Off the Record

“The carrying of a weapon, for whatever reason, jeopardizes a journalist’s status as a neutral,” The New York Times said

“The carrying of a weapon, for whatever reason, jeopardizes a journalist’s status as a neutral,” The New York Times said back in January, after The Wall Street Journal reported that Times writer Dexter Filkins had been packing a pistol in Iraq. Mr. Filkins’ approach to self-protection, The Times announced, was un- Times ian and strictly forbidden.

The recommended Times approach? Hire somebody else to carry the weapon. Since January 2003, the paper has included “Gunmen” under the miscellaneous options on its electronic expense-reporting form.

“Gunmen” appears in the program, produced by Concur Technologies, just before “Internet” and “Laundry.” And it occurs just after “Fixers,” another January 2003 addition. “Fixers” covers the helpers-usually local journalists-who serve as idea-generators, translators and general facilitators for foreign correspondents. “Gunmen” apparently covers the more narrowly specialized facilitators who use guns.

Word of the existence of the gunmen option had circulated among the Baghdad press corps, some of whom assumed it was a joke. Even the paper of R.W. Apple couldn’t really take expense accounting that far-could it?

It could (as could The Boston Globe , which uses The Times ‘ accounting software). “Ha!” Knight Ridder correspondent Elise Ackerman e-mailed Off the Record when informed that the “Gunmen” option was real. “That’s hilarious …. Knight Ridder reporters believe in talking our way out of hostile situations, not hiring some ex–Special Forces sidekick.”

Apparently Times reporters haven’t been eager to hire armed sidekicks either, according to The Times . “[T]he fixer category has been used on occasion,” spokesperson Toby Usnik wrote via e-mail, “but the gunmen category has not been used and is to be deleted from the XMS program.” Boston Globe brass were unaware that they’d even been offering their reporters the option.

Asked to explain the thinking behind adding the gunmen in the first place, The Times turned to its time-tested protective measure: impenetrability. “I can tell you,” a spokesperson wrote, “that we establish expense categories for various reasons, including expense control and analysis, what our internal customers or business units would like to see on a reporting basis, to help us negotiate favorable vendor contracts and to satisfy statutory reporting requirements principally in the tax area as some expenses are not fully deductible.”

The Times declined to elaborate on whether or not gunmen were fully deductible.

“I made the mistake of going to the bathroom,” Janeane Garofalo said, standing a short distance inside of the west entrance to Boston’s Fleet Center. It was the final night of the Democratic National Convention, more than an hour before John Kerry was scheduled to speak. Ms. Garofalo had stepped away from her Air America broadcast post, behind the escalators in the entrance hall and across from commuter rail Track 7, and had returned to find that her seat was suddenly 15 yards behind a police barricade.

Ms. Garofalo was not alone. The Boston fire marshal, sizing up the thickening crowds inside the convention hall, had seen enough. All further access to the hall was closed. Ms. Garofalo, Slate ‘s Mickey Kaus, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Off the Record were trapped out by the Dunkin Donuts, with hundreds of others. Journalists on deadline raged at being cut off from their work stations; a woman sobbed in a companion’s arms.

A smaller version of the scene had played out the night before, during John Edwards’ speech. “That always happens,” said Peggy Wilhide, communications director for the Democratic National Convention Committee. “It happened every night in Los Angeles [in 2000].”

Four years ago in Los Angeles, however, Code Orange hadn’t been invented yet. The Fleet Center-like Madison Square Garden later this month-was supposed to be the focus of the most stringent security precautions ever seen. You couldn’t bring in an umbrella. So how did the event end up breaking the fire code?

In the crowded entrance, confusion vied with frustration. All week, access had been controlled by a color-coded status system-yet late-coming delegates, waving prized red floor passes, were as surely locked out as low-level reporters with purple hallway-and-concourse passes. But nobody ever gets shut out with tickets to, say, the Stanley Cup Finals: The arena holds x number of people; they sell x number of tickets.

