Thursday, September 25, 2008

Behind-the-scenes of Biden's Wooster visit

My one-on-one with Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Biden last week was really only the last 20 minutes of my visit to Wooster for his campaign stop. The day -- and the event itself -- offered a unique view of what's happening along the campaign trail.

For starters, the crowd was much larger than viewers at home could tell. Many of the college folks got in line around 3 p.m. to begin going through security checks, even though Biden wasn't expected to talk until around 6:30 p.m. I thought that those in line had shown up a bit too early, but turns out, they were right on the money.
The space around the stage filled up quickly leaving many of the 4,500 in attendance outside the barriers looking in (see photo). Some never got through the security checks, so they just sat down on the grass and listened to what they could hear in the distance.

When Biden finally arrived, I found myself near the woman running the prompter for the Senator's stump speech. As Biden took the stage, he opened with a few one liners and then got off script .. and stayed off script .. and eventually the nice lady with the prompter looked left at a Biden staffer who seemed to say "welcome to the world of political speeches."

I doubt the crowd ever knew Biden was drifting to side-stories, as is Biden's style, but to stand by the prompter and see how much was written rhetoric and how much as was off the cuff provided a unique perspective. I'd say Biden was a surprising 50-50.
Unlike Obama's visit from a few weeks ago, I noticed that the chairs in the press pool area were fairly empty. I found out that the networks were using one pool ca
mera for Biden's speeches, and the only network reporter still traveling with Biden was NBC's Ron Allen (sitting at the computer nearest my

Now, I realize that when it comes to the VP circuit, Gov. Sarah Palin seems to get the most attention these days (even though she does but one interview per week, but that's for another post). Still, with all that's at stake in this election, shouldn't there still be a decent following for Biden?
My one-on-one interview with Biden was certainly different than the interviews I've had with other political players, including Sen. Obama from a few weeks ago. Usually, the pool of reporters granted back-stage interviews are taken to a side room after the event. That's where we wait for the interviewee to come by and grant us each a certain amount of questions or time.
This is what John McCain did in Cleveland earlier this week .. and it's what Obama did in New Philadelphia a few weeks back.

When I was taken past Secret Service to the interview room, I immediately noticed how quiet it was. I assumed I was just the first reporter to arrive, but 10 minutes later, I realized that I was it. No other reporters were coming. So, at least on this night, anything Biden told me would truly be "exclusive". Of course, I really only think it's worth using that word when it's truly valid ... and genuinely exclusive to our newsroom. Otherwise, TV newsrooms overuse the word when it's really not necessary.
I still don't know if I was the only reporter invited or if the other invited reporters left the event early to make deadline and just weren't around. Either way, I didn't care. I was just glad to be backstage.
As I peeked out a third-floor window, I could see that Biden was still shaking hands and wasn't in any hurry to get upstairs to talk to a journalist.
When I turned around, a Secret Service officer touched his earpiece, looked at me, and then said "we're moving." I was shuttled down the back stairs and out on to a lawn near Biden's bus. A communications officer told me that Biden would still grant the interview, but because I was the only one, he'd like to do it near the bus so he could keep the night moving.
At first, I found it odd that a VP Candidate would rather have a dark, outdoor background by a bus rather than be interviewed next to the tradition American flag with good indoor lighting.

About 20 minutes later, Biden came strolling across the lawn and introduced himself (like I wouldn't know who he was) and then asked me where I served in Iraq. "Excuse me Senator?" I said. "Thanks for your service. Where were you stationed?"

Long story short, I deduced that one of the Secret Service agents had recognized me and had mentioned my service to Biden. With Biden's own son headed into harm's way, we shared a few minutes of military chat before turning on the cameras for the formal interview. I won't say that Biden's candor through me off my game, but to be honest, I wasn't expecting that kind of reception and it set the stage for a more relaxed interview for both of us.
I expected that he would limit me to two questions, or five minutes, something like that. Instead, he said "ask away, whatever you want to talk about."
Biden never missed a beat talking the issues as I asked him about ways to keep more Ohio college students in the buckeye state for higher education, ways to help Ohio businesses resist the temptation to head south, ways to help with Ohio's foreclosure crisis, and ways to even out the benefits for Guardsmen and Reservists along with their Active-duty counterparts. I'll let the viewers (and you, the readers) listen to his answers and decide for yourself whether it can really make a difference.
I got the impression that Biden's staff would have preferred I wrap up after two questions, but Biden just kept our conversation going .. and even when I ended it, he seemed to want to talk longer.
So .. was it an exclusive? I guess so.. At least by definition. I don't think he said anything that was worth conjuring that moniker, so it's not the word I would use to describe it. If anything, I wanted it to be focused on real issues in Northeast Ohio and not just going for the quick quip of Biden jabbing at Palin.
I'll leave that for the network pool reporters .. at least for those that decide to follow him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great comments Eric, thanks for the info!