Watching the press at the RNC

Tuesday, July 19: The world’s a stage

All photos by Nina Berman

In 1969, the photographer Garry Winogrand set out across the United States to document  “the effect of media” on events. His work, funded by a Guggenheim fellowship, was published as the book Public Relations. With a wide-angle lens, he documented in black and white an emerging culture dependent on the act of being seen.

“For Winogrand these events all shared the fact that they were public occasions, and that they had been called to order as much for the benefit of the media that recorded them as for the direct pleasure or ritual relief of those participating in them,” wrote Tod Papageorge in the opening essay.

Winogrand’s work feels particularly relevant as 15,000 credentialed press and many more freelance journalists descend on Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.

Covering a political convention is an assignment journalists love to hate. It’s like being 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, live stream, Facebook, and Periscope, all the while scrambling for coveted floor passes. Competition is not just with each other, but with the delegates, protesters, and assorted 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 credentialed press. 

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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, CJR will be photographing the dynamics of press coverage at the RNC, from the convention floor to the street protests and everything in between.

Apart from Instagramming the delegate with the silliest hat, there are some priceless ironies to contemplate. 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 organizations 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 also 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.).

These photos will also be featured on CJR’s freshly launched Instagram account. Follow us @columbiajournalismreview.

 

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Ben Lowy, one of four photographers for Time, with a 360-degree camera attached to his helmet, covers a protest by Christian extremists.

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Audience members inside the Quicken Loans Arena, where a ticker-tape streams GOP and Trump hashtags

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is seen on the big screen inside Quicken Loans Arena.

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The audience as captured in the monitor of the RNC pool camera

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Media and RNC audience members are reflected in the convention floor display.

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Press booths at Quicken Loans Arena during the floor vote to nominate Donald Trump for president.

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Press booths at Quicken Loans Arena during the floor vote to nominate Donald Trump for president.

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Press descend on the New York delegation as New York votes to give Trump the necessary number of delegates for the Republican nomination for president.

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Security are seen at a VIP booth at Quicken Loans.

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A journalist uploads a picture from the upper deck after Trump secures the nomination.

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A look at Freedom Plaza, where press and delegates mingle

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Newsday reporter Darran Simon uses his iPhone to record during a press conference by the group Veterans vs. Hate at the Public Square–the main demonstration area.

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Travis Gettys of the Raw Story sets up a live stream. He was part of a three-person team–two live-streamers and one reporter.

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Sercurity forces unload weapons and bottled water nearby the convention center.

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A video journalist films a street debate between a religious zealot and a local woman.

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Micah Naziri of Yellow Springs, Ohio, came armed with a loaded AR-15 and drew a big crowd of photographers.

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Julian Raven, an artist who paints Donald Trump, signs a photo release after being interviewed by a Vice documentary crew.

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The shadow of a TV journalist’s microphone is seen between two toy guns, which were used as props during a demonstration against police killings, specifically the shooting of Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun when he was shot. Toy guns, but not real guns, are banned in the event zone. After this photo was taken, the toy guns were confiscated from the demonstrator.

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The Event Zone was filled with hundreds of journalists and amped-up security when Alex Jones of InfoWars came live-streaming through the crowd with a bull horn. Jones confronted a small group of young communists holding a red flag, resulting in some pushing and shoving. Jones, a far-right media personality, was the biggest draw of the day on Tuesday, July 19.

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Philip Montgomery, a photographer for The New Yorker, photographs open-carry activists from Lima, Ohio, who were armed with AR-15s and handguns. Throughout the day on Tuesday, armed open-carry protestors drew scores of journalists. This group kept to the edges of the Town Square.

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Pictures of Convention VIPs for the TV Pool camera on Tuesday night.

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The convention floor immediately after Donald Trump secured the nomination

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A passageway leading into an upper-deck press position on the convention floor

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Raymond Braun, correspondent for Logo/MTV News, live streams from the Instagram Oval Office talking about what it’s like to be gay at the RNC and how advocates are trying to make the party more inclusive.

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Journalists are seen in the Media Room, a separate area across from the convention center.

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The Media Room on Tuesday night after Trump was officially nominated.

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James Villalobos of Fuse TV interviews Aly Eichman, an alternate delegate from Minnesota attending her first convention. Fuse TV is aimed at Latino millennials.

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A scene from outside the convention, in an alleyway where MSNBC has a booth, as the convention wrapped up Tuesday night. A vendor sells Trump merchandise.

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A passerby watches the MSNBC studio screen as Trump’s son gives a speech.

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Nina Berman is a photographer and an associate professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism