorders. Cellular phone cameras and small digital cameras and video recorders abounded.

After less than 40-minutes of speeches, McCain, Palin, and their spouses worked the crowd, shaking hands and signing autographs. Members of the national and local press pools took to the stage to obtain good angles.

Albuquerque Journal Photographer Roberto Rosales, upper left corner, and KOAT TV Photojournalist Davis, right focus in on McCain, center, greeting a little girl dressed as a princess. McCain is flanked by: his wife, Secret Service Agents, and over Cindy McCain’s shoulder is the nearly ever-present Traveling Press Secretary Buchanan.

This picture sums up the evening fairly well, a bit of a fairy tale.

As the night ended, a motorcade led by a phalanx of local law enforcement agency motorcycles escorted the Straight Talk Express buses from the Convention Center.

My Take

This event, like those run by the Democrats, was nothing more than grand theater. The room was transformed into a giant television studio. Unlike town hall events, this wasn’t designed to be a dialogue with the American people; it was more a beauty pageant runway to introduce the newest and yet unknown political star; Sarah Palin. It was more fashion runway than the historic two-hour Chautauqua speech. I’ve written about them before. Chautauquas were annual summer school or educational gatherings, often held outdoors and offering lectures, concerts, and theatrical performances, according to the World English Dictionary. They were also referred to as political gatherings with long political speeches. Everything today is designed for potential voters to not know the records, the inner political thought or motivations of their candidates.

I see two exceptions:

The speeches of the two main speakers were extremely short. Even shorter than the few remarks as “Memorial Remembrance” of Sen. McCain at Albuquerque’s Memorial Day ceremonies, meant to be a non-partisan event where he wrapped himself in the American flag and gave a modified stump speech lasting 20-minutes.

And with the exception of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which followed a two-hour oratory by former Massachusetts Senator and Secretary of State Edward Everett, few short speeches have imparted such a broad understanding and insight into a political mind.

McCain’s use of town halls are a bit deceptive, because they seldom have questions posed by someone who is not already squarely a supporter.

Though, during the July 15 event at the Hotel Albuquerque, he was confronted by William F. Davis, an alternate delegate supporting Ron Paul who challenged McCain. The Senator handled the question.

Another question was posed by Zeke Gonzales, nine years old, about what McCain would do for families, was met with a dismissive, thank you for the question; now go take a nap.

We learned nothing new from this visit that we didn’t know by watching network news.

Being new to the national stage, all sorts of things about Palin are coming to light. Some are not surprising; some are being spun to enhance her resume beyond its actual value. Both sides are propagandizing to suit their own interests. At the moment, the endorphin rush is pretty heady and is being played for maximum effect. It will wear off as we learn more about her. There are only a few things that have instantly caught my eye.

The question phrased as, is she qualified to be vice president, a mere heartbeat away from the presidency? The Constitution Article 2 section 1:
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
She qualifies. Does that satisfy voters? It shouldn’t.

The second thing that I find troublesome is the personal involvement of the governor by her staff using her official position to look into her former brother-in-law Alaska State Police Officer Mike Wooten’s personnel action which led the firing of Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan for failing to dismiss Trooper Wooten.

My interest comes from my years of union representation of officers who come to the attention of administrators or politicians and according to what Monegan told CNN:
"In the center of all of the controversy is Trooper Wooten's continued employment," the former police commissioner said. "My job was to provide passion and support to 900 people -- almost 900 people -- in the Department of Public Safety, and one of them -- which included Trooper Wooten -- was an irritant to her."
The Alaska State Legislature is looking into the matter of Monegan’s firing, but her attorneys have filed documents seeking to have the State Personnel Board conduct the investigation. This move shows Palin’s true colors; the Governor appoints the three-member Personnel Board. She may not appoint more than two members from the same party. There is a reason for separation of powers; to have the Legislature investigate the Governor.

Palin is painted as an ethics reformer and a maverick, in the vein of John McCain. A maverick, by definition of the southwest cattle industry is an unbranded yearling cow that has separated from its mother and ownership cannot be established. When located and branded, legal ownership is established.

Citing an act of ethical challenge against others does not mean that one is always ethical them self.

Palin is troubling, but she still has 48 days to convince the American people that she is more than just Constitutionally qualified to be vice president.

It’s amazing how well parody seems to work. Let the party begin.

However, maybe the most telling reason to believe that one is not getting dealt with honestly and openly comes from the simple effort to learn the identities of the greeting party, above, at the “Straight Talk Express” airplane. I know the Campaign Manager for Darren White for Congress Sara Lister, third from the right, in the black dress, was the escort for the group at Cutter Aviation.

I sent Lister the picture with a single line request: “Could please identify the greeting party that met the Sen. John McCain / Gov. Sarah Palin airplane last week?”

Instead of answering the question forthrightly, Lister, whose political resume includes: being a former executive assistant to the chief of staff for Sen. Pete Domenici, then ran his political action committee, Pete's PAC, was deputy executive director of the New Mexico Bush-Cheney '04, Inc., and was finance director on Congresswoman Wilson's 2000 re-election campaign, passed my request on to McCain '08 Southwest Regional Communications Director Ivette Barajas.

“Ivette, Do you want to respond to this?”

Barajas wrote:

Hi...I will be more than happy to help with any information.

Can I ask what media outlet you are with??


Ivette Barajas

My response: Ivette,

I'm a freelance photographer.

Thanks for helping out...



McCain, in his open letter to the SPJ Quill wrote:
In our future, as in our past, the greatness of our country has relied upon dedicated Americans who have had the freedom to explore, debate, and challenge existing ideas and policies. Often, the press is both the vehicle and the impetus for such change. It is for this reason that I have always felt inclined to share my vision with the press to the point that they run out of questions or no longer feel like listening. Through this method, I hope that I may reach the American people and convince them that I am worthy of their trust.
The point being, there is a disconnect from McCain’s assertion that he will answer any question and the lack of consideration from his staff that, instead of simply identifying the greeting party, it is preconditioned on knowing where the picture might be used.

That’s not straight talk.


Steve said...

Have you learned the identities of these people?

the man 2nd from left looks like Neil Hise, republican donor and local businessman (CEMCO).....

Mr. Wolf said...

Personally, I like the fact that McCain's wife is wearing an outfit it would take an average American almost 10-years of income to afford. The greatest accomplishment the Republican's can claim is how they've convinced poor people to continue giving money to the rich.

Robb Hamic said...

Great article and pictures.

Anonymous said...

Hello my name is Zeke Gonzalez, age 15, and I would like to say that he didn't tell me to take a nap.

Zeke Gonzalez
Anti-Political Party