ST. PETERSBURG — Critics concerned about big-name reporters such as ABC's Diane Sawyer or NBC's Brian Williams having drinks and munching food with GOP delegates at a reception funded by the people they are supposed to be covering needn't have worried.
As it turns out, few big names in national media seemed to turn out for the Republican National Convention's opening night party Sunday at Tropicana Field, despite its billing as the first time that media and delegates would mingle at a combined celebration, paid for by the convention host committee. (Rain and storm warnings may have kept some people away.)
One of the exceptions was Jesse Watters, a producer for Fox News Channel star Bill O'Reilly, who was treated like a celebrity by delegates who crowded about, taking pictures and complimenting him on his work.
Watters specializes in field interviews for O'Reilly's conservative-friendly show, taking to the red carpet at the Oscars to grill stars such as George Clooney on their political views or lampoon Independence Day beachgoers who didn't know U.S. history.
"There's no stupid people here, so what are you gonna do?" shouted one admirer. "You're taller in real life," enthused another delegate, holding up a smartphone for a picture.
"I'm just here to do a sights and sounds package," said a tight-lipped Watters, who declined to speak further with the Tampa Bay Times, though he assured fans that O'Reilly would be coming to the RNC on Wednesday and Thursday.
Former American Idol contestant Shannon Magrane drew similar attention from local TV stations scrambling to find notable people to interview.
The reporters were hampered by rules from the host committee barring cameras from the floor of Tropicana Field, forcing them to set up in the stands. There, they made do with interviews with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Magrane, a Tampa native who reached 11th place in this year's American Idol competition.
"I can't vote, and I'm still learning about how all this works in my government class," said the singer, who made headlines on Idol as the 6-foot tall, 16-year-old daughter of former Major League Baseball pitcher and current MLB Network broadcaster Joe Magrane. "It's a moment in history that the RNC is here, and I'm just glad to be a part of it."
The ranks of media seemed to be filled mostly by local figures, including Dave McKay and Veronica Young from WQYK-FM (99.5), Mark Wilson from WTVT-Ch. 13 and Linda Hurtado from WFTS-Ch. 28; all conducting interviews for their respective programs.
The lack of big names left Miami radio host Edward Woodson disappointed. He was part of a media contingent only credentialed to cover the event from Tropicana Field's centerfield restaurant, watching the party from picture windows looking onto the field.
"It's horrible, because we didn't get access to anything," complained Woodson, who hosts a weekly show for WZAB-AM in Miami. "This isn't how we do things in Miami."
Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or [email protected]