So who controlled the head count at the convention? For most events, it’s the Fire Department, said Boston fire marshal Peter Laizza. “Normally … you just count the number of seats in there.”

But not at the convention. “It was the Secret Service that was running the show,” Mr. Laizza said.

Well, Secret Service? “We’re not the experts on overcrowding,” said Secret Service spokeswoman Ann Roman. “That’s left up to the fire marshal.”

Part of the problem seems to have been a result of convention security itself. At a normal event, you’re either inside or outside, and a fire marshal can stand at the door with a clicker to verify the count.

At conventions, though, no one is especially focused on manning the door. According to Ms. Roman, the Secret Service controlled access on the perimeter of the convention grounds and at secure areas inside the convention building-the podium area, for instance, or backstage.

Access to the hall itself, governed by credential color, is supposed to be handled by the convention committee. It’s the committee that prints up the passes and arranges for their distribution. But nobody at the DNCC knew exactly how many people the Fleet Center would hold for the Kerry speech.

The Fleet Center holds about 19,600 spectators for sports events, and Mr. Laizza estimated that another thousand can fit in for concert events, when seating is added on the floor. The convention did include floor seating, but also sacrificed some capacity for the sake of TV camera posts and other special arrangements.

Whatever the net capacity might have been, the DNCC issued roughly 5,800 delegate credentials and 15,000 media ones. Ms. Wilhide was unable to say what share of those passes were hall-access passes. But she conceded that the committee had probably overbooked-treating Mr. Kerry’s speech less like the Stanley Cup than like a cross-country flight. “Yes, there are probably more credentials than there are actual seats available,” Ms. Wilhide said.

A spokesperson for the Republican National Convention Committee declined to discuss Madison Square Garden’s convention capacity or the number of credentials that will be issued for the New York event. “We are not talking about security at all,” the spokesperson said. “So that’s it.”

But in Boston, Mr. Laizza said, the credential count wasn’t the only problem. The real trouble, he said, was how the credentials were used. Convention passes are not tied to specific reporters, but can be used by different people at different times. And journalists have discovered that they don’t need to keep their passes once they get inside the hall.

So if a news organization has two or more hall credentials, one person can carry extra badges back and forth, using them to shuttle as many colleagues, friends and relatives into the building as possible. “We could hear people talking about it,” Mr. Laizza said.

Spurred by a rumor that the marshals would be cutting off access at 8 p.m., the press got the shuttle system running early for Mr. Kerry’s speech, packing the hall with uncredentialed spectators. But it wasn’t the clock that determined the cutoff, Mr. Laizza said. That comes, he said, “when we see what we call ‘crowd crush.'” Once the bodies are packed so tightly that marshals can’t move from point to point in the building, it’s closing time.

If the crowd was outsized, though, the pass-the-passes system helped make it unusually ruly. Mr. Laizza said that his staff had braced itself for a mob scene on the concourses during the last intermission before Mr. Kerry’s address, after Carole King performed. But the hall crowd-afraid of losing its spaces-stayed put.

“Those people in the hall never left,” Mr. Laizza said, marveling.

Even or especially in death, Gloria Emerson refused to make it easy for The New York Times . Emerson, who wrote for The Times from the wreckage of Southeast Asia at the tail end of the Vietnam War, died (reportedly at her own head) last week-but not before leaving a series of notes and her own obituary, written in the third person.

Of the 18 paragraphs of the obituary that Craig R. Whitney wrote for The Times , six and a half were in Ms. Emerson’s own words. That included even the career-retrospective boilerplate-carefully cited and quoting the author: “Her nonfiction book on the war, ‘Winners & Losers’ (Random House, 1977), won a National Book Award in 1978 but she described it as ‘too large and somewhat messy.'”

“I was really in awe of her, and remain so,” said Robert Sam Anson, who got to know Emerson in Cambodia in 1970. There were some 50 reporters there, Mr. Anson recalled, who would take box lunches from Phnom Penh’s Hotel Royale and ride out in Mercedes to scenes of slaughter-sometimes their own.

