A Week at the DNC

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It was history and it happened right in my own back yard. I was there to see Hillary Clinton’s first appearance on the campaign trail since not only becoming the official Democratic presidential nominee, but of course becoming the first woman to be nominated by a major political party in the United States.

This was after watching her balanced and all-inclusive acceptance speech at the close of the Democratic National Convention, also right in my own back yard.

It is not my role to comment on the politics that came out of the Wells Fargo Center this past week, but I have plenty to say about the absolute thrill of doing what I ultimately set out to do so many years ago: political journalism.

Entertainment reporters certainly can appreciate the celebrity of an actor or actress. I’m that way with high-profile politicians, although it’s more than just celebrity; these are people who ultimately want to have great impact on our lives with the decisions they make and the policies they propose.

I’ve interviewed plenty of politicians who have had their own conventions such as Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and John McCain, but this was the first time I got to cover a convention outright.

After months of anticipation, my part of the coverage actually began one day early!

While numerous reports suggested the Republican National Convention was relatively quiet in terms of protests (minus the flag burning incident and a handful of arrests), DNC protesters had a lot more to say and they started talking before all of the delegates were in town.

The Clean Energy March began as a really around City Hall Sunday and represented everything from a firm stance against fracking to opposing the TPP.  Most of the protesters I chatted with were also diehard supporters of Bernie Sanders and did not want Hillary Clinton as their nominee.

I turned on my Facebook Live app when I got there and streamed the rally. In a couple of interviews they told me about their aforementioned issues before hitting the streets. Not only was it clear that they were going to protest all week, but we would hear the voices of the Sanders people get louder and louder practically by the hour.

 

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

By Monday, I was stationed for an early morning preview of the Pennsylvania Democratic delegates breakfast which would feature heavy hitters like PA. Gov. Tom Wolf and John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign and former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton’s White House.

This wouldn’t be any preview event where I’d ask generic questions like “how excited are you about this week?” Of course, I wouldn’t ask those plain questions anyway. I usually go for the meat early.

WikiLeaks dumped numerous e-mails showing the Democratic National Committee was allegedly suppressing the Sanders campaign in favor of Clinton. Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned (or was forced out depending on who you believe), as a result.

I pressed every official about the issue at the breakfast, including Podesta who had the most to do with Clinton’s campaign.

I asked him if Clinton essentially ordered Wasserman Shultz to resign.  He didn’t answer directly.  Podesta did echo the refrain of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Gov. Wolf and other Clinton-Dems when he expressed confidence that the party would unite around Clinton despite the controversy and immense support afforded to Sanders. Only time would tell us for sure.

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

When my duties were finished for the morning news I took my usual afternoon nap and then rushed over to the convention in South Philadelphia.  My nerves spiked as I got closer to the main doors. I’ve wanted to attend one of these events for years.

It was an incredible thrill being there! After passing by all of the satellite trucks and endless sets of tables on the ground floor with radio stations broadcasting to the whole world, I went up to the suites area where FOX 29 was broadcasting from.

I just happened to pass The Rev. Jesse Jackson in the process as he was being interviewed by another news outlet.  The thought immediately occurred to me, “would he talk to our station?!”

Right then I asked his press person and they answered in the affirmative, but there was a radio station in line ahead of us.

I contacted the managers in our suite. They were running the early evening broadcast with our anchors, but told me they would put Jackson on the air if he came in.

“Perfect!” I thought.

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

This worked out since the photographer on duty at the time was editing a story for our political reporter and was unable to shoot the interview with me. Instead, they would sit Jackson right down with our anchors for a chat and it would be live (possibly even beating the competition!).

I led Jackson and his staff into the suite just as Greta Van Susteren from FOX News Channel finished her segment with anchors Iain and Lucy.  Greta then gave Rev. Jackson a hug, as they had likely done numerous interviews over the years.

They ended up posing for a picture together and I just had to ask if I could take one with both of them. Both were wonderful enough to say yes. It was clear right then I would have no way of predicting who I would run into that day.

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

Jesse Jackson then sat down for his interview on the set as I watched, before later observing the early list of speakers at the convention from the suite window.

The stage was bright, blue and magnificent.  The digital screens on the stage would project the image of the speaker as well as their name. The designs would change a bit as we moved through the week, preparing for Clinton’s acceptance speech.

