On the afternoon of July 27, Michael Moore arrived at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on a leafy street in Brookline to address members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union who attended a screening of his anti-Bush agit-mentary Fahrenheit 9/11 . It was his second public appearance in Boston, during a convention where many Democratic watchers wondered what the filmmaker’s role-if any-would be for a party hoping to reach mainstream voters while keeping up the anti-Bush invective.
Mr. Moore waddled on stage in his usual frumpy outfit of billowy jeans; a black shirt and a ball cap perched atop his frock of tussled brown hair.
After grossing more than $100 million to date on a budget of just $6 million, with a potential to reach a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue from ticket sales and DVD’s, has Fahrenheit 9/11 lined his pockets?
“I have never seen a dime from any of my films,” Mr. Moore told The Transom at a press conference as the screening got underway. “Not a dime. So, I am always on the pessimistic side when you deal with this business,” he said. “The so-called net? The back end? As soon as I get a check, I’ll let you know.”
And if the figure on that check is followed by plenty of zeros, what would he do? Buy a new baseball cap, at least?
“I’d use it on a wardrobe, or a big yacht” Mr. Moore said igniting a chuckle from the throng of reporters gathered in the room. “A couple mansions, something in the South of France would be nice for me, I think. Don’t you?” he continued, before noting he’d most likely forgo extravagant luxuries and give the proceeds away to groups sharing his message. “Again,” he added, “I’m a dangerous guy to give a lot of money to.”
On Tuesday morning at 1:15 a.m., a short-statured Boston Police lieutenant and a tall captain hustled the Reverend Al Sharpton out of a 7-Eleven, his arm bent behind his back.
“Rev, we got to get one more photo, but this is going to be a special one,” the lieutenant had said, and Mr. Sharpton shrugged off the late hour to oblige. “You got me shoplifting!” he crowed, waving his pink Tropicana Smoothie overhead as a fireman flashed his digital camera and the cops released him.
It wasn’t really a bust. It was racial reconciliation as screwball comedy, so routine around Mr. Sharpton that his press secretary, Rachel Noerdlinger, flipped idly through Us Weekly as the antics proceeded. Mr. Sharpton, his suit and his bobbed hair both still crisp, was on his way back from his interview with Larry King, on whose show he’d split time with Ben Affleck.
The white cops set upon him just outside the double-fenced perimeter of the Fleet Center, site of Democratic National Convention.
By the end, Boston’s finest and bravest had collected pictures of him with his arm around the captain, pictures of him with his arm around the lieutenant, and one gag shot with him up against the wall, ready to be searched.
“Oh man, this is a pisser,” said the lieutenant. “He’s a funny bastard.”
We Are the World
In the cavernous expanse of the main exhibition hall at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center on Saturday night, thousands of journalists covering the convention milled about in an atmosphere that resembled a Palestinian refugee camp where management had been taken over by Cirque du Soleil.
Tents with what looked like Ikea divans and rugs dotted the vast chamber, punctuated by enormous Bedouin tents where Indian and Chinese hors d’oeuvres were ladled out by toqued attendants. Projected on the walls were images that seemed like they were culled from the jacket art for the We Are the World album; every once in a while, a Red Sox pitcher at the mound flashed onto the walls.
Drinks were free, as they must be in order to attract off-duty journalists, and they couldn’t get them fast enough when they first caught a glimpse of the hall. Several high-profile attendees, including Alexandra and Vanessa Kerry, seemed to be eyeing the exits soon after descending the escalator into the room.
The huge hall managed to swallow all chatter, and the darkness banished every parting glance, leaving guests stumbling past each other.
“When is a place big enough to be called ‘outside’?” asked a local Boston reporter, fingering a pack of cigarettes nervously.
Near the front, an enormous, neon-lit Ferris wheel churned, its generator humming over the subdued noises of the crowd. A blue carpet made a path from the Ferris wheel to a fountain that flowed with chocolate-the decadence of which was slightly marred by the inevitable dirt the chocolate picked up in its cycle. Sauza, the tequila maker, was there to provide amusement-park-style girl drinks; the brave and the stout-bellied slurped as they strolled among the costumed performers-including a marching band in full majorette regalia and several ethnically dressed people who seemed to be there only to wander around and be looked at.
