I Probably Should've Skipped This One

Sunday, June 29, 2014
An advertisement for Mrs. Clinton's book signing event in last Sunday's Dayton Daily News.

Over the years (has it really been that long?), I have shared my adventures and milestones in exploring and practicing journalism in my local area and at a few places away from home via this blog. During that time, I have had the opportunity of covering events involving politicians, celebrities and national heroes with 2012 being my "banner year" due to Ohio's importance during the recent presidential election cycle and the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raiders heroic exploits during World War II. I've had some remarkable successes (gaining press credentials for both a VP and POTUS campaign event) and a failure or two along the way (turned down for an Air Force One arrival and the Obama campaign kick-off event in Columbus). I chose to forgo a rather significant event in the 2012 general election campaign (the joint Romney-Ryan appearance) for which I openly regretted not making the effort to attend. It was in the spirit of that last "no-show" that I decided to try and cover a potentially significant event leading up to the upcoming 2016 presidential race--a local appearance of the presumptive Democratic nominee, former First Lady/US Senator/Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a bookstore in the greater Dayton area. Regrettably, after you read what I provide below, you will probably agree with me that this was an event where I should've just stayed home.

A screen shot of The Dayton Daily News' June 19th email announcement of Mrs. Clinton's appearance.

During the afternoon of June 19th, I was sitting in my living room when I saw an item appear in my email in-box from The Dayton Daily News. It was a hastily drafted item announcing the book signing event on June 27th and providing a link to the reader to get more information (and it was only a three paragraph posting by their Breaking News staff with the basic who/what/where info--the "when" was pending). I awaited that final piece and it arrived in my Sunday edition of their newspaper (with the location's parent company, Books A Million or BAM!, posting details online the following day). Knowing the kinds of security "hoops" her visit would require potential journalists to jump through, I contacted the store on Monday and was provided the name of their events coordinator (because I currently choose to retain my online privacy, I will continue my practice of not naming individuals that I meet with during these assignments--this policy does not apply to by-lined, television-branded or syndicated journos or to the subject of my pieces//JoB!).

Signs posted on the outer doors of Books & Co. hint to Friday's Hillary Clinton book signing event in Beavercreek, Ohio.

After a short bout of phone tag with the store, I was able to obtain an email address to send in a formal request for press credentials for the event. Waiting 24 hours and not hearing anything back, I sent a follow-up to that person and got back what I hoped not to hear but was expecting: a pleasant "no". In their reply, I was told that I could have access to customers lined up outside the building and would be free to interview them prior to going into the establishment. My immediate reaction was to fire off an email saying that I already understand my rights when it comes to public property and places but I chose to delay such a knee-jerk reply and think over my options. I really didn't want to alienate a person who, based upon potential future visitors to their location, may be a valuable contact; however, for my own reference, I did want to know their rationale for denial and I asked if they could provide one. It did come down to formal press credentialing (I still lack those from a legitimate media outlet) and the "if I did it for you, then I'd have to do it for everybody else" reason. I couldn't hold it against the coordinator personally because I'm guessing that they were elbowed aside by a BAM! corporate representative who, in turn, was getting their marching orders from the book's publisher and, most likely, Mrs. Clinton's publicist directly. The store's layout (a second-floor events area with a flyover walkway connector and two staircases) is, in my opinion, not very conducive to hosting an event of that magnitude. Because of the public's huge interest in their guest (and her still-unannounced future political plans), they were anticipating media representatives from at least four major markets areas in the state so press space would be at a premium. With that in mind, I began to prepare for what turned out to be a very uneventful evening.

