Shuster's convention notebook: The anatomy of a race story at the RNC
By David Shuster / current.com / @DavidShuster
At first I couldn't believe it.
Around 8:15 p.m. Tuesday night a television cameraman I know here in Tampa described an "ugly" and "despicable incident" involving potential delegates at the Republican convention heckling a camera operator working for CNN on or near the floor.
According to this account, at least one or two GOP delegates or credentialed alternates began taunting the CNN staffer — an African American woman.
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And at some point, at least one or both GOP convention attendees tossed peanuts at the black camera op and said, "This is how we feed the animals."
The way the story was described to me, the CNN crew summoned security, which quickly identified the perpetrators of this incident and with the help of convention officials ejected the perpetrators from the arena.
I was shocked by the story, but also concerned.
Early in my career, I worked at CNN with the very same tech crews (and editorial staff) covering the convention for CNN here in Tampa.
I was concerned. I thought there was a good chance the incident may have been witnessed by people I've known and trusted in various capacities for many years.
Indeed, when I heard the names of the CNN staff who witnessed this, I knew that it could not simply be convention gossip or a game of whisper down the lane.
These staff are decent, honest, hardworking people — and are definitely not the sort of folks who complain or get ruffled very easily. At that point, I reconfirmed that the original sources had actually seen the incident or been told about it firsthand. I then sent an e-mail to a Republican National Convention official to try to get their perspective.
I also asked around to see if CNN would provide any statement on the incident (they would not). I then sent out the following tweet.
To be clear, I had not witnessed the incident myself and felt there were still many details I didn't know that would take some time to "flesh out." So we did not report this story on-air on Current TV. Our network was focused on the speeches of Ann Romney and Chris Christie. However, I have said before that there are different thresholds for putting a nugget of information out there via Twitter and putting information on prime time TV.
The tweet, I had hoped, might prompt CNN and the RNC to formally respond — given the number of reporters who would also begin to pursue the story and move the reporting forward.
The tweet got a lot of attention by various reporters in Tampa, including David Kurtz, a terrific editor/reporter for Talking Points Memo. His tenacity, and that of other reporters, seemed to prompt CNN to respond.
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Indeed, by 11 p.m. Tuesday, CNN issued a written statement saying, "CNN can confirm there was an incident directed at an employee inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum earlier this afternoon. CNN worked with convention officials to address this matter and will have no further comment."
Soon after the CNN statement, top GOP convention officials issued a statement, saying, “Two attendees tonight exhibited deplorable behavior. Their conduct was inexcusable and unacceptable. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated."
The GOP statement helped iron out a key issue I had been unable to confirm — whether it was just one person who made the racist taunts or two. This morning, CNN provided a little more of its own reporting on the incident with a brief story on its website. Should CNN have reported this on-air last night? Should it be covering the story today?
Should Current TV put the story on our broadcast? On the one hand, I don't believe this incident was indicative or representative of Republicans at the GOP convention. On the other hand, I think there is a way to report the story and remind viewers that this was isolated.
(Photo from Getty Images)