August 1, 2004

Lost in Boston

By: AFF Editors

BOSTON, MASS.–The maitre d’, with guest list in hand, asked for my name. I told him “Tim Carney,” knowing that Kathleen in my office had RSVP’d for me and my boss (Novak, sadly, was not coming out to drink with me and 200 Democrats).

As the host turned to the C page on “the list” I saw my name was not there. At this point, I was figuring out whether getting into this party was worth explaining that I was the “and partner” next to Robert D. Novak’s name.

But the host looked at the list and said, “oh, is that Jay Carney?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” without missing a beat.

Inside, I quickly found the Weekly Standard crowd huddled in a corner of the swank bar the Distilled Spirits Council had rented out for their party. To them, and to the Roll Call reporter I ran into at the bar, I asked “why are we here?

Not, why are we drinking free whiskey at 2 a.m.–that was an easy one. Just what is a reporter supposed be doing at the convention when there are 10,000 other reporters there, dozens of television channels, and wall-to-wall coverage on cable with an absurd amount of punditry and analysis?

There was no tension about who would be the nominee, who would be the running mate, or even what would be said. “Stronger at home, and respected abroad–John Kerry was in Vietnam.” That was about the entirety of the message. What was left to report?

As the week went on, and as I read and watched the coverage, I realized there were many details–some important, some just interesting–that were still going untold. Let me share some here.

What you didn’t hear

The event was even more scripted than you think. The Party had nearly complete control over the text of the remarks. At lunch one day, the husband of one podium speaker told me the travails of his wife, whose first draft of her speech was rejected by the DNC for being too personal and tough in its attacks of President Bush.

She begrudgingly wrote a second kinder, gentler speech. That, too, was unacceptable to the party bosses, who just wrote her speech for her. “I guess it’s just an honor to go up there and read someone else’s speech on the podium,” the husband told me.

But the crowd was scripted, too. Dozens of party interns had the job of carting out bags of signs to the thousands of delegates at just the right time. At convention central, another party staffer would dial into the whips of the 50 state delegations and give them instructions on when and how to use the signs.

For instance, I was standing amid the Illinois delegation when I saw the whip take the call during Barack Obama’s speech, nod and hang up. “During the speech,” he bellowed out to his delegation, “hold up the Kerry signs, not the Kerry-Edwards signs. When he finishes, we hold up the Obama for Senate signs and wave them high.”

Sure enough, the entire arena (despite Montana, which had some trouble following orders) marched in lockstep with these orders.

Most reporters are not so good at noticing subtext. After the first day, when USA Today said the speakers were “warm and fuzzy,” and most of the talking heads said the Democrats avoided attacking Bush, I was amazed. Sure enough, throughout the convention, that was analysis.

To be sure, no speakers said “Bush is a liar,” or “the President has ruined the country,” but come on, how tough is it to read into, “I will be a commander-in-chief who will never mislead us into war.”

That was John Kerry’s boldest claim on foreign policy, and it was the same form as all the praise the speakers gave the nominee. “Wouldn’t we be better off with a new president who hasn’t burned bridges to our allies, and who could rebuild respect for America in the world?”

Another pretty key detail left out of nearly all reporting on the convention was the fact that the Democratic Party now supports using taxpayer money to pay for human cloning.

Ron Reagan, son of the former president, gave a speech he said was about stem-cell research, and how some folks, because of their “theology,” wanted to ban stem-cell research. Set aside the odd use of the word theology. Even set aside the detail that young Ron was asking not just for stem cell research to be allowed, but he wanted to force all taxpayers to fund it.

What young Reagan was talking about wasn’t just research on stem cells taken from humans in their embryonic stage. He was talking about making cloned human beings, and then taking their stem cells, thus killing the embryo before it developed into a cloned human fetus.

Ron Reagan, in the beginning of his convention speech, described removing the nucleus from a person’s skin cell, placing it in an egg whose nucleus has been removed, and then stimulating it to make the cell start dividing. This is the process of cloning, and what it makes is a human being in his or her embryonic stage.

But because he called it stem cell research, the media missed that it was an endorsement of taxpayer-funded cloning.

Looking ahead

At the end of August, I will go up to New York for the GOP convention. There, I will probably know more people and feel less afraid to mention I work for Novak. The entire production will be as scripted, if not more so.

But don’t expect the media to give as many free passes as they did in Boston. In fact, don’t be surprised if the New York Times plans some big exposé Bush hit piece to coincide with the convention so that the media, instead of following the GOP-produced play, has some new weapon with which to hit the President.

Maybe in New York, Time Magazine‘s Jay Carney will get to use my name to get in somewhere.

Tim Carney is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.