The same vague “world” theme was evident on the stage, which seemed a speck on the horizon of the party, and which somehow managed to make the tens of thousands look like a kind of sparse crowd. A sound system that was loud in a deep, thrumming, inner-ear kind of way pulsed with music that sounded-well, ethnic.
By 10 p.m., you could hear a pin drop in the V.I.P. room upstairs, and it seemed a few of the Big People decided to see what was happening down in the World Village of Drunken Newshounds. Television Foxes Greta van Susteren and Shepard Smith chatted quietly under one of the tents; Terry McAuliffe had been spotted; one journalist, stringing for Joyce Wadler’s Boldface Names column, said she’d gone up to ask two men at the V.I.P. party what they thought of the event.
“Who are you writing for?” she remembered one of them asking. She told him, and he said he was familiar with the venue but wasn’t going to give an interview.
“I’m Arthur Sulzberger,” he said, before gesturing to his friend and introducing executive editor Bill Keller.
A little girl in traditional Native-American dress, with a giant feathered headdress, slouched half-asleep in a chair. A dozen listless guests shuffled in place waiting their turn at the Ferris wheel, the hum of which resounded through the room, louder than any conversation, even drowning out Little Richard, who was belting “Tutti Frutti” on a giant stage at the back of the room.
Ann Coulter was halfway through a Sauza margarita on the rocks when a young aspiring journalist approached the table she was sharing with Slate ‘s Mickey Kaus and a few other reporters.
“I have read all your books, and I absolutely love what you do,” said the young dreamer, a 2002 Yale grad named Sean Westmoreland, “and I’m the biggest fan you’ll find in Boston.
“That’s like being the tallest building in Peoria,” Ms. Coulter said dryly.
And how was the crowd treating Ms. Coulter, whose acerbic wit and conservative commentary have given her a permanent role on almost every cable news talk show?
“There are a lot of Democrats here,” Ms. Coulter said. “I’ve basically been staying at the same table all night, sipping the free booze, with my eyes trained straight ahead-at the stage.
Ms. Coulter was on assignment at the party for USA Today , for which she’ll be penning a daily column about the convention. The paper’s 36-year-old op-ed-page editor, John Siniff, who was standing at the elbow-high table with Ms. Coulter and Mr. Kaus, said he has also arranged for Michael Moore to write a week’s worth of columns during next month’s Republican convention in New York.
“I’ve had this job two months, and this was my first big idea,” Mr. Siniff said.
Onstage, Little Richard was getting weirder-maybe taking the cue to pick up the multiculti theme?
“Are there any Jews in here?” he was howling, in a weird approximation of a shout-out to the crowd. “Are there any Mexicans?”
How to stick out in the ever-increasing stack of Election 2004 convention editions? On Monday morning, The Washington Post greeted convention-goers with the first must-read section of the week: a very special “Election 2000” offering.
The two words were plastered banner-style over a special section featuring a photograph of Senator John Edwards and Senator John Kerry, fists raised, accompanying a news analysis by Washington Post staff writer David von Drehle.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if the offending section hadn’t been distributed precisely in the place where competitors would get the most joy out of the politically authoritative paper’s goof-the two-story media tent sitting astride the Fleet Center and several dozen hotels where journalists were ensconced.
Post managing editor Steve Coll said that the Post ‘s production department in Washington accidentally inserted a four-year-old template as it was laying out the special section last night, and the error sailed past everyone involved-till it began arriving on some 7,000 hotel doorsteps.
The error was confined to the Post ‘s convention-only press run, which is being contracted out to a Boston printer for the occasion, Mr. Coll said. “Because the special edition in Boston did not conform to any of the section sizes or advertising shapes in the main Washington editions, entirely new electronic pages had to be created last night, so that the printing plant in Boston could create the edition there,” he wrote in an e-mail.
That means it went to the convention hotels where delegates, reporters and party brass were bunkered. It was also distributed throughout the media pavilion at Boston’s Fleet Center, where competitors indulged in a little good-natured Schadenfreude before, early in the day, Post circulation staff set out to round up some of the 3,000 copies destined for the convention site.
