REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: My Date With the Vice-President
ST. CLOUD - In my career, I’ve covered visits from four political ‘superstars’; I’ve covered candidates Clinton and Obama, President Biden before he announced he was running, and Ed Schaffer, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. So, when we heard Vice President Harris was going to visit St. Cloud, I assumed I’d play some role in the coverage. I also admit I wasn’t as excited as I used to be. I knew what to expect, the shine had rubbed off the penny.
That’s my fault.
Walking around the community this week, I mentioned that I’d be covering the V.P.’s visit, and was peppered with questions about how it’s done, what will happen, etc. I realized many people, Republican and Democrat, are interested in the ‘behind the scenes’ of a political visit.
So, here’s a rundown of my week at work. I call it:
‘My Date With the Vice-President”
Getting the Go-Ahead
We found out Friday, February 3rd, that the Vice-President would be visiting on Thursday. That’s it – that’s all we knew. Monday, we received an email asking us to apply for media credentials if we were interested in covering the event, but still no details.
If you want to upset media people, don’t tell them all the details.
We worked our contacts and found the event would be held at New Flyer, a bus plant in South St. Cloud, but the time was still up in the air. In fact, by 5:00 pm Wednesday, we still had no details on the time, location, or if our credentials were approved. I was packed up and ready to go, but didn’t know for sure where or when.
The email came from the Secret Service just after 8:00 pm Wednesday night. In short, we had 12 hours to set up a coverage plan. I put the last load in the laundry and went to bed.
I Am Not A Morning Man
The alarm rang at 6:00.
I’ve spent many years as a morning man, and still never got used to waking up early (I have to be at work at 9:00, and am usually late.). No one was more surprised than I was when I arrived at New Flyer exactly at 8:00 am. Security stopped me at the front doors and directed me to a bus that would take me inside the secure perimeter.
Start the Clock.
The local and regional media get an hour to set up their gear. One of the great things about covering national politicians is the audio is state-of-the-art. I got a clean audio feed to the main P.A. system and a LAN cable to connect to New Flyer’s internet. WJON’s ‘Tieline’ is a digital self-contained system that is a breeze to operate. I hooked everything up, tested with the studio, and organized my space to the left of the camera riser before 9:00. Then, Secret Service asked us to leave so they could do the final sweep of the building. All of our equipment has to be powered up and open, so the bomb-sniffing dogs and other devices could check while we were gone.
Now What Do I Do?
I felt bad for the regional media, as they shivered in the morning air outside the front of the building. I felt bad, but I didn’t ask if they wanted to hang out with me. I went back to the office. Our instructions were to return at 11:00 am.
The Point of No Return
When I arrived back at New Flyer, many of the people attending the event had arrived at the front door. The busses filled up, but we waited until 11:30 before we got the go-ahead to start moving into the secured area. It was the point of no return. Once we were in the building, we couldn’t leave. I walked back up to my space at about noon.
And Now We Wait
The crowd was ushered into the Customer Acceptance bay in the New Flyer plant. They were treated to an airport-level screening with metal detectors and bag checks before they were able to find a seat. Media were moved through another door. Then, the waiting begins.
We’re Waiting, But Having Fun
Someone with a hot dog cart would have made a killing since there was no food or water in the building. The crowd, mostly union members from the ACW, were in good spirits and it was easy to get a few interviews before the speech began.
The Secret Service
Everything happens under the watchful eye of the Secret Service. In general, there are three different types of agents. The Secret Service that we think of (the people you don’t mess with) wear lapel pins with a star on them. They’re the people with guns. In addition, there are agents with an ‘R’ on the lapel. They’re agents from the regional offices here to help out. ‘S’ are staffers from the Vice-President’s office. A staffer with an ‘S’ kept us informed of the V.P.’s arrival, what she was doing in the building, and made sure we had a seat.
Seats are important. Every individual in the crowd has to have a seat. One seat for one rear end. We went through a few drills to make sure everyone had a seat. The only people standing would be photographers.
Several people have asked me what the Vice-President drove up in. I couldn’t look out a window if I tried. Once Harris was in the building, we went into lockdown. No one in, no one out. That’s pretty standard. A young reporter (less sarcastic readers – that’s me) once got locked out of a Biden appearance and had to broadcast from outside the room. He’ll never make that mistake again. That’s also why he left the P.A. audio running through to the radio station. If he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, the speech still goes over the air. I might have a touch of P.T.S.D.
The event went well, and the Vice-President spoke for almost ten minutes, walked the crowd line, and left. Then, all that’s left is packing up and getting back to the office. A good day was had by all.
Oh, and President Biden, you owe me an interview. Stop by anytime.