Before going further, I need to introduce some map overviews to better orient you geographically with Friday's activities. First up is an overview of the greater Dayton area, denoting the major highways that needed to be navigated to get Mrs. Clinton from the Dayton International Airport to the bookstore (click on the graphics to see a larger version):

Here is a more detailed overview of The Greene and its surrounding communities:

This last one gives the greatest detail of the signing location:

For the graphics "geeks" out there, I used Google Earth graphics that were subsequently copied/pasted into Microsoft PowerPoint for the various annotations. To keep them relatively uncluttered, I did not include a legend/key for my mark-ups so you will have to discover what they represent within the material below. And to anyone who might believe that I am offering up state secrets with my graphics or accompanying observations...do you honestly think a competent organization/element wanting to cause harm wouldn't have already consulted the internet or its applications (or conducted an actual physical reconnaissance of the location)?

The line wrapping around the side of the Books & Co. building prior to the arrival of Mrs. Clinton for the book signing event on Friday in Beavercreek, Ohio.

 Emergency vehicles lined up directly across from the Books & Co. building for the Clinton book signing event on Friday in Beavercreek, Ohio.
Patient crowds lined up outside the Books & Co. building awaiting the Clinton book signing event on Friday in Beavercreek, Ohio.

Ticketed customers are ushered inside the Books & Co. building prior to the arrival of Mrs. Clinton for Friday's book signing event in Beavercreek, Ohio.

A small group of protestors displaying anti-Hillary signs in front of The Pub, just across the street from the location for Friday's book signing event in Beavercreek, Ohio.

Being the eternal optimist, I was hoping that something may have changed between that last reply on Wednesday and my showing up at the Books & Co. location on Friday in regards to access. I picked my clothing with the intent of being outside the entire time but having it look "professional-enough" (business casual, no jeans, no tie) in case I did get to go inside and escape the high temperatures. I got to The Greene early enough (or at least I though it was) to accommodate any security-related activities for approved press but there was already a line around the block when I found the events coordinator. Sadly, there had been no change to the announced procedures and I walked past the screened media members who had been there since the store's closure at 4PM. Relegated to "outdoor duty", I wandered around the immediate vicinity to find good shooting angles for the then-current activities and the anticipated arrival route for Mrs. Clinton's entourage. I really don't like doing "walk-up" interviews of lined-up people but there was a group of protestors positioned across the street from the store that piqued my interest. I talked with their spokesperson and he told me that he represented Greene County teenage Republicans (I couldn't find a formal group overview on the web). Earlier in the week, the Greene County Tea Party announced that they were not going to hold a formal protest at the store but they did provide suggested guidelines for any informal protests to review if they chose to do so and, to their credit, they followed them implicitly to provide a benign yet visible presence.


[If I can delve just a little into editorializing...the photo of that protest gathering unintentionally highlighted a widely held notion about the demographics of the Republican Party and other conservative groups. Out of the seven people in the picture, there were no minorities and only one woman in attendance which, if extrapolated, produces a 0 percent and 14.3 percent representation ratio for those groups, respectively. In the 113th Congress, Republican lawmakers have a comparable representation when it comes to minorities and women. Out of 277 sitting members, only 9 are from non-White groups and 23 are women which reflects a 3.2 percent minority and 8.3 percent women participation rate (in comparison, the Democrats have a 29.4 percent minority and 29.0 percent female representation rate within their 255 members on Capitol Hill). To be fair, the demographics of Greene County do not reflect the national--or even the state's--average for diversity and an opinion piece I did earlier this year on bus stops in Beavercreek drills deeper into those very issues. And before I forget, I must give kudos to the demonstrators for "spell-checking" their signs.]


The motorcade turns onto Greene Boulevard from Indian Ripple Road to bring Mrs. Clinton to Friday's book signing event in Beavercreek, Ohio.

Two Ohio State Highway Patrol vehicles precede Mrs. Clinton's car in the motorcade on Friday in Beavercreek, Ohio.

The first of two "civilian" vehicles to drive by.

The car draws closer but the heavily tinted windows obscure identification of anyone in the rear seats.

A look directly at the rear passenger compartment reveals very little detail.

 The same goes for the second "civilian" car that passed by.

The motorcade parked on the west side of the block for the duration of the book signing event.

