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Credential Chaos and Confusion at the RNC

“I’m not a member of an organized party. I’m a Democrat.”

If Will Rogers had said this today he would be describing the Republican convention in Cleveland, or at least the preconvention meetings. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans hold their Committee meetings the week before the actual convention. There, important decisions are made about the platform, rules and credentials. It’s a good place to see the internal dynamics of the GOP in action.

Although organizing starts long before the actual convention, the lack of organization, multiple mistakes and repeated shifts of direction is unlike the traditional Republican style of being well put together.

Once SWW was officially credentialed for the Republican convention we got e-mails from GOP media operations telling us that we had to apply for separate credentials to cover the Rules and Platform Committees. AND, we also had to apply to cover the RNC summer meeting. AND we had to apply for pre-convention credentials. We did, via e-mail, as requested.

We soon got tickets from Eventbrite to print out tickets for the first two. The third request bounced. Three times. A few more e-mails to GOP media operations disclosed a one character mistake in the e-mail address we had been sent. These days that’s enough to send a request into never-never land. Our next request for pre-convention credentials didn’t bounce, but we never got a reply. Ditto for our 2nd and 3rd attempts.

Once in Cleveland, we took our printed tickets to the building where the Committee hearings were being held. Sorry, we were told, there’s no room at the inn. Too many press; too few seats. Come back later. We did. Several times. We never got in.

Committee on Rules © Jo Freeman | 2016
Committee on Rules © Jo Freeman | 2016

Probably to get rid of us, we were told to go to the media filing center at the Cleveland Convention Center (CCC) to watch the Rules Committee debates on a screen. There, security wouldn’t let us in because we didn’t have pre-convention passes. We were told to write and/or call Brigit Visconti who was at the Quicken Loans Arena (“Q”) where the actual Republican Convention would be held. Never got a reply.

Went to the Hilton hotel where the RNC Summer meeting was in process. Showed our ticket. A young volunteer told us she’d have to check to see if we were on the list. Wait over there, she said. Waiting was comfortable; free wifi and sodas in comfortable chairs. But we never got into the summer RNC meeting.

RNC Meeting and Convention © Jo Freeman | 2016
RNC Meeting and Convention © Jo Freeman | 2016

Went to the media operations desk at the Q to see if a personal appearance would get us something. It did. After a lot of hanging around wasting time, we were given a temporary pre-convention pass in exchange for leaving my driver’s license as hostage. Then we gave ourselves a tour of the Q under construction. Talked to the guys putting it all together. On asking, they told me they were about 80% union members – Carpenters, Teamsters, stagehands, communications workers – but there were no union t-shirts or other insignia in sight. They also said that they were running behind because their overlords kept changing their directions. Build it here; no build it there. Set this up here; no set it up there.

RNC © Jo Freeman | 2016
RNC © Jo Freeman | 2016

Walked the half mile back to the media filing center and finally got in. Yeah!

Saw lots of blue curtains partitioning off spaces for the major media who had paid for their spots. Didn’t see a lot of people. AT&T is providing space for the little media, but you have to pay for an internet connection. The CCC wifi was turned off. Nearby, Fox News paid for ballrooms about the size of a football field and were decorating them with interview stages. I stood in an open door and took a couple shots – until security asked me to leave. You can’t take pictures of private space, he said.

RNC © Jo Freeman | 2016
RNC © Jo Freeman | 2016

Five women from the Cleveland Host Committee had their own booth and were passing out local story ideas to anyone who stopped to ask for directions. When they found out we wrote about women and politics, they urged us to go to the International Women’s Air and Space Museum. Did that the next day and found it fascinating. Since it is spread around the waiting room of the lakefront municipal airport, there is no fee to get in.

Went back to the Q to retrieve my license and turn in my temporary pass – without which you can’t get into anything. When will I get my actual pre-c pass, I asked. Don’t know, said a rather rude young man. Come back tomorrow.

Tomorrow wasn’t any different. A young woman actually spoke to Brigit Visconti on her cell phone, but would only give me a temporary pre-c pass in exchange for my driver’s license. I took it. Went back to the building where the Rules Committee was meeting, only to learn that it had concluded its business at 11:00 p.m. the night before. Since no committees were meeting, we were allowed down into the basement to see where they had met. It was a curtained off room in a very large space. I counted about 50 seats for press, and 150 for other guests, all arranged to make it hard to see the actual committee discussion other than on a screen. The fact that seats were never available was due to a human decision and not to natural physical constraints.

The official convention press credentials were given out on Saturday. That is done by the Congressional Press Galleries. That worked well. We got what we were promised without a glitch. We also learned that the RNC cut their allocated number of press credentials well into the credentialing process, leaving them short of the number they needed.

This year there was an added step. All correspondents had to go through a background check for the Secret Service. Once approved, you got a special badge with your photograph on it. In the past, press credentials could be shared by all members of the “press organization.” Not anymore. Now you have to be on the list that was checked out and approved in advance. This is not done by the RNC. Maybe that’s why we got ours without any problems.

RNC © Jo Freeman | 2016
RNC © Jo Freeman | 2016

Jo Freeman covered the conventions for SeniorWomen Web. Her stories were initially posted at www.seniorwomen.com.

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