Visiting CNN and other media at the RNC: Frenzy of calm before the craziness of Isaac
TAMPA -- Imagine the frenzy of jittery, pre-event chaos a few hours before a big wedding, and you have a sense of the scene around the Tampa Bay Times Forum this morning as TV news crews, other journalists and politicos began amassing for the Republican National Convention -- an supremely-scripted event now facing the biggest unscripted moment possible.
I came to the site at about 9 a.m., wedged into an unmarked van with several other, more famous journalists for an appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources this morning. Police were still unsure about where cars and vans could stop, as technicians, anchors, reporters and support staff filed in and out of Gate C.
A line of a dozen or so camouflaged backpacks sat ominously against the fencing surrounding entrances to the Forum, as a mixture of soldiers, police officers and Forum security scrambled to cope with the growing incursion of smartphone-toting media professionals come to dissect the city, its politics and, of course, the threatening weather.
Inside the Forum, CNN staffers seemed surprisingly relaxed, given that Tropical Storm Isaac had already prompted cancellation of Monday's events, and everyone from Joe Biden to Donald Trump had blown off plans to visit the city for the RNC.
Like back in 2008, when Hurricane Gustav forced TV cable newschannels to pivot between weather coverage and the GOP convention, there remained lots of uncertainty about which story everyone would be covering once he sun rose in Tampa Monday.
One person noted, if Romney doesn't get the post-convention bump he needs in a close election, Florida could actually help decide another presidential contest by circumstance. Small wonder former RNC chair-turned-MSNBC analyst Michael Steele has been pushing back against criticism of the wisdom in picking Florida for a major convention during hurricane season, telling POLITICO "they (critics) just need to stop that shit."
This early, anchors and staffers were still dissecting the news delivered this morning by the Tampa Bay Times that former GOP member and ex-Florida Gov. Charlie Christ had endorsed Democratic President Barack Obama in a column written for today's newspaper. some seemed surprised at the widespread speculation locally that this was a signal Crist planned to challenge current Gov. Rick Scott, either as an independent or a Democrat, prompting anchor Wolf Blitzer to see if he could get Crist and Obama-supporter-turned-Romney backer Artur Davis in the same segment.
For those of us who have been on Howie Kurtz's Reliable Sources show before, this was a chance to meet people in person we had often sparred with by satellite TV. the hidden element of this for media is the schmooze factor -- I taught conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt how to use the smartphone app Bump, allowing us to trade contact information just by clicking our iPhones together.
These are the kinds of contacts which can get phone calls returned when you're working more serious stories, as we all tried to make sense of the rushing onslaught of politicking, glad-handing and media spin coming our way. (in the photo at right, I'm geeking out with Blitzer, Rachel Sklar and Lauren Ashburn).
By the time we left after our segments were over, passing by a significant-yet-still-sedate protest in the middle of Tampa's downtown, it was obvious that the sprinkling rain was heralding the start of something we couldn't yet size up -- a collision of politics, weather, media and history that we will all feel privileged to witness, however it all pans out.
See my spot with CNN below: