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Reports from the Republican National Convention

Final thoughts: What makes the news?

July 27, 2016

Cal U's Communication Studies program introduced me to the “bad world” theory: When television shapes your view of reality, you are more likely to perceive the world as a dangerous place. We’ve all heard the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads.” The Republican National Convention allowed me a rare chance to witness the bleeding without the media serving as a middleman.  

Rather than simply doing away with the media lens that usually frames matters of national news, I became part of that lens. Before going to the convention, I was terrified of security breaches and protests, but I found myself on Talk Media News’ “protest watch” by the end of the week.  

I was not only witnessing protests, I was actively willing them to occur because my boss wanted a story.

In this, I was far from alone. Cleveland’s Market Square was bustling with reporters and camera crews. One reporter joked that there were more media workers than protestors — and he was right. When an argument began between two rival presidential supporters, a wall of people five bodies thick surrounded the two men. Cameras and smartphones were high in the air while I watched in disbelief, surprised that such a dispute would generate any attention at all.

The most popular media outlets seem to have mastered the art of sharing only the important details, the ones that will make their story “bleed.” Camera crews reach to get an angle devoid of other news crews, to make their footage look authentic, as though they just happened to witness an important event.

Sometimes, they are successful. In fact, it was a complete shock to see reporters and camera crews outnumber protestors at every event, from the presentation of a 200-foot cloth wall to three Black Lives Matter supporters dancing through a fountain in Market Square. Clearly, media workers are well versed in the art of hiding themselves.  

For me, Cleveland provided not only the opportunity to witness American history, but the chance to gain a firsthand perspective of the causes, effects and strategies behind the national news.

Protest watch

July 21, 2016

A group of protestors stand in line beside one another holding a long sheet of cloth with the image of bricks printed on it in front of security guards.

There were a number of times that Talk Media News interns were sent out on “protest” watch near the Republican National Convention site. I was lucky to be crowded into the intersection when bicycle police blocked the way for the prime example pictured here. Ohio Against Hate, Black Lives Matter, the Ruckus Society and Code Pink collaborated to hold a 200-foot cloth wall around a security checkpoint into the convention.

My supervisor had stressed the importance of capturing various perspectives, so I interviewed multiple protestors. The most notable was Ann Wright, a former U.S. diplomat who received the State Department Award for Heroism after evacuating refugees during Sierra Leone's civil war. (I learned these facts about her later, after consulting Wikipedia; in person, Wright was very humble).

It was an honor to meet Wright, who represented a nonpartisan call for reform. Along with three other interviewees, she said she plans to travel to Philadelphia next week to protest at the Democratic National Convention. She stands for racial equality, peace and an end to digital intrusion on privacy. Like many protestors, she advocates for a multi-party system in which her vote can make a difference.

View from the convention floor

July 20, 2016Cal U student Claudia Pehowic stands on the floor of the Republican National Convention

Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention offered an unexpected surprise. I was happy to meet up with Tom Uram, a member of the Cal U Council of Trustees and a Pennsylvania delegate. He kindly offered to allow me to witness history from the floor of the convention. 

In the picture below, I am standing beside the marker for Pennsylvania delegates. Many held signs that read "Trump digs coal" and "Make America safe again." 

The opportunity to sit beside them and to watch Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) speak from a few yards away was surreal. However moved her audience was, a half-empty stadium belied a strong rift in the Republican Party.

Short and sweet

July 19, 2016 A man types on a laptop computer

Security concerned me before coming to the RNC, but gaining access to media row proved to be the easiest aspect of journalism!

After writing my first article, my supervisor asked me to reorganize it into two-sentence paragraphs. Readers easily bore, he said.

Spin city

July 18, 2016

Last week, I discovered that my two roommates would be interning with CNN and The Daily Show during the Republican National Convention. I was jealous when they sent me photographs of the celebrities they’d met. 

On my first day of work as a convention intern, I was not taking selfies with Anderson Cooper. Instead, I was sent out on the streets of Cleveland to write news stories for Talk Media News.  

These stories are sent across the nation to smaller radio stations and newspapers that lack representation in Cleveland. Alec, a student transferring to American University, and I directed and recorded interviews with local shopkeepers to gauge the economic impact of the Republican National Convention on city businesses.

That impact has not been good, we found, although a speaker from the Cleveland Host Committee had just touted the expected benefits to locals. Just like that, we had our first spin. 

