After two hours of speeding north on I-95 in a shaky car with variable heating, we found ourselves in the "metropolis" of Manchester, New Hampshire. We were greeted by dirty ice and hordes of microwave trucks filled with television equipment and towering masts. Following a local's directions down Canal Street, we wandered to StrangeBrew, a local pub. Inside was a raucous scene: blinding lights, drunken men, officious politicians, self-important television executives and a makeshift stage. As we trailed into the bar, Adam Levine and Phil Griffin, executive producers of NBC's "Hardball," belted "Harvard!" at the tops of their voices. We were led down to a center table in front of the stage and instructed to sit and be good Harvard students. Due to our dumb luck, we were special guests to the show that evening--not that we had any idea of what we were doing.
A few of us had met Adam, Phil and the star of "Hardball," Chris Matthews, while they watched their own TV show in Charlie's Kitchen about a week before. After too much snow stalled their trip home to New York, they found respite in the local beer and triple cheeseburgers of this venerable Cambridge establishment. Jenn Hyman '02 and myself just happened to be sitting next to them as they explained some of the nuances of network television to two ignorant media devotees. Chris Matthews argued with Dick Gephardt on TV in front of us while prodding us about how his St. Alban's son could sneak past the admissions office and get into Harvard. We became buddies during the bizarre meeting and before finishing our drinks, we were invited to attend a broadcast of the New Hampshire primary the following week.
Once we entered StrangeBrew, we were clueless. Surrounded by crazed and efficient NBC people, we needed to have a plan of action. Franklin proposed drinks; Noah suggested dinner. While fending off surreptitious stares (we look too young to be politically significant) we tried to force down French fries and ginger ale. Our chairs were arranged to suit the camera, and we were requested to remain in place until "Hardball" aired live at 8 p.m. Constantly surrounded by gorgeous women toting cell phones and looking inquisitively into his eyes, Paul kept joking about our presence. Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci showed up with his progeny and some extremely obnoxious hangers-on while we checked out a fashionable, blonde woman in trendy spectacles. While not so into the political scene, we were down with the media aspect of the New Hampshire primary. Jenn couldn't believe she wore pink to be on TV, Franklin Leonard '00 wondered why he was the only African-American in the bar and Jordana started dialing family members to demand they turn on their sets.
And, on TV we were. The floor manager, an imposing woman with a tight pony-tail, taught us to applaud wildly, shut-the-hell-up quickly and listen intently to Chris Matthews as he interrogated Alan Simpson and Jack Kemp. We could feel our faces burn from the sweltering lights and from the knowledge that we had no right to be in the middle of an NBC show proffering wisdom on the primaries. We write for FM, not The New Republic. Noah Oppenheim '00, the closest we had to a guru on political affairs, was the spokesman. The rest of us had to try and look intellectual. With the first notes of music, Chris started the program: "John McCain stole the show from George W. Bush for the Republican Party, and it looks like George can't use Mummy and Daddy for votes. Let's play Hardball." As he glared menacingly at the camera, we suppressed our laughter. The camerawoman kept zooming in on Jordana Lewis' '02 quintessential academic look and then panning over to Franklin's studied determination. At every commercial, we could watch ourselves on the monitor to the left and comment about who got the most airtime. Noah's face continued to pale as his fifteen seconds of fame loomed over him. But the patrons swilled locally brewed Shipyard Ale and hooted uproariously as the floor manager grabbed her microphone and told us all to keep quiet. And then, after countless cracks at Bush, diatribes from Cellucci, praise from Simpson, analysis from Capital Hill think tankers and ranting and raving from good old Chris, the early evening show wrapped up. Again we were on TV, but silent and glaring.
People stormed the stage after the last commercial and Phil and Adam approached us again with toothy grins. The eleven o'clock show awaited. Behind him, an officious manager, chugging golden whiskey while sucking on cigarettes, hissed at us to be back to the set on time. Noah got up and approached guest Jonathan Alter, a former Crimson editor and current Newsweek correspondent. As Noah spoke, the rest of us surrounded him in a silent circle. But luckily, Alter took our silence as pure awe and invited us to follow him over to the Gore campaign party. Although none of us were enamored with the stoic VP, we decided that his shindig would be thoroughly more intriguing than trailing McCain to Nashua. Skating across the ice to the lovely Holiday Inn, we followed Alter as he described his work at the magazine and his exhilaration on election night. We, plebian, pseudo-media, desperately attempted to compare our work to his, but before we made bigger fools of ourselves, we ran into the real fools: Gore supporters.