I made my way back across the street and began talking with a parent of an 18-year old who was celebrating his birthday on Friday. In a misreading of the event rules, they thought that book buyers could bring in additional family members to meet Mrs. Clinton. Since they only purchased a single copy, only one person would be allowed to go inside and they selected him. They and I (along with a photographer from a local paper that I first met at the Michio Kaku event at Wright State University back in March) talked about politics and the issues of the day until we noticed that there was inceased activity on the security front at around 6:50PM. At the corner of Indian Ripple Road and Greene Boulevard, the main entrance to The Greene, a roadblock had been set up to prevent all east-, north- and south-bound traffic to proceed through that intersection and it was shortly after that indication when we saw the police escort make the left-hand turn towards the store. In a rapid, organized fashion, all of the vehicles approached our position (their ingress route is indicated by the yellow line in the last two maps provided above; our position is denoted by the green star near the corner of Greene Boulevard and Walnut Street).

Through some Photoshop "magic", I believe a woman--possibly Mrs. Clinton--wearing sunglasses can be seen looking out of their car during the motorcade's arrival at Friday's. book signing event  in Beavercreek, Ohio.

An unscientific comparison between a 2011 photo of Mrs. Clinton wearing sunglasses and the unidentified woman in the car that brought her to the Beavercreek, Ohio book signing event.

Because of security concerns, the general public was not told where the motorcade would stop and allow Mrs. Clinton and her security detail to enter the building upon their arrival. Playing it safe, the other photographer and I opted for the position close to the two main entrances so we could quickly move to whichever one they chose to use. When the cars zipped past us, we started to move down the street towards the south entrance, dodging past pedestrians and ticket holders alike in our mutual zeal. It was as we reached that area when we noticed the cars were not stopping at that particular doorway so, thinking that they were going to loop around the block and drop Mrs. Clinton off at the north entrance, we scurried back to our original position to wait. After about 2-3 minutes time (and not seeing anything resembling a motorcade making its way down the street towards us), we made our way west down Walnut Street and discovered that the red and black vehicles that initially passed us were already parked in front of an administrative office entrance along Chestnut Street. She and her security detail had already entered the building so we were not entirely sure which vehicle she was in until a bystander who saw her get out told us that it was the red Mercury. My accomplice went through his photos and he did find one from an almost directly front-looking angle of the inside the car where a woman's head could be seen behind the front passenger seat. I looked at my own pictures and, in one of them, I thought I could make out the outline of sunglasses and a hairline. Since I didn't have access to any enhancement tools/software, I made a mental note to look closely at the photograph when I got back home. After running it through some enhancement processes in Photoshop on Saturday, I was able to make out what appears to be the head of a woman with longer hair and wearing sunglasses. I'm more familiar with taking intentional photos of my subjects and this software "skullduggery" needed to somehow identify someone who was taking intentional measures not to be seen gave me an unintentional taste of what the life of a paparazzo must be like and a greater empathy for our politicians and celebrity icons. I do understand that there is a market for such work and it does help pay the bills, but the constant invasions of other people's personal lives would eat away at my soul if I had to do it for a prolonged period of time.

My indiscriminate "snapping" of pictures when Mrs. Clinton's motorcade sped by made me feel greater empathy for and the security vulnerabilities of people who live in the public eye every day, much like Dr. Arroway (Jodie Foster) appears to display when noticed by a religious fanatic (Jake Busey) at the end of this clip from the 1997 movie, Contact.

An autographed title page of Mrs. Clinton's Hard Choices book.

