New York City
It's good to be reminded of just how big the disconnect can be between reporting and reality: Don't believe everything you read in your morning newspaper.
I was outside the Plaza Hotel last night when I re-learned this lesson. It was shortly after Barack and Michelle Obama arrived to speak to the less-than-1-percent who'd paid $10,000 a plate to attend a fundraiser hosted by Sex and the City creator Darren Star. It was the president's second campaign stop of the night: He came to the Plaza directly from the home of Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, where guests shelled out $40,000 a plate to mingle with the fashionista and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
One of the journalists in the pool covering the president's appearance emailed a report of the arrival, writing that “the streets were lined w 1000s of people behind barriers trying for a snap of the motorcade on a gorgeous NY night.”
I was on Fifth Avenue when the motorcade came through, and I can say that's not an accurate description of the scene.
There certainly weren't thousands of people lining the streets. I'd guess there were a couple hundred, at most. And at the barrier I was behind, not a single person was there hoping to catch a glimpse of the president—New Yorkers just wanted to get home.
“Nothing's moving in the area,” a cop repeated to every inquiry. It was simply impossible to get to the West Side for around 20 minutes, as authorities prepared for the president's arrival at the hotel. Even a nearby subway station was closed. When asked how far down Fifth Avenue the closure went, the officer said, “Very far.”
“How do I get home?,” somebody asked. Wait around 20 minutes, the cop responded. People couldn't quite believe they were being inconvenienced so Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys could help the president make money. “Seriously?”
There's no denying that when the motorcade finally made its way down Fifth and turned onto 59th Street, many stranded spectators started clapping and cheering. But more people were frustrated than star struck.
“I guess he brought hope and change to traffic patterns,” one guy muttered as he turned around to try to find another way west. After streets were finally opened – though only some; those directly surrounding the Plaza were blocked to non-hotel guests throughout the night – I heard a man mutter, “Stupid f–ing president.” An hour later, with some streets still closed, sanitation trucks parked near the hotel seemingly just to block the view, and plenty of officers on duty on the streets off Central Park that smelled distinctly of horse manure, one man took in the scene and said to a friend, disgust dripping from his voice, “Look at that.”
President Obama doesn't mix with the people when he makes his way, in his solid motorcade, across cities to compliment the celebrities who host his moneymakers. Neither, it's clear, do those who cover his campaign.