Rice restrictions on media disappointing

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It would appear that Mitt Romney taught his fellow Republicans something during the recent presidential campaign after all.

The apparent lesson? Make sure nobody is using a cell phone camera or other recording device when you are giving a speech.

OK, that may not be the reason Condoleezza Rice won't allow such devices in the Civic Center Ballroom when she is speaking at the Dr. Martin Luther King Luncheon on Jan. 21. But that was the thing that popped into mind — for me and probably for other reporters, too — when we received that notice earlier this week from the luncheon host, Public Employees for Community Concerns.

That notice first informed us that the former U.S. Secretary of State will not have a news conference before the luncheon and that she will allow the media to record only the first three minutes of her speech.

The first three minutes of any speech like that contain nothing of substance. A joke or two to start, then thanks to the people paying you to speak and thanks to those who paid to hear it.

The notice to the media went on: "You are all welcome to stay and listen to her speech; however, cameras and recording devices will not be allowed after the three minutes. We have been asked to have people walk through the crowd to ensure that cameras and recording devices are not being used."   

What? Unbelievable. Still, we should not really be surprised.

You recall, I'm sure, that Romney gave a speech in Florida during the campaign in which he said, basically, that 47 percent of Americans who supported President Obama were freeloaders. He didn't know somebody in the audience was videotaping the speech with a cell phone and his statements became fodder for the Democrats. While nobody knows for sure how that hurt Romney on election day, there is consensus it hurt at least a little.

Is that why Rice is banning cameras? Should we wonder if she is going to make inflammatory statements? Of course not, at least not on purpose. But why chance that something derogatory might slip out?

Apparently Rice, who served first as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State for President George W. Bush, isn't concerned about alienating the media. No politician really is concerned about that anymore. But the almost secretive nature of this may make some in the public wonder what kind of image she is trying to project. (I say almost because the media will be allowed to still listen to the whole speech. I don't think Rice and her people would have the chutzpah to try and confiscate our notebooks and pens).

But why is she doing this at all? She is a newsmaker. With her experience, anything Rice has to say now carries considerable weight. We are interested in her opinions on the current state of foreign affairs and also what she thinks about domestic issues. To be able to show through video that a person of this stature came to Peoria and perhaps said something profound and meaningful to the whole country is important to us as Peorians.

Rice, who now is a professor of political science at Stanford University, has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate herself in 2016. She would be a strong candidate. Is that why cameras are being banned, to make sure nothing is said or recorded that could come back and bite her later?

I'm curious, too, about whether Rice and her people made this stipulation part of the agreement to come and speak or whether they decided this more recently. Not that it matters; the public employees group isn't going to stand up to her on this and risk losing a speaker of her stature just on principle. Again, I'm just curious.

Needless to say I am disappointed about this. I won't let it affect my decision whether to cover her speech, but I wish she'd change her mind.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).