AFT REPORTS, MEDIA WATCH: Press herding for the VP... Obama campaign staff and Secret Service try to steer and spin news coverage during Biden speech

Thanks to Alice Muglia (who was apparently from the Chicago campaign office of Obama-Biden) and the Secret Service, like a number of reporters on July 30, 2012, I was unable to photograph the biggest CTU event at the AFT convention, a special order of business: "In solidarity with AFT educators in hostile bargaining environments who are fighting to defend fair contracts and the right to bargain collectively."

News photographers were herded in groups of three to get photographs from close to the main stage during the AFT convention speech by Vice President Joe Biden (above). Ironically, Biden came down from the stage and worked the crowd following his speech, and hundreds of delegates were able to shake hands with the Vice President after the Obama campaign staff had made every effort to herd the national press corps around, claiming it was necessary because of security. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.The previous day, CTU and the Illinois Federation of Teachers had introduced this resolution which, by AFT policy, had to be distributed and brought up at the next convention session.

This was done, and the following morning was supposed to be the first thing on the agenda. At 11:00, AFT President Randi Weingarten closed the session so the room could be cleared and searched in preparation for Vice President Joe Biden’s speech.

CTU President, Karen Lewis was at the mic, ready to address this resolution, when this happened. People were forced to leave the room at this time.

People began lining up early to get though security to re enter the room, and there was some confusion about what regular press (who had been covering the convention) were supposed to do to re-enter the convention. A large number of national reporters and crews had also arrived, just to cover the Biden event.

Bags were checked and everyone had to walk through metal detectors at the main entrance to the convention, a process that was taking a great deal of time as there were more than 3,000 people (delegates and visitors) at the convention.

The press was provided with a special entrance and told to stay there and put all gear on the floor and step away. I had been taking pictures of the crowd and was told I could not do that by a young lady whose identity was not made clear. After our gear was sniffed by the dogs and we were swiped with wands by security, we were then able to retrieve our gear and once again line up on the wall.

We were finally allowed to enter the main convention hall through the back (behind the stage, beginning through the AFT offices and media center) filing single file behind "Alice" with a secret service escort. At this point we realized CTU President Karen Lewis was speaking to the resolution. One reporter tried to photograph the screen and they threatened to take his camera away. I tried to get a picture but wasn’t quick enough. We tried to explain that this was the biggest story for Chicago but were ignored and told if we walked faster we’d get in faster.

By the time we got into the hall and positioned in our spot, it was over. We weren’t allowed to take pictures until we were put in the “press box,” a riser that was in the middle of the convention hall and forced all reporters to face towards the main stage, as if that were the only story at the convention.

Ironically, earlier in the day there was no problem with press roaming the room and photographing the various speakers. Delegates at the various mics expressed their support for the resolution which passed unanimously, and the stories were within the delegations and at the microphones, not just up front on the main stage or on the five big screens.

During some of this time, I was able to walk around and get pictures just as I had been doing throughout the convention, but as soon as they were waiting for the Vice President to come out I was relegated to the press area on the riser.

At one point "Alice" took us, three at a time, up close so we could get pictures of the Vice President that were not coming off the big screen. We had to crawl on the floor between the black curtain and the stage and were given 60 seconds to shoot. In order to do this we were marched single-file from one press area to another area and had to stand there until it was our "turn" to get pictures, then we were all marched back to the other press box.

One AFT Delegate who is also CTU press was told he could either be a delegate and sit with CTU or press, but not both. He was threatened with having his press pass taken, so he put it away and went to the CTU delegate section.

Vice President Biden’s speech was half supportive of teachers and half political campaign. No surprise considering this is an election year.

The Chicago Teacher’s Union Red stood out from the numerous blue "Obama-Biden 2012" shirts that had been given out free the day before. People had been encouraged to wear them to the event.

CTU’s stand on Race to the Top was made very clear by their bright yellow “Stop Race to the Top” signs with information regarding saying no to charter schools, privatization, over testing, and merit pay, while support small class sizes, early childhood education and wraparound services for all students.

The CTU protest was silent, with the members of the Chicago delegation wearing their Chicago red, not the blue shirts, and holding up the yellow signs protesting Race To The Top.

There was a second protest in the rear of the hall that caused a very brief stir.

A group of people carrying a banner protesting Race To The Top and chanting "Obama Biden You Can't Hide, We Charge You With Genocide" marched near the rear of the hall briefly during the Vice President's speech and then were escorted out of the convention without incident by local security and Detroit police. Above, the people with the banner were photographed by Substance following their brief protest, with some carrying leaflets previously distributed by the Chicago Teachers Union. None of those carrying the banner and chanting about "genocide" was wearing CTU red or a member of the Chicago delegation, despite some initial confusion. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.Almost at the rear entrance to the hall, a small group of protesters carrying a large banner marched in chanting “Obama Biden you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide”. According to veteran convention delegates and reporters, this chant has been used many times over the years in various AFT situations. Some of these protesters also had CTU’s yellow “Stop Race to the Stop Signs” but were not affiliated with CTU. The people with the banner were quickly surrounded by delegates wearing "Obama-Biden..." blue and security and led out of the hall. Substance double-checked and confirmed that no arrests were made.

After the convention session was over, some delegates from Illinois thought that the Chicago delegation had been part of the "We charge you with genocide..." event and had to be corrected. The fact that the "genocide" protesters carried the yellow CTU signs had added, for a time, to some of the confusion, but the yellow leaflets protesting Race To The Top had been widely distributed before the session opened, and anyone was free to carry one. 


August 3, 2012 at 8:47 AM

By: Anthony Smith

Choreographed Democracy in SLowwwmotionn

You'd think that our great and powerful government might spend the time to screen everyone BEFORE the vice president arrived, to save time and to ensure real SECURITY!!

I like and respect VP Biden but this was what I would consider a very poorly executed media event on his people's part.

I was not at this event. Did VP Biden at least single out Karen Lewis and the CTU in it's fight for middle class rights?

Just curious as it is his mantra?

Or was he silent in deference to Rahm, former Chief of Staff, to the President?

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say he was silent about it.

And this is why I no longer contribute to the Democratic Party. They are too much like our Republicans here in Illinois!

August 3, 2012 at 10:37 AM

By: Susan Zupan

Airport screening technology was used as well

It wasn't just bag-checking and metal detectors.

It might have been assumed, but it was not until near the close of the previous night's sessions that American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten apologized to the convention delegates as she informed them that they would have to submit to Magnetic Resonance Technology to attend Vice President Joe Biden's speech. Yep, the one that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses at airports.

Assuming the delegates to the National Education Association (NEA) Convention were required to submit to the same procedures to hear Vice President Biden speak there in July, the leadership of both national teachers' unions must have determined that this particular speaker and his speeches were very very important, well worth what their delegates would have to go through as part of the cost of being union representatives in America these days.

To my knowldege, no one at either convention protested in the manner taken by John E. Brennan at the Portland International Airport in April of this year. According to various press accounts, to speed things up he just stripped naked. He was charged with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure.

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