With the assembled media already tipped off to the mistake-and with no corrected copies to hand out-the Post decided to abandon the recall effort.
“At this point, we’re just going to let it go,” Mr. Coll said.
Breakfast had barely ended at the Marriott in Boston, home base for the Florida delegation, but Congresswoman Coreen Brown made sure that the roomful of Florida delegates was wide awake.
“We’ve got the best hotels! We’ve got center stage at the convention!” she shouted. “All eyes are on Florida!”
All eyes were on Florida this morning, as the Democratic National Committee has brought out the heavy artillery to win over last year’s hot-button state. Word had gotten out about who would be the speaking at the morning event-Ben Affleck and Howard Dean-and what began as a routine meeting reached a fever pitch before the hour was through.
The delegates, who had somehow coordinated a dress code of flowered vacationers’ gear, eagerly played around with Ms. Brown’s call-and-response routine, which, with free coffee, is pretty much the M.O. for rousing the politically minded and hung-over at convention-delegate breakfasts.
“The truth is, we won in the 2000 elections, and the question is, will we win again-or will they steal it from us again?” she cried.
“No!!” came the response.
Governor Dean entered, beginning with a riff on his own fatal Iowa blunder: “We’re gonna win in Pennsylvania! We’re gonna win in Iowa! We’re gonna win in Wyoming! We’re gonna win in South Carolina … and we’re gonna win again in Florida!
“I’m not gonna say anything bad about the President, but it is a hard task,” he said.
In the middle of his comments, someone from the crowd shouted, “Give ’em hell, Howard!”
“We’re gonna give ’em hell!” Mr. Dean responded gleefully. He quoted Senator Truman-“I don’t give ’em hell. I tell the truth and the Republicans think it’s hell!”-and struck a few populist notes, encouraging ordinary people to run for office and give small amounts to the campaign.
The shouting match didn’t falter over a less-than-fiery Janet Reno, who delivered a nonconfrontational speech but evoked a clamor nonetheless.
“I hope we’ve identified the problems with the machines and everything will go more smoothly this time,” she told The Transom calmly about Florida in the coming election.
But the room really got on its feet when aspiring politician Ben Affleck burst in a little after 9 a.m., thundering from the pulpit with a speech chockfull of tricky facts and figures. He waxed eloquent about the importance of this election, employment numbers and Senator Kerry’s support of the military, before making his own jab at Bush-with a line he’s been using for some time now.
“I received over $1 million last year in tax cuts,” he said, raising a shapely eyebrow, “and I can tell you personally, I don’t need the money.”
Asked if he felt comfortable talking politics, Mr. Affleck leaned down from the stage and put his arm comfortably around The Transom’s shoulder. “It feels good,” he said warmly. “Very satisfying.”
“Ben,” an exuberant Florida Democrat shouted, “why are you so pretty?”
“You’re pretty, too!” he replied.
Mr. Affleck was mobbed by button-clad female delegates on his way out, gasping, “Ben, will you take a picture?!?”
“Sure, gorgeous,” he grinned.
Two women asked if he would pose in a picture for Florida Latinos.
“Latinos!” he echoed in a sultry Spanish accent, which apparently meant yes.
“Ooh,” one cooed in approval, “that was good.”
“Stronger at home, respected in the world,” said Terry Edmonds, Senator John Kerry’s chief speechwriter. He was in the back of a Boston taxi on the evening of Sunday, July 25, on his way to the Yankees–Red Sox grudge match, where his boss was throwing out the first pitch-an event that was kept so secret for so long that Senator Kerry diverted his campaign plane to get there.
Mr. Edmonds was trying out Mr. Kerry’s current slogan for what must be the thousandth time. “It’s not punchy, but it’s the theme.”
