New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's alleged call girl's MySpace page? News. Geraldine Ferraro's comments about Barack Obama to the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif.? News. A speech by the president of the United States? Not so much.
Wednesday night, President Bush gave a speech at a hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., on what seemed like an important topic, earning back a Republican majority in Congress. And it seemed like an important audience, the National Republican Congressional Committee.
So I hurried over to the Washington Hilton to get inside before the 5:30 entrance cutoff, even though the speech wasn't supposed to start until 6:45. I didn't want to get shut out of the presumably crowded press area. I mean, it was the president of the United States.
As I scurried in, I saw mostly what I expected: women wearing pearls, suited men wearing American flag lapel pins, even an American flag bandana -- worn on the head of an elderly man with Coke-bottle glasses. I made my way over to the press check-in table, scanning the room for other reporters with the signature green press badge I had around my neck. But I didn't see any others. Maybe they were just tucked into the other reporters' blazers.
I was handed off to an eager young man who personally escorted me past all the guests in a cocktail lounge and down a roped-off stairwell, as if I were some sort of VIP (or leper, depending on who was watching). At the bottom of the stairs he turned to me and said, "We'll see if there is still room in the actual ballroom, otherwise I can take you to the overflow room." "Oh no," I thought, "I'll be crowded out."
Luckily, he then opened a large wooden ballroom door to reveal an enormous room, still half dark, where the Hilton staff was still setting up the 200-plus tables. He motioned to a row of 10 chairs against the back wall and silently left me in the dark, literally and figuratively.
The "press area," I thought -- only without the press. Maybe I'm just early. Better than getting stuck in that overflow room.
Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. Thirty. Finally, one other man showed up with the familiar green badge and sat two seats away. Two minutes later, he was up and gone. Nine seats were empty again.
An hour and a half rolled by. I was still sitting alone with my pen and pad. Even the Secret Service agent posted by the door gave me a skeptical once-over.
Finally the room filled with guests. But I still sat in the back, alone. I suffered through country musician Trace Adkins singing the national anthem. And then, finally, heard President Bush speak, mostly imparting wisdom about Arizona Sen. John McCain. "I was thinking how next year's dinner will be a little different," he announced. "First of all, you'll be welcoming a new keynote speaker, President John McCain."
I think I know why I was alone.