Since we missed her entrance, our only chance to get a photograph of Mrs. Clinton would be when she left the event so the two of us decided to stake out that admin entrance to see what would transpire. As expected, the security folks were very tight-lipped about any specifics concerning her departure and would not even verify that the cars that they came in would be the same ones they would use for the return trip to the airport. Members of the local, county, state and federal protective services mulled about the block, biding their time as over 1,000 books were signed in the store during the little over 2-hour stay. Both of us took a short break to get something to drink to combat the 80+ degree temperatures we had endured for at least three hours but we didn't wander too far away in case she finished early. When we returned, we talked with a book purchaser who also was a photographer and wanted to capture the moment we were patiently waiting for. They confirmed the "no cameras" policy that was enforced inside but they did show us a cellphone picture that was surreptitiously taken as they approached the signing table. I got a photo of the autographed title page (I'm guessing there there had to be a point during a 1,000+ book signing event when she wished her name was Sue or Ann or something shorter than the seven-letter Hillary). During our wait, one of the accredited journalists walked by us and we asked them how things were going inside the store. They replied that strict rules were in place as to their positioning and photography angles. During my review of the coverage of the event, it appears that the bookstore staff was in tight control of the crowd (in one of the clips I linked to below, you see a staffer pointing out directions for individuals to follow after they received their signed books). As I assumed, she arrived by elevator to the second floor and walked across the flyover walkway connector to a table set up near the fireplace. There was one break in the night's strict regimen when Mrs. Clinton stood up and walked around the table to greet a wheelchair-bound attendee and that photo made its way to the web. The books were signed in rapid succession and handshakes were exchanged throughout the event. If you do the math, she would have to had seen just under nine people per minute to get through the 1,050 announced total in that 2-hour period.

Sidewalks on the eastern side of Chestnut Street are cleared in anticipation of Mrs. Clinton's departure.

Members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol make their way to their vehicles in anticipation of Mrs. Clinton's departure.

Vehicles are staged in anticipation of Mrs. Clinton's departure.

A federal agent visually sweeps the crowd along the western side of Chestnut Street prior to Mrs. Clinton's departure.

We weren't exactly sure about the security protocol that would be enacted in conjunction with her exit so we tried to position ourselves in a place just off the primary transit route between the building and the car . A federal agent came by and I asked if we were OK where we were and he gave us a tentative nod of approval as I prepared my camera with its 18-55mm lens for the anticipated shoot. Unfortunately, when the time came for her to leave, we were told that we had to move either across the street or down to the corner. We both opted for a position that provided for a moderate distance but with limited sight-line obstacles (it's marked with the blue star on the last map provided earlier). We knew it was almost "go time" when various security officials started to come out of the building and take up strategic positions both on foot and in vehicles along the street.

The better samples of my "spray and pray" of Mrs. Clinton's departure.

It was around 9:09PM that we got our first glimpse of Mrs. Clinton when she appeared descending the stairway down to the ground floor entrance/exit doors. Since I was much farther away than I originally hoped to be, I switched over to my telephoto lens and ran through tests of the ambient lighting and focus responses. Everything appeared to check out OK and I had one more decision to make: shoot stills or video? I've mentioned here in previous postings that I sometimes shoot HD video to almost "guarantee" that I will get something salvageable for posting to this blog (it comes in handy when confronted by an animated subject like President Obama).  Because of this limited opportunity, I almost flipped it into video mode to capture the moment but I resisted the urge and kept my setting at aperture priority. A flurry of photos ensued (normally referred to as "spray and pray" although I manually depressed the shutter button for each photo instead of using the camera's continuous shoot mode) in order to salvage something from this opportunity and I provided the better ones of the 20 or so I shot above to show you some of the challenges/obstacles that we faced (her waving to admirers to her south compounded our already poor choice of positions to her north). Because of the glass and other items/people in my frames, I did not capture anything that would be of value for a portfolio or resume (I am sharing them here simply to ask if you agree with my assessment).

 The car transporting Mrs. Clinton starts its journey back to the airport on Friday night.

A poster announcing the book signing event stands outside the closed Books & Co. building on Friday night.

A peek inside the closed Books & Co. building after Friday night's book signing event.

Crowds gathered at The Greene's town center area for a free summer concert on Friday evening.

