Ben Smith has a fascinating piece in the New York Observer on GOP plans to orchestrate media coverage of next years Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden. (Also the site, Smith reminds us, of the Westminster Dog Show.)
The man in charge is Jim Wilkinson — the guy who was in charge of U.S. Central Command's technologically impressive and journalistically useless media center in Doha, Qatar during the beginning of the war on Iraq.
Some background on Mr. Wilkinson, who started out working for now-RNC chairman Ed Gillespie in the office of then House majority leader Dick Armey (R-Texas):
Mr. Wilkinson first left his mark on the 2000 Presidential race in March 1999, when he helped package and promote the notion that Al Gore claimed to have "invented the Internet." Then the Texan popped up in Miami to defend Republican protesters shutting down a recount: "We find it interesting that when Jesse Jackson has thousands of protesters in the streets, it’s O.K., but when a small number of Republicans exercise their First Amendment rights, the Democrats don’t seem to like it," he told the Associated Press.
Let's see: Lying about opponents? Check. Race-baiting demagoguery? Check. Whatever it takes to win attitude? Check.
Yep, we've got ourselves a bona fide Mayberry Machiavellian here.
Smith describes the extraordinary measures the GOP will take to cloister and hermetically seal reporters at the convention. The goal seems to be to keep the press in the same impotent, ignorant, fungal situation they found themselves in back in Doha. At the same time, the party will orchestrate carefully crafted media events elsewhere in the city — places like Yankee Stadium (go Marlins!) and Ground Zero.
Smith isn't confident that the press will prove any more able to get beyond the puppet show than they were in Doha:
The 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City could be a tough few days for the national press corps, despite the fact that it will be on what is generally considered its home turf. On one hand, the press will have this advantage: It will be the second time reporters will be meeting the Bush approach to keeping them at bay, the second time they will have met Jim Wilkinson and his embed philosophy, his briefings, his allotments of new and interesting camera angles, and his approach toward a war room. Forewarned, they might believe, is forearmed.
On the other hand, neither Jim Wilkinson nor his boss, the President, has lost a battle yet.
But consider what they're attempting here — to control the news coming out of New York City. Protesters will, doubtless, be confined to "free speech zones" far from the Garden and far from the cameras, but can any such confinements really work in downtown Manhattan?
We'll find out in August.