Inside the Bucket

BOSTON — One of the odd things about the convention is that even the meta-stories — the pieces about what everyone is supposedly talking about — are already being told, on this, the second day of the festivities. People have by now written about what’s going on behind the scenes, and for good reason — there are so many members of the media here that reporters spend most of their time chatting with and interviewing each other. Thus, even a casual newsreader already knows some, but far from all, of the following:

(1) All the reporters here are complaining that there are no stories to be had, a time-honored tradition ABC executive Roone Arledge christened during the 1988 Democratic convention by excoriating it as staged and boring. One reporter told me yesterday that “walking into a convention is like sticking your head in a bucket.”

(2) This convention is as much for the media as it is for the Democrats (perhaps more so). And, as with so many things in adulthood, it’s a lot like high school. Having a credential that’s the right color is like having a letterman’s jacket, enough to earn deference from the chess club-types pitifully clutching their yellow perimeter passes. (For those wondering where Campaign Desk stands in the pecking order, your intrepid correspondents are sharing one green pass and one yellow one). Everyone is whining that the DNC didn’t do a very good job with logistics. There aren’t enough power outlets or ethernet connections, and floor passes are hard for most members of the press to come by. A New York Times reporter complained to me that she’s regularly had to use a Port-a-Potty rather than an actual restroom.

(3) The convention is as much about journalists (and politicians and lobbyists) networking with each other as it is about actually working. As such, the parties are the focal point for many of us here, and they reduce otherwise self-respecting people into sniveling losers trapped behind the velvet rope. On Monday night, Campaign Desk trekked out to a club near Fenway Park with Pandagon’s Ezra Klein and Jesse Taylor, for a party we had tickets for. By the time we arrived, the club was so heaving with people that it was impossible to get in. Even the party thrown by The New Republic, The Economist, and Roll Call — publications one wouldn’t usually associate with rock stars and models — had its own bouncer enforcing order with a clipboard. Congressmen were ushering young, attractive female staffers through the VIP line with little problem, though they didn’t seem to be on the list. Conventions do an odd thing to reporters; what before would have been a fairly unappealing night out — fighting past old men in suits and self-important, preening politicos and pundits through an overcrowded bar — feels essential in some vague way, despite all evidence to the contrary. Perhaps it’s because we’ve convinced ourselves that there’s a reason to be here, beyond the scripted live television show being held in the Fleet Center and the endless meta-stories that seem less clever when everyone else is writing them. Talking one’s way past a velvet rope feels like an accomplishment, however dubious it may be.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.