A Media Frenzy on 55th Street
Today politics exceeded its own parody: at least 50 reporters gathered at a comedy clubhouse -- while the rest of us watched on TMZ -- to hear the latest news about a leading a presidential candidate complete with warmup from a radio shockjock minion. What's left for Jon Stewart? Asked to rate the frenzy level of media-friendly lawyer Gloria Allred's hastily called press conference to detail the allegations of Sharon Bialek, the fourth woman who's accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment, veteran New York Post photographer David McGlynn said, "I give this a nine. At least." Less impressed in the press scrum packed into the Milton Berle Room of the Friar's Club was Nick Brooks, an independent photographer who contributes to what he described as an international paparazzi agency, who rated the spectacle a seven, putting it well behind Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Anthony Weiner. "Those are all A-1 media events," he said. "DSK was unparalleled because you had overlap of paparazzi and international politics. This isn't quite there." The man knows what sells.
"If you looked up 'media circus' in the dictionary, you would see a picture of all of us," said the New York Observer's Hunter Walker, crouched in the doorway of the Milton Berle Room at the Friars Club of New York. "God, I'm hung over," Brooks said, breaking the monotony as antsiness turned into hushed impatience and Allred failed to emerge. "It's so hot in here," said a woman in the crowd. The gaggle of media included reporters and camera operators from the National Enquirer, TMZ, The Daily Show as well as scores of freelancers, all the network and cable news channels, the local papers, CNN, Fox, and plenty of foreign press.
So if this is a circus, who's the clown? "That'll take longer to answer," Walker said. Actually, it didn't. The appearance of Benjy Bronk, from the Howard Stern show, meant at least someone at Sirius Radio thought the event had enough heat to make it worth crashing (Sirius had an actual reporter there at well, for the record). Bronk had been entertaining the tightly packed cluster of media folks with a stand-up riff, and when Allred ushered Bialek into the room, he gave her an introduction. "Ladies and gentlemen, all the way from Los Angeles, California, Ms. Gloria Allred, and the accuser." Allred, Bialek in tow, did an about-face and shouldered back through the crowd. "I'm not doing this with him here," she said. Bronk tried to put his presence to a vote, which he inevitably lost.
Once things got underway, the crowd settled down and Allred introduced Bialek and her new allegations, said they weren't planning a lawsuit, and had Bialek tell her story. As they squeezed out after a few questions, the reporters seated in the middle of the room surged to their feet to follow, but the camera operators in the rear held them back. "Stay down please, press, stay down!" they first admonished and then roared. Because while these kinds of pressers are routine work for your news reporting crowd as long as everyone cooperates, getting your head in the way of a shot is a good way to have it lopped off. Afterwards, a CNBC reporter haunted 55th Street with a small cadre of photographers lying in wait for Allred's exit, and an Atlantic Wire scribe pestered the poor receptionist about how many people had shown up -- 50 to 80 went the estimates -- and all that was left was a million tweets, YouTubes and blog posts, a few headlines, and few, if any, untold jokes.