Al Sullivanís journal
Covering Al Gore
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† October 18, 1995
†It's not every day you get to cover the Vice President, especially when you're a weekly reporter in Secaucus. But hey, more bizarre things happen, and in this case, they did. First of all, I worried about getting passed the security check. Although I had checked on a possible file with the FBI and CIA and found nothing, I suspected somewhere in a remote archive something was bound to pop up, just in time to keep me from joining the press corps covering. I waited all day Friday for a phone call from the Secret Service, then all weekend, then all day Monday at the office. Finally, at 5:04 p.m., the White House called saying everything was fine. They wanted to know if I was still interested in attending.
†``Are you kidding?'' I said, picturing myself bragging about the event afterwards to my friends, one of those small claims to fame people get in their lives. Some people win the county fair. Some people score a touchdown in high school. I was going to cover the Vice President's trip to Secaucus. Of course, fantasy made the whole issue grander, Walter Mitty daydreams of being selected out of the crowd as someone important.
†``Mr. Vice President I would like you to meet one of this county's most celebrated reporters, Al Sullivan,'' some big shot would say, and I would humbly bow my head, knowing I had indeed become important.
†In truth, the greater fantasy, is the ability to have people read what I write, to have what I do as an artist and a reporter, shake the foundations of power. I enjoy the idea that somewhere someone has something to fear from what I say in print. Over the last few months, I've managed to create stories that have touched people's lives and drawn notice from county officials. From this alone, I felt important, a sense of progress in my personal development and personal power. In the newspaper business, you have three kinds of power. You have the power of press. People respond to you because you work for a newspaper. The bigger the paper, the more sense of power. The second level of power is the one most exercised, power of the printed word itself. A story can shape the future of a person's life, forming the basis for people's beliefs. Even when a story is in accurate, the information becomes biblical, with people making reference back to it for years. By attacking in print, a reporter has power to shape people's vision of a politician, and often does. The third sense of power is of the story itself, the quality of a piece that touches and manipulates people on a level that has little or nothing to do with fact, making people feel this way or that by the shape of the story and the color of the words. This is the kind of power I am seeking, to create metaphors about life that go beyond local politics that come from the heart of the people who live around me.
†Yet for all this, I'm still a small town reporter, covering weekly meetings, fighting out the embarrassment of a misspelled name or a misprinted fact. Although I waited out the hours in anticipation, I knew the event would be covered by some many major news organization, I would be lost among the players. As indeed I was. The line outside the Meadowlands Convention Center had more politicians, TV cameras and reporters than it did ordinary citizens, every body who was anybody came to get their licks in with the VP. County cops, secret service and local police hung around like wraiths, anticipating a crowd and got a circus of media people, reporters scribbling, camera people letting loose flashes, TV cameras manically seeking to get a plug and a platform from which to shoot. Standing in the middle of this made me feel even smaller than usual, just another weekly reporter from a small town publication who happened to be at the right place at the right time, but who lacked the exclusive privilege to make it count for anything. In the melee of waiting, I took my pictures and scribbled out notes, and waited -- the way the big boys waited -- for the County Executive to arrive with the Vice President.
†I knew a few people in the crowd, particularly the local politicians, who gave me quotes as part of the routine for local coverage, the assembly people from this district, the mayor, the council members, all seeking to find their place the way I was looking for mine. But in the end, I stood alone, back from the other reporters, just one more shadow cast in a long hall of shadows.
†Then, with a standing ovation, the county executive and the vice president walked into the hall. The county executive then began his speech, introducing the vice president and welcoming him to Hudson County -- and in the process quoted one of my stories and the name of the paper for which I worked. It mattered to no one later. Press people even in my office are cynical. They don't understand the romantic significance of making metaphor. They are largely caught up in the second level of power, the push and shove mentality that weekly stories, the nuts and bolts of the information industry. They largely miss the deeper truths that live under the facts and figures, the sense of personal importance that lives in each of us.
†I'm not saying it mattered all that much, or that I'll have any more significance now than I did before. But inside me, I've come to realize that day dreams do come true, and sometimes -- most times, the dreams matter more than the reality.