Thursday, October 14, 2004

Making it inside the debate

By Ben Honingford, The State Press
Slim to none, and slim just left. That's what I told the local NBC Channel 12 reporter when he asked what I thought my chances were of actually getting inside Gammage Auditorium

The vast majority of the 3,000 seats inside Gammage went to delegates and other state officials, leaving a slim number for ASU to divvy out to major University donors and students.

According to the ASU debate website, a computer-based random number generator algorithm was used to select 300 numbers from the 15,177 entries. After all the potential recipients were notified and identified, 201 potential students. The algorithm was reviewed by a professor of mathematics, and the entire process was reviewed by an ASU student leader to ensure it was conducted fairly. After verifying the recipients were students, the number was down to 201.

After doing the math on my cell phone calculator, I realized that I had a little less than 2 percent chance of being just a potential ticket recipient, let alone actually going.

Early reports estimated, at the most, only a few dozen students behinds would find a seat to the historic event. So even when I was notified last Thursday that I was one of the few hundred potential ticket recipients, I tried not to get my hopes up.

At 8:19 a.m. Wednesday, just hours before the debate, I received an e-mail asking me to report to Tempe Fire Training Facility just east of campus, to go through security clearances and Secret Service checks.

I was going to the debate.

Even if I were in the darkest balcony corner of Gammage, behind the largest pole, I was still closer than any of the more than 800 media cooped up inside their air-conditioned tent in the parking lot.

The training facility served as the starting point for more than just the lucky students. Students wandered past doors with scotch taped labels reading RNC, DNC, and ASU guests. Fortunately for all, each of the groups were shipped into the event on separate busses.

Penetrating the fort set up around Gammage was fairly simple. At approximately 2:35 p.m., the buses promptly unloaded its passengers across from IHOP and next to 5 mounted policemen guarding the perimeter.

After passing another identification check and emptying pockets for the imported airport metal detectors, I had made it past security.

Like cattle funneled through a chute we walked through the front doors of Gammage, greeted by former Tempe mayor, Neil Guiliano.

With secret servicemen's earpieces hissing in the background and military personnel peering down from Gammage's elevated walkways, a middle-aged couple approached Giuliano just before me.

"We're here for the debate," the woman said as she handed Giuliano her ticket.
Giuliano stopped, perplexed for a moment, then spoke, "I'm sorry, but these are tickets for the Bush campaign viewing party at Bank One Ballpark."

I'm just glad Neil was working the door. He smiled at my official ticket, as he let me pass through

Don't let television fool you. The schmoozing in lobbies in the hours leading up to the debate is where best rhetoric is exchanged.

While some students tried to cram for their mid-terms while waiting for the doors to open, those most politically adept could walk up to familiar local, state, and national public figures and shoot the breeze.

If you want to live like a Republican, you have to vote like a Democrat,said Paul Morabito to a group of listeners. Morabito is the Chairman of the California Costal Conservancy, and owns and operates companies that operate multiple Jiffy Lube franchises in California and Nevada.

Politics dominated the majority of conversations as people poured in, heating up the room as the afternoon sun beamed through the giant glass panes of Gammage's taupe lobby. After opening the auditorium at a little after 4 p.m., and more intense schmoozing, the crowd began to find their seats.

I am in awe, said Elizabeth Wylde, pre-law junior. Isn't this incredible?

Debate moderator Bob Schieffer swiveled around in his chair, indicating with his finger to the crowd burning a hole in his back, "One minute till airtime."

With the stage illuminated the sound of Tom Brokaw's voice echoed to my ears from the NBC platform through the hushed auditorium. The final debate for the title of most powerful leader of the free world, in one of the most heated elections ever recorded, was live from ASU.

Backstage at the Presidential Debate

The best story is Judy Woodruff...90 minutes after the debate was over as the media tent was humming with print reporters doing the deadline dance but all the broadcasters had scattered for live shots and beer, there was Judy Woodruff doggedly still interviewing Jessie Jackson. Then she hopped in the golf cart next to ours driving back toward the center of campus where the CNN tent was staked out and I could hear her say --"Don't drive too fast I don't want my hair to be blown back"
OK, stereotype hair comment from a broadcaster right? Wrong! Judy was there to the very end and the rushing to get back to CNN playing reporter getting the latest reaction to the very end. what a lesson!

Brokaw and Russert we captured backstage of their network platform right after Tom did Nightly News. It is a priceless shot maybe one of the most memorable of my little career. Both sitting on makeshift plywood steps...Tim using a white pad to add the poll numbers and compare to his electoral college score... Tom asking what they meant and he said "It 's all about Ohio"...You gotta see the tape...Amazing...

We also interviewed Walter Cronkite on the local CBS platform --think of high school bleachers top row...That is where, with the wind blowing a desert breeze, we interviewed the old salty anchorman who gave once again an important plug to the value of reading a good newspaper....and a good book!

An amazing day....

Dr. Bill Silcock

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

It's insanity!

Wow. It's debate day and the voices of protest and support have grown louder.

CNN is doing its best to keep students excited and a possible repeat performance from the Crossfire crew is possible. If you didn't hear, they crowd surfed to end yesterday's show. I somehow doubt today's cohost, US Rep. JD Hayworth, will be doing that.

The student media got some great time with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, even if plans were altered at the last second.

Now the big event!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Second Fence

The perimeter just grew an extra 50 feet...

In anticipation of the arrivals of the President and the Senator, a regular wire fence has been put up beyond the steel fence around the edge of Gammage's lawns.

In speaking with Chris Schlemon of ITN, it seems many media professionals are road weary but excited to be here.

Lucky for us, they'll get a few of our 350 days of sun!

Monday, October 11, 2004

T minus 48 hours

Bike riders beware! I almost killed the entire MSNBC production staff riding by the MU. That area will certainly become off limits to two-wheelers as the network gets set to broadcast over the next few days.

CNN is also setting up on Hayden Lawn, in case you were wondering why the school was frantically reseeding the area and keeping it roped off. No sign of the W crop circle returning even though Tucker Carlson will do his best to make up for it.

Protesters have also started to be vocal. Some have chosen the MSNBC set as a focal point. Others have put together a mock gravesite in front of the Agriculture building denouncing civilian casualties in Iraq.

The three-ring circus begins!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The spotlight shifts to Tempe

Since I live near Gammage, I've noticed an increase in police patrols and also a few
more low flying helicopters. Things are getting tight.

Same with the candidates. I noticed the tone got more accusatory in St. Louis and
we should expect to see the same here. Things have gotten and should remain tight.

I know we've been told this is just a TV event. To me, that's like saying the
first moon landing was just a TV event. That may be the way most of us get to enjoy
it but you can't downplay its historical significance.

Tom Vitron


Welcome to the debate week and post-project blog!

This is an opportunity for us to discuss our
experiences as ASU becomes the center of the
world's attention, if only for a few days.

It is also a place to discuss convergence and
the lessons learned during this project.

Tom Vitron