Covering a political convention is an assignment journalists love to hate. It’s like an animal trapped in a red, white, and blue cage, constantly prowling for the juicy morsel that will make the entire spectacle worth enduring.
As journalists seek the unexpected and unscripted, convention organizers aim for the predictable. There should be no news but official news, conveyed through elaborate stagecraft designed to mesmerize the media and embolden the electorate.
At this year’s RNC, the ratio of credentialed journalists to delegates is 6 to 1.
Filing is a round-the-clock affair. Members of the press must now tweet, post, livestream, Facebook, and Periscope, all the while scrambling for coveted floor passes. Competition is not just with each other, but with the delegates, protesters, and other onlookers tweeting, posting, and streaming from their phones and other devices. Perhaps sensing an opportunity for humor amid this swirling circus, late night comedy hosts will also be broadcasting from the convention this year. Yes, Seth Myers, Stephen Colbert, and even Bill Maher are among the 15,000 credentialed press.
Indeed, given Trump’s hostility to the press, which he has characterized as “scum,” the biggest story out of Cleveland may not be the protests or the speeches–notwithstanding the charisma of soap opera star Antonio Sabato Jr. and Melania Trump–but how many journalists end up being yanked from Trump’s showbiz cage.
To capture this spectacle, NOOR photographer Nina Berman is photographing the dynamics of press coverage at the RNC, from the convention floor to the street protests and everything in between.
Between instagramming the delegate with the silliest hat, there are some priceless ironies to contemplate. The RNC will be held at Quicken Loans Arena, which is named for the online mortgage company being sued by the Department of Justice for allegedly submitting claims for hundreds of improperly issued loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
Fifty million dollars in federal money will be spent on security. But since Ohio is an open carry state, gun owners will be permitted to carry rifles and handguns, while someone with a metal- tipped umbrella, tape more than six inches long, or even a tennis ball can be subject to arrest within the event zone. A prohibition on gas masks has prompted concerns from news organisations that journalists could risk arrest simply by trying to protect themselves during demonstrations. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will be staffing a 24-hour a day hotline for journalists in need of legal help.
Photographers covering demonstrations face the possibility that their images of impassioned protesters may actually be pictures of undercover cops posing as outraged citizens. Tampa police in charge of security measures at the 2012 RNC have bragged about their success at infiltrating protest groups, including taking over leadership positions.
This will be the first year since 1976 when the conventions will not receive federal funds (excepting the DOJ security grant), signaling a near complete dismantling of post-Watergate era campaign finance reforms. And Cleveland will be the first convention since 1996 to deny credentials to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), also known as OpenSecrets.org which reports on campaign finance and corporate influence on politics. CRP has provided a fascinating list of off site activities not found on the RNC website, including an NRA-organized Stars and Stripes Shootout at a hunting club outside Cleveland and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame party with Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).