“And she was the perfect character to be there,” Mr. Anson said.

A vivid character Gloria Emerson certainly was-dramatic, fiercely opinionated, a woman of great style. Frances FitzGerald, who covered Vietnam for The New Yorker , remembered that Emerson “would spend a lot of time in the field and then come back to Saigon and become this urbane person again. She would immediately go to the hairdresser. She was perfectly impeccable.

“And she used to tease the other reporters unmercifully,” Ms. FitzGerald continued. “Teasing was one thing, but then she’d harass them. She felt that they were indifferent to the suffering of everybody-the Vietnamese, the American troops. The war was a moral burden.”

The word “geopolitics” crops up among Emerson’s survivors in the Vietnam press corps-describing the thing she didn’t write about. At a paper whose storied foreign correspondents seemed to be filing briefs for the State Department, Emerson impressed her colleagues by ignoring the conceptual and strategic underpinnings of war. Her subject was the immediate and actual war: bodies broken, homes destroyed, hopes abandoned.

“There was a kind of Gloria story, and it was different from the others,” said David Halberstam, who preceded Emerson in Vietnam working for The Times . “It was about how people felt.

“She had a marvelous ability to get ordinary people to talk and talk about how they really felt,” Mr. Halberstam said.

Ms. FitzGerald told of one story in particular: Emerson discovered that the North Vietnamese sent poets and artists down the Ho Chi Minh trail to encourage the soldiers. One poet described the North Vietnamese growing lettuce on the trail.

“One line of the poem was, ‘Even our greenness threatens you,'” Ms. FitzGerald said. “The headline read: ‘Foes said to grow vegetables on trail.'”

One life that Emerson was not so keen on illuminating was her own. The Times itself, trying to reconstruct her life story before she’d entered journalism, had to rely on what she’d reported on her job application. All the paper could say about its own employee’s personal history was that Emerson had written that she was a widow, “giving her married name as Znamiecki.”

The Times hired the widow Znamiecki to write about clothing, which is what she was doing when Mr. Halberstam crossed paths with her in 1966. “We talked a lot about Vietnam,” Mr. Halberstam said. “I did not think she wanted to spend the Vietnam War covering fashions in Paris.”

The Times , at first, might have had other ideas. Kevin Buckley, the Newsweek bureau chief in Saigon from 1970 to 1972, and a longtime friend, said that Emerson told him The Times had been reluctant to send a woman to Vietnam.

“Before she left, she had lunch with Punch Sulzberger-just the two of them,” Mr. Buckley said. “At one point, Sulzberger said to her very quietly, ‘Very few people know this, but I was the youngest platoon commander in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps.’ And Gloria took his hand and said, ‘I’m sorry.’

“That was the wonderful, incomparable, hilarious Gloria,” Mr. Buckley said. “But that was her attitude about macho bluster, which made macho blusterers in Vietnam fear her.” He also recalled that Emerson loved the American G.I.’s she encountered and maintained contact with many of them after the war.

Some friends didn’t know that Emerson suffered from Parkinson’s, or that it was so serious. But in the last months of her life, neither that illness, nor a poorly healed leg, prevented her from attending social outings, visiting with friends or making new ones. The last time Mr. Buckley saw her, about two weeks before her death, she was having lunch with a young Newsweek reporter at Ken Aretsky’s restaurant, 92, on the Upper East Side, near where she lived on 92nd and Madison Avenue.

“My wife and I went to 92-they were crazy about her there-to tell them she had died,” Mr. Buckley recalled. “A guy there said, ‘There was more life in her as she inched along Madison Avenue than in most people.'”

Her curiosity and humor remained just as lively. “We would talk about Vietnam and Cambodia, often in terms of the current war,” Mr. Buckley said. “And we talked about terrible things, somehow with a macabre black humor.

“And Gloria would say, ‘I had the best man in New York, but he botched my lobotomy. That’s why I remember all this.'”

-with Suzy Hansen Off the Record