The Fourth Estate, Incorporated

DNC reporters rub elbows with corporate cash

Saturday night’s Elitch Gardens “Media Welcoming Party” at the outset of the Democratic National Convention looked to be a grand spectacle, with rides galore, rock-climbing walls (see a video of a young woman in cuffed jeans—a respectable journo, no doubt—scaling it as fireworks blast off in the Denver night air), and malt beverages courtesy of Molson Coors.

The headline sponsor was the Denver Newspaper Agency, which manages the business operations of the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, but the DNC Host Committee helped organize the party, and its list of corporate sponsors bedecked an entire wall. Many a delegate and politician attended the media bash as well, raising the peripatetic question (given who is funding the parties they attend and with whom they’re rubbing shoulders) of how heartily journalists should partake of the convention’s slew of festivities.

Here’s the Denver Post on the shindig:

The first big party of the Democratic National Convention kicked off Saturday eve, and it was a megafest: Thousands of journalists, delegates, locals and assorted gawkers assembled for the welcoming party at Elitch Gardens, unofficially known as the media party.

While the giant Ferris wheel swirled and the Tilt-A-Whirl twirled, local media and political folks like Ken Salazar, Elbra Wedgeworth, Bertha Lynn (not working, in jeans and accompanied by her husband, Larry Naves), Craig Silverman — even former Republican Gov. Bill Owens — came to hear the Flobots, Railbenders and Debajo del Agua.

Flobots, eh? Though journalists joshing at political conventions with the people they’re covering is old hat—the 1908 Denver DNC hosted an Elitch Garden party for a mixed bag of delegates and media folks too—it’s worth pointing out how cavalier the mentions of such shoulder rubbing have been. Denver lawyer and major DNC fundraiser Steve Farber sipped a beer at Elitch, calling himself “just another party crasher.” A local artist painted a portrait of the presumptive Democratic nominee on site (with proceeds to benefit the DNC host committee, of course). Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter was in attendance and looking for his kids. Denver DA Craig Silverman was carrying around a huge bag of stuffed animals he’d won. What sightings! But never fear—when spotted, Perlmutter was asked what he was most looking forward to in the coming week. Don’t say that Politico doesn’t do its job. (Apparently, it’s poker with Ben Affleck.)

The DNC’s Web site offers up further examples of how silkily the media are enveloped into the convention’s daily scheduling: the Starz green room facility, “just steps from the Pepsi Center,” serves as a location where “delegates, party officials, invited guests and press can listen to high-powered panels, watch movies, or just unwind,” and MSNBC’s “Broadcast from Union Station” is listed alongside Denver-area biking trails and a Free Day at Denver Art Museum (courtesy of Target).

Add to the mix Google’s “Big Tent,” which hosts nap areas, massages, and workspaces for credentialed bloggers at $100 a head; its much anticipated co-sponsored party with Vanity Fair on Thursday for an invite-only gaggle of convention-goers and journalists (John Harwood said he would try to attend!); and the many party gift bags (ringtone gift card from AT&T, plastic water bottle from Visa, and breath mints from UPS, oh my!), and the seeming endlessness of corporate- and DNC-stamped offerings make the head begin to ache, even as it acknowledges that it’s just the way the convention river flows.

But then again, just when you think the fourth estate has become too incorporated into the DNC Partay, we get this fine example of accountability reporting, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Apparently, reporters (and whoever else crashed the media party) suck at recycling.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.