DNC Reporters Face Tough Security, But Say News Is Plentiful

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By: Joe Strupp

If any of The New York Times reporters covering the Democratic National Convention had hoped to relax with a cold beer inside Boston’s Fleet Center after a hard day of work, they’ve been disappointed.

That’s because, unlike at past conventions, outside booze — or any bottled liquid for that matter — is banned from the convention site, along with most food, hairspray, and even large umbrellas.

“It was rejected,” said John Files, assistant to the Times’ Washington editor, who tried late last week to bring several cases of beer and a case of wine into the press room for the Times scribes. “The Secret Service is particularly concerned about liquids, fearing biohazards, regardless of whether they are open or closed.”

Convention organizers confirmed that no outside food or drinks are allowed in, leaving delegates and journalists to select from the array of fast food available inside.

“It is more restrictive than in the past,” said Files, who also helped Times staffers during the 2000 conventions. “It used to be you could bring [bottled drinks] in and stack it up and not worry about it. We have more than 100 people here, and we wanted to have it for them.”

Other reporters say the post 9/11 era has made security tighter than ever, making coverage tougher, but not impossible.

“You have to time yourself carefully,” said Jill Lawrence, a USA Today reporter who spoke via cell phone from Boston. “If you wait too long, there are huge crushes of people going in [to the Fleet Center]. I don’t recall being at a convention with helicopters hovering overhead.”

Lawrence, who has covered every convention since 1988, admitted that the Chicago facilities in 1996 were worse. “It was damp and cold,” she remembers. “Chilly, cold tents.”

Todd S. Purdum, a veteran New York Times reporter, said it was not as bad as he had feared. “I was terrified that it would be a nightmare,” Purdum said. “Security is tighter, but it is pretty easy to get a cab and get around. Once you get into the Fleet Center, it is pretty easy to get around.”

Several reporters noted the use of a row of portable toilets for the press. “They are unappealing, to put it mildly,” said John F. Harris of The Washington Post. “The whole security thing has put a pall on things. The visibility of it, having to walk around fences with wire. It doesn’t have a loose, ‘let’s party’ feel.”

Adam Nagourney, a Times staffer who’s covered conventions off and on since 1980, made clear that he hates reporters who complain, but noted that the air was freezing in the press tent area and the lighting was too bright. “I feel like I’m going blind in here,” he said via cell phone.

For Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, in town for his sixth political convention, the two-story press tent is different. “It freezes on the top and roasts on the bottom,” he said, while noshing on a pastrami sandwich he managed to sneak into the media area. “But I cannot complain about security in post 9/11. It was a mess day one, but it is settling down.”

Still, none of the reporters complained about a lack of news to cover, even in such a staged event. “The campaign scripts every word, but something always happens,” said Nagourney, who wrote the Times’ lead story on Bill Clinton’s speech for Tuesday’s paper, which also has a daily eight-page special section on the convention. “There is no trouble finding stories.”

Lawrence, who wrote about Kerry’s military background Tuesday, agreed. “There’s always colorful stuff,” she said. “It is pretty standard.”

Several reporters mentioned some difficulty hooking up to the Internet from the media center Monday, but nothing that delayed filing for a long time. Others, meanwhile, noted a rash of press credential thefts, including at least one taken from around a reporter’s neck.

“It has happened to one of our people and I have heard stories from others,” said Files of the Times. “That has been a problem.”

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