An under-discussed chilling effect on freedom of journalistic expression is the petty tyranny of media credentialing. It took me approximately five hours yesterday to retrieve my duly-assigned credential for the Democratic National Convention. Partly this was my own fault; journalists were instructed to arrive between 10am and 1pm to get their pass, and I showed up at 1:30. But in fairness to me, I had to write yesterday morning, and with all the traffic and multiple layers of security and challenging parking situation, I don’t regard myself as particularly to blame. I’d assumed that naturally someone would be available to accommodate journalists whom, for whatever reason, were unable to make it during that narrow window. This assumption proved wrong-headed.
Why so narrow a window to begin with? Never specified. The entire process was an absolute mess; perhaps thirty different people gave me thirty different explanations as to how I might obtain my pass. Phone numbers alleged to be manned by relevant staff members went unanswered. On multiple occasions I was directed to rooms whose doors were locked. Throughout the ordeal, I struggled to remain polite, realizing that no one individual was responsible for this travesty. Many were in fact quite sympathetic, as baffled as I. At one point I was forced to communicate with a woman through a glass window by writing messages on a piece of paper and pressing them up to said window, as if we were partaking in a Monty Python gag.
Because multiple entities are responsible for distributing press credentials, there is no central coordination and everyone seemed perpetually clueless about whom to contact for what. I toiled and toiled, appreciating folks’ earnest efforts to do what they could, and joked that on account of this Kafka-esque disaster I’d no longer be voting for Obama. Finally a wonderful man took an hour out of his day to focus exclusively on my plight; this required dozens of phone calls and emails. He eventually emerged with my shiny plastic ticket to paradise. The man and I embraced, having been through much together. I left for the Convention proper, triumphant, and all was well.