By: Charles Geraci
He’s not just another face in the crowd at concerts, book signings, and sporting events. Somehow, over the course of 10 years, one man has managed to become the media’s go-to guy, quoted more than 100 times in various publications, including several prominent newspapers. Greg Packer is the “man on the street.”
Packer, 40, of Huntington, N.Y., arrives early to media events. His latest accomplishment: being 15th in line in Washington, D.C., to pay his respects to former President Ronald Reagan. “I’m the best person to come to ? anywhere,” says Packer. “I always give time, and I always have an answer.”
While Packer says “honesty is very important to me,” he does admit that about 5% of the time, “I’m making stuff up to get in the paper.” A Boston newspaper, for example, quoted him as saying he had a ticket for the 1999 baseball All-Star Game there when he really didn’t.
“At times the media can be gullible, but they have to take people at their word,” he explains.
In June 2003, the Associated Press circulated a memo instructing its reporters not to quote Packer in any more stories, saying the media had been over-relying on him. Conservative columnist Ann Coulter has deemed him “the entire media’s designated man on the street for all articles ever written.” Sheryl McCarthy, a columnist for New York’s Newsday, said, “The fact that Greg Packer’s quotes have turned up everywhere suggests that man-on-the-street interviews are worthless.”
In addition to television appearances on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, Packer has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal and quoted in The New York Times, the New York Post, Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and London Times, among many others.
Often, Packer’s quotes are fairly plain. “It’s a day for happiness and to be together,” he informed an AP reporter at the 2003 St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan. Commenting on the 2002 Thanksgiving Day parade, he told the New York Post, “Good people, good family, good balloons.” His face made the front page of Newsday in 1996, because he was the first in line from Long Island to get tickets to see the Yankees in the World Series.
“I do not think members of the press are pansies, but there are times when I go home and laugh because I can’t believe that I made the newspaper pages again,” Packer says.
But how does he do it? Packer, a highway maintenance worker for 15 years and unmarried, says he uses much of his vacation time to attend media events. He identifies and then approaches reporters covering the event, or he motions them to come over, or sometimes they come up to him on their own, he says.
Along the way, Packer has met many politicians, celebrities, and sports stars, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Dennis Rodman, Sheryl Crow, Britney Spears, and Courtney Love. He even talked a little baseball with President George W. Bush at an Army/Navy football game. When Packer asked Bush if he missed baseball, the president nodded. “The Secret Service was laughing,” Packer says. “They couldn’t believe that I was getting through to the president.”
At one of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s book signings last year, Packer claims she greeted him, saying, “Hello, Mr. Packer.” He couldn’t believe that “she knew me on a formal basis.”
After one of her signings, Packer says he was brought to the media pit for interviews. “It was then that I realized I wanted to pursue my own career in the media,” Packer says. He is now hoping to write a book, have his own radio show, or even a reality TV show. He claims VH1 has shown interest in him for a show called “Totally Obsessed,” which would suit him fine. “I really am totally obsessed with having my name out there,” Packer says. “But it’s a healthy obsession. It’s not like I’m hurting anyone.”
But when the media wants a quote from a typical New Yorker, is it unfair that it’s often Packer? “I think I do represent the average New Yorker,” Packer says. “I’ve lived in New York all my life. I’m always doing different things in different places and I care a lot about the city.”