As a political science minor and with a love for broadcast journalism, I’ve come to know Washington, D.C. as a political junkie’s Hollywood. When I arrived in D.C. a month ago for my internship with C-SPAN, I knew spotting House Speaker John Boehner or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in person would have been like a run-in with Brad and Angelina for the average Joe. Fortunately for me, luck came my way last week when I was granted the opportunity to shadow another intern at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. Essentially, CPAC is a large gathering of conservatives from around the U.S. coming together to listen to conservative politicians and activists speak. All of the major networks are present, as well as C-SPAN, recording the event and its high-profile speakers. After asking my supervisor if there was any opportunity to join the other intern last Thursday afternoon, he approved, but I had to find a way to get my media credentials, something that had been taken care of the week before. I was told the answer was no; I could no longer receive my credentials because the deadline had passed. But I didn’t want that to be the end-all be-all, so I contacted the woman in charge of media for CPAC and found out it was not entirely too late, I could still receive my media credentials if I made it to CPAC’s venue hotel the night before. Long story short, after getting lost in the pouring rain and wandering around D.C. for over an hour after dark, I finally stumbled upon the hotel and marched right on up there to get my credentials for the next morning! I made sure to finish all of my work in the programming operations department on Thursday and made it to CPAC in the afternoon to see Speaker Boehner, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and other prominent individuals speak before the many conservatives who filled the ballroom. I got to meet Michelle Bachmann later in the day, and watched how the director and crew worked together with C-SPAN’s cameramen to produce a live segment on-air. Needless to say, almost everything I had learned in my television production class applied to what the crew members were doing at CPAC.
The second day of the conference was the day for GOP candidates. Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich each spoke, along with Fox News contributors Mike Huckabee and Ann Coulter. I even had the chance to meet up with NBC embed reporter and JCU alum Andrew Rafferty (‘09), who was at CPAC covering Santorum’s campaign. Among my other highlights from the afternoon were the “Occupy CPAC” protesters trying to make their way into the hotel (a failed attempt), and seeing Newt Gingrich’s wife Callista introduce her husband; it is widely known that Mrs. Gingrich rarely speaks in public and that her hair never, ever moves. I found the latter to be especially true.
The final day of CPAC will go down in history as the day I met Sarah Palin and showed her pictures of me dressed up as her for Halloween in 2008. Mrs. Palin was the closing speaker at the conference, and the crowd was filled with conservatives – many of them students – eagerly waiting to hear her speak. Once she began speaking, Palin was successful at rallying everyone in the audience with her comments about the Obama administration, and when the speech concluded, I thought I might be able to see her do an interview on one of the balconies, but there was no such luck. She was quickly walking around signing autographs, so I knew if I wanted to get close, I’d have to really make the effort! When I eventually made it over to her by running across the rows of chairs, I weasled my way up and shoved my iPhone in front of her, saying, “Look Sarah, it’s me dressed as you for Halloween!” I literally sounded like Randy from “A Christmas Story” when he gets to the top of the stairs and asks Santa Claus for the rifle. Luckily, she didn’t react like Santa; instead, she looked at my phone and laughed, saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s what I looked like 40 years ago!” It was a great end to the entire learning experience.