Mitt Romney Meets the Firefighters: the Making of a Media Moment

In which I happen upon a campaign photo-op

A moment of levity in the press scrum: a campaign staffer (or bodyguard) takes a picture of the press corps as they wait for Romney and Giuliani to emerge from the fire station.

One of the great things about New York is the possibility of running into the unusual and notable on a daily basis. Earlier today, I had lunch with some friends at one of the city’s many pizzerias that claim to have pioneered the pizza. Anyways, after wrapping up lunch, I  was walking up 6th Avenue, when I noticed one of Fox News’ hulking satellite vans parked on the sidewalk. I thought nothing of it until I then saw a small swarm of news photographers flanking the entrance to the fire station on 227 West 6th Avenue.

I ask one of the anxious media-types what all the fuss was about; apparently former mayor Rudolph Giuliani and presidential candidate Mitt Romney were to visit the firefighters at the station, Engine 24 Ladder 5, and they were to arrive there imminently. I decided to stand among the press scrum and see-up close the making of a media moment.

Campaign reporting is a much maligned aspect of today’s media landscape. Too much is said about too little, say the critics. A nice firsthand account in the Columbia Journalism Review a few months ago captured the banality of the enterprise, with the reporter crisscrossing New Hampshire in pursuit of the Republican primary candidates and capturing almost nothing of note.

With that and other accounts in my mind, I was not expecting much of importance from the appearance. I soon heard the whooping of police sirens, and the typical convoy of black GM SUVs rustled up to the curb. Romney and Giuliani rushed out of the vans with stacks of pizzas, into the firehouse. And then we waited. Campaign staff canvassed the area, giving directions to the press and trying to keep themselves busy while the two politicians engaged in small talk with the first responders.

Not all was tranquil in the press scrum. While there was the usual air of familiarity among some of the attendees—reporters, campaign staff, cameramen—a dustup occurred when one cameraman tried to set his camera up (at a lower level) in front of another cameraman’s position. an argument ensued, which a cameraman tried to mediate by consulting a Romney media official. When he was told the man could stay in his position, he was none too pleased (a short clip of one of the aggrived cameramen arguing with a Romney staffer is below). He later chastised him for having a “lack of respect for the profession”.

Romney and Giuliani finally came outside to give a short statement on the significance of Bin Laden’s killing to the press. (video I managed to capture with my mediocre iPod camera is below) reporters angled forward eagerly; sound recorders were thrust forward—I found myself sandwiched in the scrum between a man and a woman I later noticed wearing a press pass from the Los Angeles Times. Midway through the remarks, a woman shouted from the other side of the fire station’s entrance: “Mitt Romney! You’re a Racist!”The shouting drew a bemused and vaguely exasperated reaction from both the speakers and press, and the photo op continued.

The two both began to take questions. Several reporters decided to question Romney on his previous statements on the killing of Osama Bin Laden; Romney previously criticized Obama for saying that he would go into Pakistan to kill the Al Qaeda leader, and he clarified his remarks. I tried to ask a question, but it was not answered. After a few more questions,Romney left, going back to the convoy of Suburbans. Giuliani answered several more questions, and then also left.

As some of the TV reporters positioned themselves to do standup reports, I (along with other members of the press corps), moved in the direction of the shouting (short clips of the exchange are below), where we found a group of protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Two of them were holding up a sign reading “Enough Talking: Immigration Reform Now!” (A sentiment which I would hope most politicians theoretically agree with, even if they disagree with the “legalize everyone” solution proposed by the shouting woman). There was some grousing among the media-types that this protester was even occupying a second of their time, with some quickly returning to the fire station to do standups. Another member of the scrum decided to get into an argument with the woman, which I caught snatches of as I left the scene.

So what did I learn? The banality of campaign reporting is not myth but reality, at least from the half hour or so of it I managed to experience earlier today. Whether or not this results in productive journalism is a question I can’t really answer from simply that moment. The other thing that does impress me is that in our ever security-obsessed society, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself, a private citizen, able to participate in such an elemental moment of our media cycle and (cliche alert) democracy. Below are some links to media resulting from the appearance; I’ll update this post if I notice anything else.

The Associated Press, via the website of New Jersey’s Star Ledger: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/05/mitt_romney_blasts_president_o.html

The National Review’s “The Corner” blog: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/297458/romney-inappropriate-obama-politicize-bin-ladens-death-katrina-trinko#

The Los Angeles Times (I was next to this reporter for a time in the scrum; you can see glimpses of her recorder in the bottom of my clip) http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-romney-marks-anniversary-of-bin-ladens-death-with-new-york-visit-20120501,0,5664444.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fmostviewed+(L.A.+Times+-+Most+Viewed+Stories)

Reuters newswire: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/01/usa-campaign-idUSL1E8G1BPN20120501

CNN’s “Political Ticker”: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/01/romney-obama-is-politicizing-bin-laden-death/

The New York Times’ “The Caucus” blog: http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/romney-near-ground-zero-faults-obama-for-politicizing-raid/

And a clip of live coverage from MSNBC: http://video.msnbc.msn.com/newsnation/47250618/#47250618

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