Reporting Alums Reunite at the Convention-Not a Bad Way to Pass the Time

Helen Thomas, the undisputed dean of the White House press corps and longtime correspondent for United Press International, who quit when the Reverend Sun Myung Moon bought into the press syndicate, walked through the Media Pavilion 3 with her lunch, toward the encampment of her new employer, Hearst News Service.

Ms. Thomas has attended every national political convention since 1948, when she was a gofer. Did she still consider the conventions major news events?

“Not major,” Ms. Thomas said. “They’ve taken the major out of it.” But–”it’s important. I don’t blame anybody for wanting to be here. It is an historic event. And you want the human contact.” Moments later, Carl Bernstein, half of the Washington Post ‘s Watergate investigative duo and now the executive editor of Voter.com, emerged from the Washington Post encampment.

“My God!” said Ms. Thomas, “I haven’t seen you.”

Mr. Bernstein shook her hand.

“Dot-com, huh,” said Ms. Thomas.

Mr. Bernstein, with a fresh young Voter.com employee, introduced Ms. Thomas. “Helen Thomas–a great woman,” he said.

“It’s pretty controlled,” Ms. Thomas said of the convention.

“Iron fist. Bush himself used the phrase. ‘Iron-fisted,’” said Mr. Bernstein.

” Sears ?” Ms. Thomas asked, referring to Leonard Garment’s new book, In Search of Deep Throat , which concludes that Bob Woodward and Mr. Bernstein’s Watergate source was John Sears, a political adviser to Nixon and two-time campaign manager to Ronald Reagan. Mr. Bernstein snorted. “We said it’s not Sears,” he said, “because it doesn’t fit the definition of ‘in the executive branch.’ Sears has said he was Bernstein’s source and he was. But he wasn’t Deep Throat.”

“I heard from Brokaw that Sears is going to sue Garment,” said Ms. Thomas. Sometimes, history is the first rough draft of journalism.

Adrienne Rhodes, former spokesperson for the New York Daily News , formally declared her candidacy as a Republican candidate for New York’s 14th Congressional district July 30, on a terrace of the Liberty Bell Pavilion in Philadelphia, Pa.

Off the Record can bring you this news exclusively because we showed up. Therefore, we got an exclusive. Ms. Rhodes’ press release reported that she would have a “symbolic ceremony with family matriarchs and supporters” to challenge the Democratic incumbent, Representative Carolyn Maloney. Though the press release announcing Ms. Rhodes’ event claimed that the candidate “has succeeded in attracting meaningful assistance” (and a campaign worker), the other attendees of the campaign-kickoff event were several members of Ms. Rhodes’ family, her campaign adviser Alan Zakin and co-treasurer Peter Hort.

There was no reporter from the New York Daily News .

Ms. Rhodes sat down on a park bench for a one-on-one chat with Off the Record. It was a lot easier than getting Hillary.

“I think we are going to win,” she said, noting that her experience as a spokeswoman for the Daily News, as well as with the United Negro College Fund, qualified her for Congress.

“I’ve been in the communications–I call it the problem-solving–business for 20 years,” Ms. Rhodes said. Now, she said, she was “looking for a new challenge.”

Who is behind her run?

“A lot of my support is being provided anonymously by high-profile people who are fearful of a backlash from supporting a first-time challenger,” she said.

Does that include Daily News colleagues?

“Not current colleagues,” she said. “No, it’s not Debby Krenek and Art Browne, but I will be hitting them up soon for donations.”

And what about the Daily News ‘ owner, Mortimer B. Zuckerman?

“We talked about it,” she said, but “Mort does not support political candidates.” A call to Mr. Zuckerman’s office generated this response from a spokesperson: “Mr. Zuckerman doesn’t discuss his personal political involvements.” As for a possible endorsement from her current employer–Ms. Rhodes is still a consultant to the Daily News –the spokesman said, “It’s way too early to discuss political endorsements.”

At the time of Ms. Rhodes’ event, two competing gun protests, pro and con, were taking place on the Liberty Bell Pavilion, one with shoes symbolizing the children killed with guns and one with flags symbolizing the lives saved by Americans carrying weapons. Representative Maloney is a nationally known proponent of stronger gun-control laws. Where did Ms. Rhodes stand? “I wonder why it took a million moms to address this matter rather than a representative who allegedly cares about this matter,” Ms. Rhodes said. “I believe in the Second Amendment, but I strongly support Governor Pataki’s position on responsible gun ownership.”

Contacted, Representative Maloney said, “It’s a democratic process and I look forward to it.”

Eavesdrop on a conversation at random in the media headquarters at the Republican Convention and it’s worth betting a drink at the hotel bar that the topic will be whether there’s any point in those particular journalists being there. In short, there is an existential crisis among journalists.

And even when nothing happens, we say man is this boring, and I think, why are we here. Some, in Beckett fashion, have simply resigned themselves to it.

“There’s always been a lot of press,” said Lars-Erik Nelson, a political columnist for the New York Daily News . “And for no reason.”

Under the four tents, dubbed Media Pavilions by the R.N.C., a goodly portion of the staff of daily newspapers and magazines has set up shop in spaces walled off by blue curtains. You can peek inside most and see … what pretty much looks like a newsroom as 10, 50, 60 or more people tap away at computers.

With all the moaning and groaning about how there’s no news to cover, these people sure seem busy. At what, it’s not clear.

“You look at the Gannett place,” Mr. Nelson said on July 31. “It’s like looking at a bank, you know, fifteen hundred people and they’re all typing stories and they can’t all have different stories.”

In fact, the reporters in the Gannett work space working for USA Today , managed to fill five pages of the Aug. 1 paper, filing 17 stories plus columns of various news tidbits. But with separate news stories headlined “Laura Bush Urges ‘Respect’” and “Laura Bush Ties Her Speech to Kids,” it can be a little tough to see why they need journalists and not just P.R. guys.

Of the general convention coverage, Mr. Nelson said, “It’s bullshit. I always tell them if you want to spend money on the campaign, spend it on the trail, spend it early, get to know people better, and it’s always yeah yeah yeah, twenty guys show up to cover the convention.”

But Michael Oreskes, the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times , doesn’t agree. If journalists aren’t finding news, they simply aren’t looking hard enough. “It depends on your definition of news,” Mr. Oreskes said. “It’s completely true that conventions no longer do what they used to do, which is pick a party’s nominee for President.”

The three themes driving the Times coverage, Mr. Oreskes said, are Money, Message and Politics. “I think most journalists are way too cynical about what politicians say,” he said. “They have a message and there is nothing wrong as a journalist that one of my roles is to carry that message through to the public.

“If you mean selecting a candidate for President, there is no news,” he said. “If you mean raising tens of thousands of dollars, there is news. There’s every reason to be here.”

Waiting for Bushie.

Off the Record can be reached by e-mail at gsnyder@ob server.com