GOP's corral is full of whips but no broncos


HOUSTON -- Ed Bradley of CBS is trying to elbow his way through the crush of people on the convention floor.

Ed Bradley is a pretty big guy, but he is making no progress.

I know this because I have been pinned up against his back for a few minutes now. His cameraman is crowding me to my left, and a Secret Service agent is crowding me to my right.

I don't know who is smashed up against my back, but he or she is poking me with something worth investigating. So I turn my . . .

Bradley is down!

Ed Bradley has been knocked off his feet! It is like the Democratic convention of 1968!

Except that in 1968 the press was in pursuit of a real story. There was a police riot outside the convention hall and a political riot inside.

But now, at this moment in Houston, we are pursuing . . . nothing.

Or, to be specific, we are pursuing Dan Quayle and his organized "impromptu" event.

Something impromptu is supposed to be something spontaneous, but there are no spontaneous events in politics anymore. There are just events that are purposefully left off the printed schedule so that they can look spontaneous.

Take this one: Dan Quayle's handlers have decided he should visit the convention floor and shake hands with the Indiana delegation.

And because there is little else for us to do with our time, hundreds of reporters and photographers have rushed over to ** get a glimpse of this.

And now we are crushed together, elbowing each other for breathing space and a peek at Quayle.

I cannot see him. He would have to be 10 feet tall for me to see him. All I can see is the space that Ed Bradley used to occupy.

"I'm OK, I'm OK!" Bradley shouts into his headset as he struggles to his feet.

Trooper that he is, he now tries to push forward to where he thinks Quayle might be. But a young Bush "whip" puts his hands up to stop him.

"Get your hands off me!" Bradley says. "Get your hands off me!"

In the old days, when conventions were real events, whips or organizers were needed on the floor to tell each delegate how his candidate wanted him to vote.

A few conventions ago, it became popular to have the whips in baseball caps of different colors for easy identification. So the Bush whips now wear caps in fluorescent shades of orange, chartreuse, green and violet.

But the whips have no real function. There is nothing to vote on anymore because everything has already been decided in order to make the convention a smooth-running TV show.

So the whips are reduced to telling the delegates when to chant, "Four more years! Four more years!" and to blocking the paths of reporters.

Most are also young, just out of their teens, and tasting power for the first time. Which is why one of them has dared to place hands on Ed Bradley.

"Don't you ever put your hands on me!" Bradley is shouting at the kid.

The kid is not intimidated in the least. He probably watches "Life Goes On" instead of "60 Minutes."

Meanwhile, Quayle has receded into the distance, and the knot of reporters unravels. As I turn to leave, I hear Bradley recounting things to his producer: "And I told him," Bradley says, "I told him: 'Don't you ever put your hands on me again.' "

The producer listens into his headphone for a moment. "The suggestion has been made that we go down to the Colorado delegation and talk to a Buchanan delegate," he tells Bradley.

"OK," Bradley says. "Let's go."

And off they go in search of more "news."

A few minutes after I finished the rough draft of this column, I went out into the hallway of the press center to stretch my legs.

Howard Fineman, the chief political correspondent for Newsweek magazine, was walking by, and he asked me what I was writing about.

A column on how there are too many reporters here chasing too little news, I said.

"I'm on my way to 'Nightline' to be interviewed on the same topic!" Fineman said. "Can you believe it?"

Yeah, I said. I can.

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