By 7pm or so it was time for me to head home since I had to report for our morning news the next day.  I heading out past the radio station gallery when I saw a face I grew up watching: Dan Rather of CBS Evening News fame.

I went over to say hello. He was quite friendly and receptive. I thanked him for all of his years of influence on journalists like myself, but just had to ask about one recent interview in particular that he did.

Growing up as a passionate Van Halen fan (more so of the Van Hagar era), I asked Rather for his impressions of Sammy Hagar, and what it was like speeding down suburban California streets in Hagar’s Ferrari.

He said the ride was a thrill (perhaps to say the least!).

“I knew his music,” Rather also said. That’s when it struck me…could we both be huge Van Halen fans?

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

There wasn’t much time left to find out more since his staff had to move him on to another project. However, I was sure to thank him for taking the time to chat.

While that encounter was absolutely worth adding a few extra minutes to the clock in my efforts to get home, inclement weather forced another TWO HOURS to that process!

I was trapped by a massive thunderstorm that brought heavy rainfall right over the convention complex. After growing tired of being held hostage inside of the convention (by the storm), I ran for a bar where several journalists were gathered watching the telecast as they took a break.

The only problem was that bar was a lot farther away than I thought, and even more so as I ran in the pouring rain.

Drenched, I sat with a colleague who happened to be there.  I had dinner as we chatted and watched the rest of the evening showcase, although my sleep schedule meant having to miss a riveting speech from First Lady Michelle Obama.  I would catch the highlights of it later on the next day.

There are sacrifices you have to make when you are doing early morning news!

By the next morning, I was reporting on the hassle the convention was giving some residents in South Philadelphia.  They were worried about parking problems and congestion although the police were working to keep many protesters out of the residential parking spots and therefore out of their hair.

While on this assignment, I got a call to report for FOX News Channel on the protests and police encounters that took place the night before.

54 people had been given disorderly conduct citations and we had plenty of video of angry Bernie Sanders supporters getting more determined than they already were.

After that national broadcast I had a few more Philly TV reports to do before heading over to a rally for gun control located across from The Franklin Institute.

It was headlined by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. As you may recall, Giffords became an even stronger advocate for gun restrictions after she was shot at a political event a few years ago. While she thankfully survived, she suffered permanent disability. She was joined by legendary U.S. Rep. and civil rights icon John Lewis on the speakers list. Lewis had just organized a sit-in on the House floor, demanding a vote on background checks after the massacre at an Orlando night club.

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A snapshot of a Facebook Live interview with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) during DNC week.

I streamed much of the event on my station Facebook page while my photographer taped it for TV. I had a chance to say hello to Giffords but her staff would not let her do any interviews, so I did one with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut about his infamous 15 hour NRA filibuster in Washington.

After a couple of questions and answers with the senator, it was vital for me to effort an interview with Rep. Lewis but his staff would only let a print reporter and I chat with him on the way to his car. I asked what he thought of current political tensions compared to what he saw in the 60s.  He highlighted the impact of social media as a significant game changer.

The interview was not long but I’m grateful for it. While known for his passionate policy positions, what attracted me to this historic figure was his direct involvement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the civil rights era.  It was “America’s finest hour” as Rev. Jackson once said years ago.

This is what made Rep. Lewis an undisputed American hero to millions in this country. He spoke in the key of unity just by calling everyone at that event “brothers and sisters,” even though he likely had no idea who we were.

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

As the week went on I found myself back at the PA delegates breakfast where Bernie Sanders himself was supposed to speak. The concern of course was that we would run into a bunch of pop up protests just like we did at the convention site.

Then party officials told us Sanders canceled in the middle of the night due to a “scheduling conflict”. Actor Danny Glover was also scheduled to attend but he pulled out as well due to scheduling matters.

I did join a media scrum surrounded around former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies, Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law.  She spoke of the pride she was feeling knowing Hillary Clinton was on the verge of history.  Though her eyes were watering, she made it clear those were not the tears of emotion but rather something else, perhaps an irritation of some kind. I understood completely, but who wouldn’t feel some emotion if something so major like this was about to happen to their family?

As the day progressed, I ended up back at the convention.  I was on my own time by this point; just a political junkie taking it all in. Still the search for a news story never ended. In fact, I found it to the left of me!

