Blogging Obama’s Town Hall from the Press Playpen

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View from the press playpen

It was a great privilege to have the chance to attend the Town Hall meeting with President Obama in Costa Mesa on Wednesday. I have had the opportunity to cover a number of events with the Democratic Party over my three years of blogging, but not as a credentialed member of the White House press.

I had expected that press would have had full run of the room affording the opportunity for a few good photos and conversations with participants.

white-house-press-pool-backWell, I was a bit disappointed to find out that the print media were placed in a gated press area.  The media riser was in front of us blocking our view of the stage. As Martin Wisckol reported on Total Buzz, if we wanted to see the President speak, live internet feed was about the best we were going to get.  Of course, I had decided against bringing my laptop.

I was able to get credentialed as a freelance reporter for another publication, and assign my LiberalOC credential over to our blogger Steve Perez. Steve was unsuccessful in getting a ticket after waiting in line at the Fairgrounds over Monday night. I had just enough time to get him my credential before the White House Press Office finalized their list.

Chris Prevatt & Steve Perez in press pen

Chris Prevatt & Steve Perez in press pen

There is something to be said for the enthusiasm of youth. Steve crawled under the risers once the President arrived to get an unobstructed, yet uncomfortable, view of the event.

Even after the town hall ended, the print and TV media were not allowed out of our playpen. It was rather comical watching reporters begging the participants for an interview. It felt like we were in a petting zoo begging for treats from visitors.

One of the aspects of the President’s visit that I haven’t seen much if any coverage about is the fact that there were more tickets issued than seats. There was a line of about 100 people standing along the wall.

Other than the President’s opening remarks, which were displayed on a teleprompter, the entire event was unscripted. The President took questions randomly from the audience. I was impressed with President Obama’s ability to think on his feet, and answer every question tossed at him. Televised perspectives of town hall meetings during the campaign did not fully convey Obama’s ability to command a room in this setting.

Prevatt Bloggin on his BlackBerry from the petting zoo

Prevatt Blogging on his BlackBerry from the petting zoo

One disappointment I had while blogging the event was the hour and a half it took Twitter to transmit my Twitter posts. I’m not quite sure why that happened. I could see my comments post on the Twitter website, but the delay of the text messages was really frustrating.

As Steve and I were leaving the press parking lot on Arlington, we saw the four Marine helicopters, one carrying the President, flying towards Long Beach. That was cool.

  3 comments for “Blogging Obama’s Town Hall from the Press Playpen

  1. March 20, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Chris — Too bad Matt Cunningham didn’t make it. Or Art Pedroza. Guess Carlos Bustamante stole Art’s press pass. One would think the most influential political blog in OC would cover the event personally instead of via the radio feed. But perhaps the White House people were good at sniffing out frauds.

  2. Misha Houser
    March 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    It was comical watching some of the network reporters desperately trying to get folks to come to the fence so they could interview attendees. Those of us sitting near the pen were interviewed several times just because we had to pass by to get anywhere else in the room.
    Pretty amazing to have a CBS reporter calling out, “Can I talk to you?” and watching most people just pass on by, compared to the Convention in Denver where reporters “chased” after folks for blocks at a time to get their stories.
    Whoever set the staging did a strange job. I can’t figure out how they could possibly think that putting the print folks behind the risers was a good idea, OR having the press in the middle of the room? What was that all about? Why wasn’t the president in the middle with the media to the side or in more than one area to help with camera angles?
    As it was, those of us who were in the back had a rough time seeing the President because our view was partially blocked by the risers and the crowd trying to get pictures in the aisle.
    Still, I’m thrilled to have been there and had a great time.
    Next time though, I think they should find someone who will do a better job with the staging.

  3. March 20, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    The assembled media did have a rough go. The place was noisy and wasn’t helped by the people milling about connecting with friends who had saved seats. Having been the target of two reporters, I can say that Chris’s image of being caged and begging for treats is apt. One was the reporter from USA Today. He tagged me afterward and asked a few questions but in his article yesterday he didn’t use any of what I said. A reporter from CBS News asked about being a Democrat in Orange County. I don’t know if my answer aired. I told her that we have more Democrats in Orange County than there are in San Francisco [true] but that we Democrats do have problems here because in Orange County, Democrats are more closeted than gay people.

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