Staking out and reporting from the campaign trail
The event was not open to the press, so we got creative.
Rather than sending just one reporter, The Daily Princetonian decided coverage of the event should be a team effort. I arrived with four other reporters — Courtney Balgobin, Luc Cohen, Michael Granovetter and Lydia Lim — and one photographer, Merrill Fabry. Special thanks to Associate Copy Editor Andrea Beale, who took the time to drive us and pick us up.
We showed up at the scene at 11 a.m. armed with very visible notebooks, pens and a paparazzi-style camera. The event wasn’t set to start for another 45 minutes.
To our advantage, Golden’s home was next to a park explicitly labeled as a public space. It was close enough that we could see the back of the house, and we felt protected by the public space label.
Two Secret Service agents were guarding the entrance to the house, and a couple of New Jersey State Police officers were in the park with us. The caterers were just arriving, too.
After ignoring our presence for a good 10 minutes, the Secret Service agent and a police officer had a conversation and gestured toward us. Soon enough, a friendly police officer approached us and told us that we looked like good kids, only to add in the next sentence that he would not like to have to lock us up. He asked us to leave the park and move to the road next to the park, which he assured us was a public space — just like the park.
Seeking clarification, Luc approached the Secret Service agent, who insisted we had to move to the road. He was nice, however, and tried to sell us the reporting possibilities of this new location. He ended with a “thanks, bro.” Being “bro”-ed by the Secret Service is quite the feat. In fact, it was on this road that guests parked their cars, so it turned out to be a pretty good tip.
Our first informant, a valet parker, told us that 350 people were expected, but only 20 had the fortune of being VIP guests. They were the ones who got valet parking — the other 330 had to park for themselves.
Guests started to arrive. Michelle’s brother Craig Robinson ’83 came, and even shook Luc’s hand, but declined to be interviewed. Robinson also invited several current Princeton women’s basketball players. Robinson’s car was not taken by the valet, indicating that he was not on the VIP list. University President Shirley Tilghman, however, was treated as a VIP.
Not satisfied with the politically correct statements of support we were getting from attendees, our photographer Merrill and I attempted to walk by the front of Golden’s house to see what there was on the other side. A Secret Service agent approached us — we realized they never shout, they just silently approach people; etiquette, I guess — and asked as to move to “the other side of the road.” No “thanks, bro” this time. Some bushes prevented us from having a clear glimpse of the event, so we returned to the road behind the park in defeat.
Meanwhile, the other four reporters had been taken for fundraiser hosts by the arriving guests, who were actually approaching them seeking instructions and last minute details on the event. Sources willingly approaching reporters? Unbelievable. Luc was nice (clever) enough to escort guests to the entrance of the house and get some quotes in the process. Win win. It was also way past 1 p.m. now, and there was still no sign of the first lady.
As time passed, more and more police cars and black SUVs reached the location — hinting at the imminence of the first lady’s arrival — only to leave a few minutes later. But this also meant the Secret Service made us get off the road and move farther back.
At 1:45 p.m. a series of black SUVs parked in the park where we had started our little reporting adventure. At 1:55 p.m. the police blocked the road; now she was actually about to arrive. At the same time, the Secret Service walked toward us and told us to disperse.
We started to disperse, walking slowly to our car. After three hours at the site with no sighting of Michelle Obama, Luc said, “OK, I give up.” But we waited for a bit farther down the road, with the entrance to the house still barely in the range of the camera lens and realized that the police weren’t saying anything. We stayed there, testing the security people. But after a few minutes, a police officer shouted at us to go away — police officers don’t have the manners of the Secret Service — and that settled it.
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