Forced patriotism on the press platform

Published July 29, 2004 9:06PM (EDT)

Inside the Fleet Center, the working press sits at tables that flank the convention stage. Except during major speeches, the reporters -- like the delegates themselves -- seldom pay much attention to what's happening on the stage. They talk among themselves, burn through their cell phone batteries and write pieces on their laptops.

That's what we were doing Thursday afternoon when a Secret Service agent had another idea. "Excuse me sir," his voice boomed from behind us. "It's the presentation of the colors, and I think it's important enough for you to stand up."

The agent had noticed -- we had not -- that the American flag was being presented in the still half-empty convention hall. We acknowledged his right to his opinion, then we returned to our work. At that point, the agent ordered us to stand -- ostensibly so he could confirm that our press credentials were valid. We complied with the order, then turned on our tape recorder and asked if he was actually ordering us to stand for the flag.

"No sir, I'm not. I'm looking at your deal," he said. "I'm ordering you because I want to see your credentials, and you're going to stand here until the flag is over with."

What's your name? "I'm Chad Reagan, and I'm checking your credentials, out of the New York field office. I'm checking your credentials."

Because we're working during the presentation of the flag?

"No sir, because I'm wondering who you are."

We told him that we worked for Salon.

"Great," he said, "I'm checking your credentials."

Nearby officials from the Congressional Periodical Press Gallery instantly confirmed the validity of our credentials. We asked the agent if he always orders people to stand for the flag, and whether Secret Service policy either authorized or required him to do so.

"I served for six months in the United States Marine Corps overseas, sir, so I like it when people stand. The reason I came over here was to credential you. You can think what you want, but the reason I came over here was to credential you. And I'll stick to that. I'm allowed to credential anyone I want. That is Secret Service policy."

But you told us to stand for the flag, right?

"No sir, I didn't tell you. I said that I think it's important enough to stand, and then I said, 'Let me see your credentials.' There's a difference."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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