I had arrived early to get a head start on mingling among the roughly 6,000 people eating and dancing to celebrate the president’s reelection. Unaware of the new escort policy (it wasn’t in place during the official parties following the 2001 inauguration), I blithely assumed that in the world’s freest nation, I was free to walk around at will and ask the happy partygoers such national security-jeopardizing questions as, “Are you having a good time?”
Big mistake. After cruising by the media pen a sectioned-off area apparently designed for corralling journalists a sharp-eyed volunteer spotted my media badge. “You’re not supposed to go out there without an escort,” she said.
I replied that I had been doing just fine without one, and walked over to a quiet corner of the hall to phone in some anecdotes to The Post’s Style desk.
As I was dictating from my notes, something flashed across my face and neatly snatched my cell phone from of my hand. I looked up to confront a middle-aged woman, her face afire with rage. “You ignored the rules, and I’m throwing you out!” she barked, snapping my phone shut. “You told that girl you didn’t need an escort. That’s a lie! You’re out of here!”
* * *
Recovering quickly, I explained that I had been unaware of the escort policy. She was unbending and ordered a couple of security guards to hustle me out. I appealed to them, saying that I was more than happy to follow whatever ground rules had been laid down. They shrugged, and deposited me back in the media pen.
* * *
Consider that the escorts weren’t there to provide security; all of us had already been through two checkpoints and one metal detector. They weren’t there to keep me away from, Heaven forbid, a Democrat or a protester; those folks were kept safely behind rings of fences and concrete barriers. Nor were the escorts there to admonish me for asking a rude question of the partying faithful, or to protect the paying customers from the prying media.
Their real purpose only occurred to me after I had gone home for the night, when I remembered a brief conversation with a woman I was interviewing. During the middle of our otherwise innocuous encounter, she suddenly noticed the presence of my minder. She stopped for a moment, glanced past me, then resumed talking.
No, the minders weren’t there to monitor me. They were there to let the guests, my sources on inaugural night, know that any complaint, any unguarded statement, any off-the-reservation political observation, might be noted. But maybe someday they’ll be monitoring something more important than an inaugural ball, and the source could be you.
Via Frank Lynch, whose photoblogging almost makes me miss Brooklyn.