September 12th, 2008

VT Edition Story on Dreyfuss Blackout

by Philip Baruth

Bob Kinzel: For two weeks, the national party conventions were given saturation coverage by the cable new networks. In addition to the speeches and floor business, there were long hours of analysis, opinion and speculation. Commentator Philip Baruth was an Obama delegate to the Democratic convention, and had a front-row seat for all the action. But he says the news story that has stayed with him is one the national media never reported.

DNC 2008:
“Actor’s Presence at Convention a Missed Story”

When it comes to seating assignments at the Democratic National Convention, Vermont is ordinarily given the red-headed stepchild treatment: even as recently as 2004, the Vermont delegation was seated way, way up in the nose-bleed seats, just behind Democrats Abroad.

But in 2008, all that changed.

DNC Chair Howard Dean waved his hand and wrought a miracle: the Vermont delegation had front row seats for the most spectacular Democratic Convention in modern history.

So as part of that delegation, I saw a lot of incredible things. But the most amazing thing I saw went almost entirely unreported by the media, and that’s more amazing still.

It was early evening on Tuesday of Convention week, and all day — all year, really — the national press had been flogging the same story: that Hillary Clinton planned to hijack the Convention because she was bitter, conniving, vindictive — take your pick.

So all that afternoon, reporters had been trolling the floor, searching for evidence of a Clinton coup in the making.

And in the middle of all this manufactured tension, who should drop into an empty seat in the row behind me but Richard Dreyfuss.

Yeah, that Richard Dreyfuss — the guy who played Hooper in Jaws, and a million other characters in films from Mr. Holland’s Opus to What About Bob? It’s him, in the flesh, and he’s really mad about something, I can tell, red in the face mad.

He’s haranguing two of our delegates in a loud whisper, really giving them a hard sell about something. And a group of four or five photographers are down on one knee in a semi-circle in the aisle, getting pictures of it all.

So very casually, I twist around in my seat and I eavesdrop on the conversation. Not proud of it, but in a huge crowd like that any scrap of information can be life-or-death, or at least food-or-no-food.

And it turns out that what Dreyfuss wants is, essentially, to hijack the Convention: he wants a critical mass of delegates to shout loudly and disruptively enough from the floor to force Nancy Pelosi, the official chair, to consider a voice vote censuring President Bush.

He’s going from delegation to delegation trying to gin up support. According to Dreyfuss, Pelosi is a coward, and so a loud demonstration on the floor of the Convention is the only way to address the issue.

Now, you could have fit the real impeachment supporters at the 2008 Convention into an Altoids tin. Most everyone had moved on from that idea; most everyone believed that bringing it up, especially by shouting down the speakers at the podium, would sidetrack everything the Obama people were trying to accomplish.

And so Dreyfuss got the cold shoulder from Vermont, and then he just sat in his seat stewing for a minute. If you remember the look he gets in Jaws when the mayor of Amity refuses to shut down the beaches, that’s the look Dreyfuss had on his face. Almost apoplectic.

And then he got up abruptly and snuck over to Colorado’s section, and began his pitch all over again. And the photographers followed dutifully behind.

But for all the photos those cameramen must have submitted to their editors, no one broke that story, because even though it was the story of a famous Democrat out to hijack the Convention, it wasn’t the particular famous Democrat they were looking for.

And that’s the most amazing thing I saw in Denver: thousands of high-buck journalists and pundits and photographers ignoring Hooper and the Great White Shark of impeachment, in order to fish for the Hillary story that never happened.

[Audio of this VPR news commentary is available here.]