Half-drunken fans mingled with obsequious IOP-types and secret service men. We followed Alter into a giant cathedral warehouse where acres of laptops and television monitors and telephones and fax machines made a tremendous racket. Hunched journalists, attached to their keyboards and notebooks madly created copy while mumbling into phones and cursing sporadically; a wall of television screens flashed campaign coverage from every imaginable channel--except FOX--they preferred "Party of Five" over McCain. Huddled together, we stared at this splendor of technology and manpower. Alter flew off to another interview, and Franklin spied his heroine, Arianna Huffington while I discovered my hometown hero, the Boston Globe columnist, Mike Barnicle. Granted, he resigned from the Globe after they discovered his tendency to "fabrication," but he's still the best thing the Globe ever had. With his arms folded across his chest, he seemed mildly pleased to hear I was from The Crimson, but he too soon disappeared for a TV interview.
Jenn tried to crash the Gore party, but the loud music and cheering inside was just an illusion. Only a small number of people had been screened by the secret service and invited to his contrived victory celebration. Huffington accosted us on the way out, so we listened to her strange and lilting accent while she towered above us all like a veritable Amazon warrior. She handed us a pamphlet for her latest cause, "OverthrowtheGov.com," and posed for a photo. We were once again unstoppable, pretending that our Harvard ID and driver's license would work as a press pass. While one intrepid UPN reporter said he had a "chat session" inside and attempted to push by us, we prevailed and stormed the Gore party as official student press--but to no avail. We were barricaded in pen built for large sows and forced to watch the revelers behind the wall. After about 10 seconds of looking at Gore's chiseled chin, we chatted with the drug-sniffing dog, proffered our handbags filled with AK-47s to the secret service and left. Only to bump into some men dressed as pigs. We think they were protesting porkbarrel spending.
On our way back to the "Hardball" set, we were euphoric. McCain had won; Gore had prevailed. Not that many citizens seemed to care. They were happier to gather at the bar, watch the brouhaha of producers and set managers, and comment on the attractiveness of the upcoming, female political analysts. This time, we really were going to be famous, because we were primped and prepped and handed a microphone. Again, in the front row of the set, next to an angry man in a dirty T-shirt who really wanted to ask a question about Gore, we tried to keep from eyeing the camera. Noah, holding a copy of The Crimson's endorsement of McCain and Bradley, was told to be brief--he was now an "official" commentator on the political scene. He twitched his shoulders and got ready for his big television debut. During a commercial break after a tirade from Simpson and a lecture from the Newsweek analyst, Howard Fineman, Matthews leaned down to us, and said "Keep it short. Use small words and DON'T BE A TIME HOG." Apparently he understood Harvard students to be unnaturally loquacious. Noah braced himself, and when Chris held up a copy of The Crimson to the screen and announced that Hardball was suddenly becoming intellectual, he turned to Noah and asked him why we chose McCain as our choice for president. I barely remember what he said, but it was good because all the real authorities agreed and deemed we were collectively intelligent. The rest of us just sat there and nodded.
After we wrapped for the night, StrangeBrew was abuzz with people and various campaign supporters. Bradley's issue director approached us, announced he was from Yale and walked off. The stress of the two live shows was over, television executives and the Newsweek clan gathered in booths along the back of the bar. Everything was charged to the "Hardball" account, and we were left to mingle with people who were once only bylines. After Howard Fineman scoffed at my Boston roots ("Why go to Harvard?") and lectured on the merits of journalism and the lack of credibility of Cornell West, he sat back and demanded to know our future plans. The producers of the Evening News with Tom Brokaw--and Tom Brokaw himself--turned around and glanced us up and down. The female executive producer faced us and in a beautifully measured voice commented briefly on her job as a producer and her affection for late-night programming. In a flash, all my allegiance to print was gone. But then she turned away, more interested in NBC gossip than a group of drooling Harvard kids. And kids we were, next to these people who had managed to scramble up the media ladder. We certainly saw what it takes to be a TV executive: aggression. Tom Brokaw too was not terribly interested by our non-credentials, but Phil convinced him to approach us and proffer some words of wisdom. Slathered with taupe make-up, Brokaw embraced us, muttered the word "Harvard," smiled and told us we were great as we tried to subtly beg for a photo. Brokaw even gave Jenn a big fat kiss on the cheek which she proudly reminded us of on the way home. We reminded her that the venerable Brokaw had added some drinks of his own to the Hardball tab.
Phil and Adam, ever charming, invited us all to South Carolina to the next big "Hardball" event. However, after an unbelievable influx of media and politics--a real "out of the box" experience--we had to return home to fair Harvard. Somehow, the real world looked a whole lot better--if politics can count as reality. We watched the lights come down from the rafters and Chris Matthews slip into trench coat to depart. For most of New Hampshire, the night was over. Gore and McCain were surely going to bed happy only to wake up to another day in another state. We finally attained our few moments of vicarious fame, and had to go home on the slick roads only to wake up and shop English 10b in the morning.