The message is not the media

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National Public Radio had a fascinating story on Friday afternoon, analyzing how media coverage of the national conventions has changed. It’s had to, partly because politics has changed — convention delegates don’t actually do anything significant here that hasn’t already been done. And partly because — in this week’s case — political parties haven’t really changed how they handle media access to their made-for-TV show.

Behind the scenes of a political convention are political turf wars. There’s a reason Texas is stuck in the back of the Pepsi Center. There’s a reason some Clinton delegates here are feeling disrespected. As political winds shift, old scores are being settled and those who — as one delegate described it to me — “jumped on the right bus” are taking advantage of their newfound power.

It’s the culture of power. Inside party politics is a totem pole. The role of convention producers, is to hide all of that. They’re usually pretty good at it until the group that’s most affected is the media. Credential day — the day many media organizations find out the degree of access they’ll have this week — is the day the various media entities find out where they stand on the pole. Sunday was credential day.

Conventional wisdom says this is the “blogger’s convention,” but as the New York Times reported on Sunday, the credential process revealed that when it comes to getting access to power, it’s still 1980 for many in the media.

“It’s unprecedented access for bloggers, yes, but it’s certainly not equal access,” said Ms. Spaulding, who learned last week that Pam’s House Blend would receive two extra credentials. “What, pray tell, is the big secret?”

The annoyance felt by many bloggers is familiar to those who previously attended conventions as correspondents for smaller print publications. “This is very reminiscent of being at the low end of the totem pole,” said Micah Sifry, the co-founder of the group blog Techpresident.com, who formerly wrote for The Nation magazine and attended his first convention in 1984. “They can’t buy a sky box, they’re scrambling.”

There are various levels of credentials for an organization like a Minnesota Public Radio. The “hall pass” gets you into the Pepsi Center, but not much farther. The ‘arena pass’ gets you closer to the action. The “floor pass” gets you on the floor to talk to delegates. The “perimeter pass” doesn’t really get you anywhere but inside the security perimeter, but it can almost make you look dead sexy hanging around your neck.

The number of each type of credential alloted to a news organization, is a statement from the Democratic Party about its position on the totem pole.

It’s a good thing, actually, that reporters are limited in their access to Pepsi Center this week, especially since Hollywood producers are making sure everyone inside the building sticks to a script. But it still defies logic in the 2008 media landscape to put on a show exclusively so the media can tell your story, and then make it difficult for the media to get to your story.

Why? Because if you make it impossible for them to cover your spoon-fed story, whose story do you think they are going to cover instead?

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While it’s true that an anti-war protest is synonymous with an anti-Republican protest, it wouldn’t take too many under-credentialed reporters to note that it was the Democratic Party that swept into power in the last election by promising change, and then caved in on virtual every major showdown with the White House.

  • GregS

    In the wake of the Russian invasion of Georgia, I find the multi-colored sign in the above picture sadly irnonic.

    We all know that “End Imperialistic Wars and Occupations” does, decidedly and emphatically NOT, apply to Russia.

    These people are Orwellian in the extreme, and Orwellian in the strict sense.

    No one protested the Russian expansion into Afghanistan but the largest demonstration in history protested the removal of Saddam.

    No protested the reimposition of Russian imperialist power in Czeckloslovakia in 1967, yet Tom Hayden brought the leaders of the movement, literally, under the guns of the Russians to organize international protest against the U.S. resistance to Russian imperialism in Southeast Asia.

    Nor did these groups protest the Russian invasion of Hungary or proxy war in Angola.

    There is much that is comic about these fools, but there is too much that is still very, very, very scary.