Mr. Edmonds, who was President Clinton’s top speechwriter, isn’t the sort to pull rank or even push his way to the front of a taxi line. Unfortunately, he came downstairs from his room at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel around 8 p.m. It’s just the wrong time to get a ride to Fenway Park for a game that was set to start in 10 minutes. A New York delegation party had just broken up, and its highest rollers were hurrying over to Hillary and Bill Clinton’s private party overlooking Boston Harbor. Mr. Edmonds and a reporter standing nearby appeared to be at risk of being trampled in a crowd of Clinton donors, among them the performer Anna Deveare Smith. Mr. Edmonds was wearing what pass for work clothes at a convention: a “Team Kerry” T-shirt, a rumpled, hooded sweatshirt and a Wimbledon hat. His dark, pleasantly lined face looked a bit tired: He’d been e-mailing drafts of speeches all day as Senator Kerry made his way across the country. He reports to Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, the convention’s dominating presence, but Mr. Edmonds hadn’t yet taken a look at the caricature of Mr. Shrum on the front page of The New Republic . It’s the luxury of being a speechwriter-you’re the private part of an intensely public event, and hardly anyone recognizes you outside the Park Plaza. “I’m a ghost-I don’t exist,” Mr. Edmonds said, getting out of the taxi outside Fenway. “That’s my credo.” Inside the stadium, Mr. Kerry had already thrown the first pitch and departed. Mr. Edmonds headed for the left-field side and apologized in an exchange with a reporter for not having business cards. “I don’t have any,” he said. “Because I don’t exist.”
Monday’s party of the night was hosted by The Economist , The New Republic and Roll Call , and sponsored by the National Spirits Council, but guests gravitated to John Fox Sullivan, the white-haired, bespectacled publisher of the National Journal group, to thank him for throwing such a great shindig.
A high-octane mix of journalists, Hill staffers and a few Congressman schmoozed, boozed and shouted at each other over the music at Anthem, a bar around the corner from the Fleet Center with the cheesy-yet-elegant 80’s Art Deco redux aesthetic of a Cosi coffee shop, as waiters brought around trays of nourishing hors d’oeuvres.
Just before 11 p.m., as the visage of President Clinton speaking to delegates shone down from the television set above the bar, Ana Maria Cox, who runs the much-buzzed-about Beltway blog Wonkette, was chatting with Matt Labash, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard . Ms. Cox said she’s spent all day giving interviews about blogging.
Nearby, several dozen Washington-type journalists and staffers of indiscriminate import mingled by the bar. “These people are not even famous for D.C.,” Ms. Cox said. “They are if you follow electricity deregulation,” said Mr. Labash. How could one tell? “The static in their hair,” he said. “They glow,” Ms. Cox said. The Transom asked Mr. Labash if he’d met anyone who actually liked John Kerry personally. “I think Vanessa is on the fence, but could be persuaded,” he said of the Senator’s blond medical-student daughter.
Downstairs, people clustered together on benches, or crowded around a table where enthusiastic pushers from the National Spirits Council were plying guests with thimble-sized glasses of high-end whiskies like Laphroaig and Jack Daniels Old Forester.
“You better try some,” one booze-pusher told The Transom. “Because you’re not going to find these in stores.”
Some time after midnight, The Transom looked around the bar’s cavernous downstairs and tried to gauge just what it was about the crowd that made it immediately clear we weren’t in New York. Hans Nichols, a dashing curly-haired staff writer for The Hill , took one steady look around the room and figured out the vibe: “Because these people,” he said, “are more interested in networking than in sex.”
The New York Times ‘ Michael Cooper was in his room at the Park Plaza Hotel on Monday filing a summary of that day’s reporting when the Secret Service called to say they’d searched that very room earlier in the day.
The agents had descended in response to a tip that he had-a gas mask! Did he know something everyone else didn’t?
“They were like, ‘Why do you have a gas mask?'” said Mr. Cooper, The Times ‘ even-tempered Albany bureau chief.
There was a good reason he had one – his employer had offered it to him. An internal memo, leaked to Wonkette.com, informed Times reporters that “[Escape] hoods are not mandatory but if you would feel safer with one please bring yours along.”
“I said they were giving them out,” he said. The Secret Service agent was incredulous: Who was giving them out? The convention?
“Just the paper,” he explained, and the agent was apparently satisfied.
Mr. Cooper said he hadn’t noticed that his not-entirely-immaculate room had been searched. The underwear and socks, he said, were in their usual places.