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz was talking to someone before getting whisked away by security for an event. I was on my way to firing up my phone but couldn’t get a signal for Facebook Live so I settled on my phone’s video recorder, hoping I had enough memory to last long enough for a comment from her.

“She’s heading towards press!” one of the ushers told me. I already knew that and was tailing behind her mini-entourage with the camera rolling the whole time.

You could her clearly walking fast in front of me.

“(I’m) from FOX News in Philadelphia, any comment Miss Schultz in the email situation?” I asked her, regarding the e-mails that showed the DNC was playing favorites for president.

She kept up with her brisk pacing even as one security guard tired to block me, as if to tell me that area was for press only.

I told them I was with the press too and kept asking for a comment over and over, before we were separated by a sizable crowd in the thin hallway.

Afterwards, I got to the FOX 29 suite and rushed to get that video uploaded but still had trouble getting a darn signal! It made sense considering all of the electronic media services in that building. Obviously every network was there in some form, seemingly sucking up all the bandwidth in the universe.

Once the video finally loaded onto my Facebook page, I shared it across Twitter as it got some plays. There wasn’t much expectation that she would answer my questions given the situation, but it was definitely worth a try.

Wednesday night was even bigger than the night before. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine would accept his nomination for vice president.  I entered the building early enough to watch his speech and followed the remarks from current Vice President Joe Biden, but did so as I made my way to a mini-reunion with some former colleagues from a lifetime ago.

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Former WLNS-TV Lansing journalists Dr. Brandon Lenoir and Tetiana Anderson reunite at the Democratic National Convention.

I caught up with Brandon Lenoir, a friend who I worked with on my first reporting job at WLNS-TV in Lansing. Brandon was our weekend evening anchor and dynamic political reporter. Over the years he would leave the news business, obtain his doctorate and become a professor.

Fresh off a trip to the RNC in Cleveland the week before, he brought a group of students with him to Philly. Former WLNS reporter and now international journalist Tetiana Anderson was also there.  I would run into her from time to time when visiting the station when as I was in town. It was a fantastic get-together that allowed us to chat about the old days and where former co-workers were now as they moved on to bigger and better things too.

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

The occasion was joyous, but soon enough it was back to the station’s suite to watch President Obama headline the evening with a speech recapping his time in office, while providing further endorsement of Hillary Clinton as his successor.

Somewhere along the way I found myself in the FOX News Channel’s suite next door as Greta did a short Facebook segment with our anchor Lucy.

That’s when she walked in; the woman who became the media target of Donald Trump. I’ve always respected Megyn Kelly’s tough inquisitive style on her show “The Kelly File”. It was an honor to meet her and say hello. She also sent her best wishes to our intern Patience Carter who was shot in the Orlando terror attack earlier in the summer.

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

It was wonderful meeting Dana Perino as well. Perino appears regularly on FOX News programs and served as press secretary in the George W. Bush White House. Turns out she wrote a book and promoted it on Good Day Philadelphia a while back; the same show I work on daily.

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Dave Kinchen interviewing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at impromptu press conference.

I spent the next morning covering a convention-related event around the city and watched Hillary Clinton’s speech from home that night. I was burning the candle at both ends for a couple of days straight and it was catching up with me.  With another day of work ahead of me and after getting home so late the night before, I decided it was best to watch Clinton’s speech from home so I could maximize my rest and rock the next day.

Even though the high of a political festival seemed to fuel me well beyond sleep and coffee, I was still only human!

While there would be nothing like seeing the first woman of a major political party accept her nomination for president in person,  think I somewhat made up for it by covering her first official campaign event as the nominee the very next day.

When she arrived with former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine I streamed the appearance and remarks on Facebook. I tried to get a quick interview by lining up at the corner next to the exit they were going out of.  Hillary Clinton left before I could get there but I was able to ask Kaine about his mood.

“I’m feeling great!” he said.  I then tried to carefully reach out to President Clinton for a quick question but he ended up just shaking my hand as his handlers kept him going.  Perhaps he mistook me for a supporter rather than a journalist working the story.

Naturally technology having it’s limitations, I could not get a Facebook Live signal at that moment. Oh, how fitting!

All in all I can tell you this.  I have been fortunate to witness a lot of history in my career and cover dozens of major national and international stories.  DNC week ranks up there with some of the best assignments I’ve had. Yet another reason I am blessed to be doing what I love.

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The FOX29 News Team during one of the DNC coverage nights.

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