Once she was seated in the car and the door was closed, the vehicle pulled away from the curb. I tried the same technique of shooting the polarized window but nothing came out since she was positioned on the opposite side of the car instead of the one closest to me. When it came to the corner of Walnut Street, they turned right and made their way back to Greene Boulevard (the route is denoted with the orange line on the final map graphic) and the near-by interstate highway to return Mrs. Clinton back to the airport and her next destination (I'm guessing her home but this book tour has her all over the place these days). By the time I tore down my camera equipment and packed it away in my bag, there was hardly any signs that a future president had just been there. All of the cones and meter covers had been removed and the parking spaces had been returned to public use again. As a reward for my patience and frustration, I purchased a frozen dairy treat and made my way over to the town center area to wind myself down and reflect on what had just transpired. A big group of people were taking in a free concert and children were beating the day's lingering heat by frolicking in the fountain area. I walked over to the brightly lit (but closed) Books & Co. store to get some final pictures (an employee was vacuuming on the ground floor and there were still some items on that flyover that were probably from the event). At 9AM Saturday, their doors reopened and life returned to normal for the employees who, for at least one day, got the chance to glimpse at (or possibly meet) one of the most recognizable people on the planet.

Here's how the event was covered by the "legitimate" news organizations...first is Dayton's NBC affiliate, WDTN:

Next is Dayton's ABC affiliate, WKEF (they share their resources with the local Fox station, WRGT):

This was from Columbus's NBC affiliate, WCMH:

And here's a combination effort from the Cox Media Group, Ohio elements (a print article in The Dayton Daily News and some video footage when Mrs. Clinton arrived inside the store):

Finally, here is a link to the Associated Press' filed story:

No television crews from Cincinnati or Cleveland or Toledo showed up and only one Columbus station felt the need to send a reporter/videographer (although, as I found out by watching the clip above, there was a much bigger political event happening in the state's capital city on Friday and "Cbus" was putting on the final touches for the visit by an evaluation team responsible for selecting a host city for the 2016 Democratic National Convention). With all of that extra space, I'm guessing that the BAM! people could've squeezed in a few more people into the press area if they wanted to (or if they were allowed to).

Dayton's last major national political story took place in 2008 when then Republican presidential nominee John McCain introduced then-Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential choice at the Erwin J. Nutter Center at Fairborn's Wright State University. (photo courtesy of NBC News)

Perhaps those other media outlets already knew what I would find out after the fact--there just wasn't any news going on there. It was strictly a book signing event and, despite all of the rumors and the obvious political enthusiasm exuded by the attendees, announcement "lightning" would not strike twice for Dayton (John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate at Wright State University's Erwin J. Nutter Center, just a few miles away in neighboring Fairborn, back in 2008). Politics was overtly displayed as a bevy of representatives for the Ready for Hillary super PAC were eagerly canvasing ticketholders and other bystanders for signatures and contact information, and many of the people who eventually met with Mrs. Clinton were wearing that organization's stickers on their person. There was one volunteer that I kept jovially asking whenever I saw them working the crowd if they knew if a presidential announcement might be made during the book signings and she continually stuck by her story of having no idea. I later found out that this wasn't even her only book signing event on the day (she flew to Ohio after completing a similar event at a Walmart in Little Rock, Arkansas) so to do it at the later one in a state with which she has no tangible connections (other than those related to the Electoral College) was probably not going to happen...a little bit of "homework" on my part would've gone a long way.

A simple Google News search on Saturday morning of "hillary clinton ohio" for the past 24 hours produced this lengthy result concerning a variety of issues.

