By Nick Bayless/Staff Photographer
Traveling to such a political hot spot as South Carolina, I expected to run into fellow reporters covering the campaign trail. However, I wasn’t really expecting to run into them in line at “Five Guys Burgers” at 7:30 a.m. in the Washington, D.C., airport.
That’s where I met Kevin and Sreya, a reporter and cameraman working for Reuters and also traveling to South Carolina. After demolishing my burger (and after Karan similarly disposed of his breakfast burrito), we sat down with them to talk about what it was like to cover the primary season for a news service like Reuters. Because Reuters focuses mainly on an international audience, their angle is significantly different than that of the traditional American press. According to Kevin, “When the primaries started, we had to explain what a primary is. The international audience is pretty much concerned with who’s going after Bush. They don’t care about health care … they care about Iran.”
The pair also discussed the implications of the youth vote. In reference to the primary two weeks ago, they said, “In Iowa, the youth vote definitely mattered. People are out voting who have never voted before.” We also talked about the difficulties of covering a subject that is so often changing at the last moment. For example, while covering Iowa, “The media didn’t even realize Huckabee was going to come out on top. We had to react to that.”
Upon our arrival in Charleston, we dealt with a plethora of transportation difficulties. It was our original intention to proceed to Aiken, S.C., the site of a supposed GOP rally featuring the prominent Republican candidates. However, after two hours of failed attempts to secure transportation to the 140-mile distant Aiken, we got in touch with Abi Nicholas, a news clerk at the Charleston Post and Courier. Abi offered to let us cover the rally with them down at the newsroom, as well as interview key members of their news staff.
When we realized that the rally in Aiken was not all it was cracked up to be, and the only candidates in attendance were individuals who were only running in South Carolina, we took Abi up on her offer and headed off to visit the Post and Courier in downtown Charleston. A 20-minute cab ride (and an unexpected stop for fuel) later, and we were in the foyer of Charleston’s most prominent newspaper. We were greeted and escorted up to the newsroom by our host, Abi, a recent graduate from the College of Charleston and former news editor of their student newspaper.
She introduced us to Robert F. Behre, the politics editor, who talked to us about the influence of the students on the race, and on the candidates’ differing approaches to swaying that segment of the vote. According to Behre, “Ron Paul and John McCain are the only Republican candidates to even acknowledge students.” He also made mention of the striking differences between this race and the S.C. 2000 primary. Behre said, “This primary is different: In the GOP eight years ago, there were only two candidates: It was a much bigger deal. Bush’s win got him the nomination. This time, there’s not a front runner, and it’s all very up in the air. There’s not as much media, and we’re all try to cover four or more campaigns.”
We then talked to Douglas Pardue, a former political correspondent, and current special features editor. Pardue used to enjoy politics, but was moved to special features after covering a heart-wrenching tale of a young girl’s tragic death. He believes, “People is what journalism is all about, not politicians … what makes people happy, and mad, and sick.” This didn’t stop him from commenting on Obama’s “star power” and the fact that “Iraq is a big deal to people, but when it comes down to it, people are going to vote for the economy.” He concluded his mini-speech with the prophetic statement, “Humans beings don’t exist in news coverage … only people with titles.”
When we were done at the Post and Courier, Abi put us in contact with the student media at the College of Charleston. There we were shown around by Sam Tyson, the editor-in-chief of the George Street Observer, the main student newspaper at the college. We saw the media building, encompassing the student radio station and television studio, as well as showing us the offices of the newspaper. We talked about the local “Bully Pulpit” series, in which presidential hopefuls are invited to come speak to crowds of 1000+ students. McCain was one of the most prominent candidates to take part in the series, and according to Tyson, it garnered him a great deal of support among the student body. Barack Obama also held a separate rally on the campus last week, drawing a large crowd of both students and townspeople. Tyson said many students are very concerned with promoting diversity on campus and they “look at the Obama candidacy as a way to be put on the map as far as being listened to.”
While briefly touring the school, we got into a fascinating discussion with an outspoken campus security guard who had opinions on every candidate and something to say about almost every happening of the election so far. When she was in school, she said, she had been a journalism major and had enjoyed covering politics and elections then. Though she is now in her second career, she still enjoys keeping up with politics and discussing it whenever possible.
On our way off of the campus, while saying our goodbyes to Tyson, a brightly colored Suburban pulled up to the curb outside of a FedEx/Kinko’s, and energetic man sprang out. We quickly determined his candidate affiliation from the veritable mural-sized portrait of Dr. Ron Paul on his vehicle, and his T-shirt sporting the phrase, “Who is Ron Paul?” The man was dashing into Kinko’s to make 700 copies of his homemade survey which he plans to conduct tomorrow himself, because he “doesn’t feel he can trust any other poll.” After introducing himself to us as W.A. Riley, he shared with us his story of traveling from primary to primary, spreading the word about his favorite candidate. In the last few weeks, the Philadelphia resident has been to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and plans to visit New York and New Jersey on Super Tuesday. He then proceeded into an impassioned tirade extolling the virtues of Dr. Paul, while giving us armfuls of pamphlets, papers and informational DVDs guaranteed to make us understand and agree with Paul. When he completed his spiel, he politely excused himself (after inviting us to a Paul rally Friday evening) to rush off to make his copies and prepare for his one-man protest against modern statistical methods.
While South Carolina certainly isn’t as charged as it has been in primaries in past years, it’s definitely an exciting time in a primary season where a win in the state could shift the deadlock that the leading candidates are now in. With only a short time remaining before the polls open, the rallies and last-ditch efforts on behalf of the Republican candidates and campaigns will certainly provide a great test of the organizations and efforts of the candidates and their supporters. But we certainly can’t discount the efforts and impacts of maverick campaigners such as Mr. Riley.