This first appeared today in Columbia Journalism Review
By Brian E. Crowley
TAMPA — In a large room, just off the main floor of the Tampa Convention Center, there are about 100 men and women sitting quietly at computers looking very much like employees of the major news organizations covering the 2012 Republican National Convention.
They are not. This is the media war room of the Republican National Committee and the Mitt Romney campaign. Many of the folks inside are volunteers who are assigned to monitor and “assist” various media organizations. They write news releases, do research, keep track of story trends, and reach out to reporters either to inform or push back, depending on the circumstances.
Each network and major cable outlet has been assigned its own RNC war roomer. There are folks responsible for regional news organizations. Others are there to monitor major print organizations. This is also where much of the rapid response operation—for example, a quick reaction (emailed press release) to an attack by the Obama campaign—takes place.
On this morning, the delayed opening day of the convention, everyone appears busy but not frantic. I take the time to chat with a couple of folks including GOP operatives Mark Pfeifle and Kristy Campbell.
As the media continues its march to the convention center (where many of them file) and the Tampa Bay Times Forum (where the convention action is, about a third of a mile from the convention center), it is not likely to stay quiet in this room much longer. And while reporters like to think no one puts words in their mouths, the fact is that much of the rhetoric that will come out of this convention will be crafted in—and sent forth from—the war room.
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Wandering over toward the Politico work station in the media filing center (across the hall from the war room), I am amused watching a photographer approached by one of Politico’s PR folks. The photographer wants to get a shot of Politico’s convention operation but the PR woman is a bit cautious, asking what kind of story he is doing. He gets his picture, but she would still like to hear back about the story. The photographer smiles, says thank you, and moves on.
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In the main convention center hallway, a clutch of reporters is gathered around actor Jon Voight. While Voight has made some great movies—Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance,Mission: Impossible—when he is just playing himself he sounds mostly like an aging crank who fears the government is on the verge of collapse. With a slow start to the convention, he is one of hate the mainstream media gaggle who wanders the hall hoping to be interviewed. It is not clear why reporters continue to oblige him—but, they do.
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Hurricane Isaac continues to have an impact on convention coverage with CNN and Fox News having relocated big news names (Anderson Cooper and Shep Smith, respectively) from Tampa to New Orleans. Parts of South Florida had serious flooding and some Florida television crews stayed home to cover the damage.
Still, there are thousands of credentialed journalists here. More than enough to keep the media war room—and Jon Voight—quite busy.