Love her, hate her, indifferent towards her? Like her or not, Mrs. Clinton is omnipresent in both the traditional media and in areas you wouldn't normally expect (Prickly City, the right wing's feeble answer to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Doonesbury comic strip, thinly veils one of its characters--a rabbit named Hunny Bunny--as her). Above is a graphic from Saturday's Google News feed for the phrase "hillary clinton ohio" and her name comes up in a lot of different items in objective and, in some cases, highly subjective pieces. The item at the top of the list (a link to a video excerpt from Friday night's edition of comedian Bill Maher's cable show), while a prime example of "yellow journalism", does allude to what more than a few people--myself included--would like to see for the upcoming presidential campaign cycle and that would be a shorter one (Maher only wants her to take a temporary publicity hiatus, not a permanent departure). Most political wonks can remember back to November 2006 when former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack filed his FEC paperwork two days after that year's midterm elections were held (I'm not including Mike Gravel's April 2006 announcement because of his campaign's anemic performance and its little-to-no notice from the national media). Such an  unorthodox move caused most of the other serious candidates from both parties to announce their own candidacies at ridiculously early times to remain relevant in the political and media discussions surrounding their respective nominating processes. In the 2000 presidential election cycle (the most recent one since 2008 without an incumbent running for reelection), both party's nominees (Al Gore and George W. Bush) announced their candidacies in June 1999--17 months prior to the November 2000 general election.

Hillary Clinton addresses a campaign rally that I attended in Huber Heights, Ohio in February 2008. She won the state's primary contest but fell short of securing the Democrat's nomination to the eventual winner, Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton greets well-wishers at the conclusion of a rally in Huber Heights, Ohio in late February 2008.

Former president Bill Clinton works the rope line at the conclusion of a Hillary Clinton campaign rally I attended in Springfield, Ohio in February 2008.

Some feel that because of the way her campaign imploded in 2008 (I am sharing some of my personal photos of one of her and her husband's stops in the local area before the Ohio primary above) and her current high favorable ratings among likely voters, Clinton is the de facto 2016 Democratic nominee (although some fans of current VP Joe Biden might have something to say about that) so there shouldn't be too much activity from that party prior to its nominating convention about 26 months from now in a still undecided location (good luck, Columbus!). Much like in 2012, most of the attention will come from the Republican nomination process which has no clear front-runner and lacks anyone who is able to pass the various "litmus tests" from each of their party's nearly disjointed constituencies.

A first-person view showing the press/venue set-up for the book signing event. (tweet courtesy of Twitter/Kelly May)

Maher said in that Blaze-provided clip that Clinton's current book tour is a mechanism to "innoculate" the public from the constant barrage of negative news spun up by her detractors (his guest, MSNBC host Joy Reid, brought up how that previous campaign showed how the "day-to-day slog" is perhaps not in her best interest for 2016). Perhaps "vanilla" appearances like the one on Friday are a compromise between exercising her ability to "cash in" on four years of high visibility public service as our nation's 67th Secretary of State and not trying to make any more news than she has to in her daily life (which explains the strict press restrictions). Unless something unforeseen comes up (a health issue with her or in her immediate family, something that has been well hidden over her and her husband's 40+ years in the public limelight, Benghazi or other State Department-related issues during her tenure, etc.), she will undoubtedly make her long-anticipated 2016 campaign announcement sometime over the next 6-9 months at a place much more symbolic than a Beavercreek, Ohio chain bookstore. The old idiom "a watched pot never boils" is very apropos here because the harder one looks, the more disappointed they become when that thing doesn't happen. As a resident of the "swingiest of the swing states", I know that there will be plenty of political activity to cover when that campaign actually exists.

P.S. Before someone comments, I had a hard time choosing on how best to refer to the subject of this piece. In basic writing courses, you are taught to alternate formal names with first names and titles in order to keep the copy fresh. However, when you are writing about someone who has accomplished so much in her life, my "peppering" of titles (First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, Senator, Madame Secretary or the affixing of the JD suffix to denote a law degree) may have been confusing and would have required additional editing to ensure an equal mention was made to every one. The same rationale applied to my dropping of her maiden name after its initial mention in the first paragraph. I hope no one takes offense to my shortcuts. -- JoB!

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