What makes a president great?

July 16, 2016

Dr. Brendan Doherty, author and associate professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy speaking on a stage.

Dr. Brendan Doherty, author of The Rise of the President's Permanent Campaign and an associate professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy, earned a standing ovation from all 120 students at The Washington Center's Republican National Convention academic seminar.

In this photo Dr. Doherty is lecturing about presidential greatness, spurring an in-class discussion about whether the skills required to win the presidential race, such as fundraising and manipulating the media, are the same skills necessary for presidential greatness.

Our group participated in interactive lectures by relevant speakers, such as the deputy chief of Homeland Security and Special Operations in Cleveland and John Kosich (not to be confused with John Kasich) from News Net 5, who has interviewed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence. 

There was never a dull moment of class.

Republicans after dark

July 15, 2016

Before coming to The Washington Center’s Republican National Convention seminar program, my view of conservatives was shaped by my family’s perspective and a library database of social science research.

Academic studies attempt to find correlations between partisanship and behavior. In my research I found articles that associate vegetarianism with a Democratic Party identification. Another study asked participants to order coffee: $5 for regular and $7 for fair trade. Rather than villainize Republicans, who were found to be more likely to drink regular coffee than the fair trade alternative, the article related consumer choice to ideological perspectives of economy. Republicans who support a more pure version of capitalism and the free market have no desire to buy free trade products; liberals see it as a moral obligation to protect farmers.

Partisanship has odd ways of sneaking into life experiences.

Networking with interns in downtown Cleveland, I have watched some intense ideological debates. To supplement this experience, I read The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, to give me some perspective on Republican ideology.

I came across the rather emotional discovery that the other side may have a point. Arguments that reach the core of what each party wants to achieve for America are eye-opening on each side. Although I am far from supporting Donald Trump, I see the importance of order and fighting to make America business-friendly to boost the economy. Personal responsibility is an obligation that cannot be overlooked by social programs, however much they are genuinely needed by others.

I found I was so close-minded that I never even entertained the notion that coming the Republican National Convention would change my political perspective. To tune out others’ arguments is a detriment to the individual, his or her society, and the world. 

Bound to Trump? Debating the rules for delegates

July 14, 2016

The Republican National Convention's House and Rules Committee will soon vote on whether to free the convention delegates to vote their conscience or allow them to vote in accordance with their assignments, which are (in 48 cases) proportional to their states' primary votes.  

In our small class groups during The Washington Center seminar, students debated whether delegates should be bound (on the left) or unbound (on the right).

Claudia Pehowic sits with other students at The Washington Center seminar.

My roommate, who studies at the University of San Diego, made the argument that her state's primary occurred so late in the race that Donald Trump was the only remaining candidate. California's primary was somewhat worthless, so its delegates should be able to vote for any candidate they choose, she said.

On the other hand, students argued that the politically elite and generally better established delegates of the Republican Party did not reflect the demographics of its population. Unbinding the delegates would create an oligarchy in which a socially and economically privileged elite selects one of two realistic candidates for the presidency.

When argument became heated, I (on the right half of the chalkboard) opted to use my Student Congress experience to enforce a seating chart based on speaker recency. I only wish I had my gavel!

Ready to witness history

July 13, 2016

Preparing to witness American history was as unprecedented for me as Donald J. Trump’s popularity is for the Republican Party. For months, my journey to Cleveland for The Washington Center’s political seminar and the GOP convention has been a small star in the sky. Now I am here, in neighboring Berea, Ohio, rooming with a student from the University of San Diego and another from Temple University.

A family friend and former executive director of the Central PA Workforce Development Corporation designed my business cards that will land all around the country. I will be living, learning and working with 120 students from around the globe. Every day requires business casual and an open mind.

Coming from a very partisan home challenges my ability to make connections both personally and academically … and meeting political-minded academics is daunting. I spent my seven-hour commute from my hometown to Cal U to Cleveland listening to informational podcasts.  Knowledge is power, and every student here enjoys demonstrating what they have learned. 

While these students’ conversations evidence vast historical knowledge and intellectual family-dinner discussions, my social science background gives me a ground-up perspective about how people think, both in- and outside of the convention. I anxiously await the opportunity to witness history.

Convention Details

July 18-21
Cleveland, Ohio

Republican National Convention logo.