Editor’s note: MySweetCharity has four posts that are in final stages of completion, but we’re going to post media coverage today of yesterday’s George W. Bush Presidential Center groundbreaking because of “popular demand.” And, yes, this is going to be lengthy, so settle back. And, yes, there are many photos of the George W. and Laura Bush (pictured center with, from the left, George W. Bush and Don Evans) and other folks in MSC’s “Photo Gallery.”
Organizers for the Bush Center groundbreaking Tuesday knew they were going to be dealing with 2,300 people broken into four groups —
- VIPs of all levels
- The media
That last group is made up of all types including CNN-ers like Ed Lavandera, youngsters like Taylor Adams, old-hand locals like Bud Kennedy, conservative faithfuls like Steve Doocy (pictured) and liberal naysayers.
For media coverage Burson-Marsteller’s Jenifer Sarver was given the task of coordinating credentials for the Fourth Estate. She sent notices to the various media groups advising them to provide information by a certain date. The requested info was basic and they didn’t even ask if you voted for Bush. Once you got approval, you were told the time frame for showing up for the 10:30 event and how to enter the blocked off area. Pity the poor folks with the satellite trucks. They had to have everything set up for camp inspection. . . or rather security sweeps by 6 :00 a.m. The deadline for the rest of the media was 8:30 a.m. However, we knew that it would be wise to get there a wee bit early just in case. Plus we hadn’t gotten much sleep due to the overnight storm.
7:50 a.m. — As we approach the area, we see what appeared to be a white blimp hangar. No. It is Mega Tent (pictured) where the groundbreaking for a crowd of 2,300 is to take place in 2.5 hours. The enclosed tent probably costs more than the LBJ Library. Drive up to the check in area on Dublin and receive a media parking pass to continue to the media parking lot. My, but we are feeling special. As we walk to the grounds, we notice that despite being packed pretty tightly, the wet soil is creating a muddy situation. One of the valet parkers smiles, “Well, it’s not as bad as Cattle Barons last year.”
A table of ladies greets and checks our names off the list after checking our ID’s. We receive another gift — a hanging tag with our name on it and MEDIA in caps across the top. Gee, we are really feeling special. Visions of having access to world leaders and local decision makers are dazzling.
Now we go through a security check. Bag goes on a table for a full cavity search, as we walk through the metal detector. They don’t even make us take off our muddy-caked shoes.
“What’s this? A laptop?” the bag inspector asks.
“It’s an iPad,” we sheepishly reply.
“Oh, I don’t know about that, go ahead.”
As we walk from the security check in we notice that the mud situation isn’t improving and are glad to see that the tent has flooring covered with black plastic carpeting. Some chap is trying to sweep away the mud that had been tracked in by our predecessors.
We are directed to the media area with the offer of coffee, breakfast tacos and fruit. Ah, someone knows how to entice press folks. Put food out and they’ll follow you anywhere.
The media area is made up of two areas. At the front of mega tent on the west side there is a red-roped off area (pictured) with risers for television cameras and a couple of rows of folding chairs in front for reporters to sit. Adjacent to this area is a tent with rows of tables, setups for standup interviews and food. The tables are already filled with lit up laptops.
Like flies being drawn to a Venus Fly Trap the media enter the area only to find themselves more or less trapped. At 8:15 we are told to get to the bathrooms set up across the way because we won’t be allowed out of the area after 8:30. Reporters and photographers who have been sucking coffee and soft drinks evacuate the tent like horses at the race track. Others gut up and stand their ground. It takes a strong bladder to be a journalist.
One veteran of presidential media events chuckles about the media handlers, “They’re acting like he’s (George W. Bush) still in office.”
8:25 a.m. — Try to get a photo of the entire tent area, but am stopped by a petite officer type (pictured) who has left her happy face at home. “Ma’am, you need to stay behind the red rope.” It is official — the media is now officially under lockdown status. But it isn’t much of a problem. Most of them are tucked away in the media tent waiting for designated “surrogates” (i.e. accommodating VIP’s like Dan Bartlett, Josh Bolten, Don Evans, Ari Fleisher, Karen Hughes, Anita McBride, Margaret Spellings, Mark Langdale, etc.) to drop by for official chats. Besides there are some interesting media types there — KDFW’s Natalie Solis trying to get the mud off of her high-heeled boots; Bud Kennedy who had made the journey from Fort Worth to check out the Dallas doings; Brad Watson standing taller than ever over the rest; and Bill Murchison looking very businesslike with his briefcase and camel colored jacket.
CNN’s Ed Lavandera is out on the risers checking the crowd out. It seems that he was an intern and covered the groundbreaking for the George H.W. Bush library in College Station. Ed is becoming a presidential library expert! And he knows how to spot the dignitaries.
Some of the media realizes that the two rows of seats out front are going to become hot commodities and stake out their chairs. The front row seats are immediately reserved with briefcases, jackets and scarves. One fellow stands guard over three seats for his compatriots.
8:30 a.m. — Two guys in suits are on their hands and knees inspecting the carpeting (pictured) around a white circle in front of the elevated stage with two mammoth screens on either side. Within the circle is pristine tan-colored earth. It looks like a circus ring in which Chihuahuas might race around. It must have been imported. Wonder what they’re going to do with the dirt when the event is over.
One member of the media touches the red velvet-covered rope as if he expects to get a shock. Sorta reminds you of The Great Escape. Nothing happens, but he doesn’t want to push his luck.
8:35 a.m. — A few guests are showing up. The official staffers seem to be men who live in suits and blonde women with hanging badges reading “ALL ACCESS, “BACK STAGE” and “STAFF.” Am beginning to wonder if “MEDIA” badges means “LEPERS.” Secret Service is easy to spot — they look like extras from Madmen with hearing aids. They have very good posture.
8:40 a.m. — Bush Center VP of Marketing Ashley Elsey (pictured) hugs a SS guy just a foot away from the media area saying, “I was wondering where you were.” We sorta feel like chimps in the zoo watching the humans interact. After watching tall, lean blonde Ashley strut throughout the tent, you realize that she knows everybody. Her badge reads “STAFF.”
8:45 a.m. — Some guy is on his knees bending over the circle smoothing the dirt with a shovel as if it were a Zen garden. Wouldn’t it be cool to have “W” drawn in the sand. So feng shui.
8:50 a.m. — Fire marshals with stern faces are walking through the tent.
We’re starting to catch on the that very super-duper VIP’s wear no hanging badges. One journalist wonders out loud, “What if I take off my badge and jump the rope?” Another warns him nicely that his clothing would still give him away. He stays put.
8:58 a.m. — Wiley Dean walks by the Media Pen and looks at the two rows of seats. He chuckles and explains that his daughter works on the Bush Center staff. Her husband couldn’t make it, so she invited Wiley. He flew in from Alabama and is having a great time.
Media are starting to wise up. They’re starting to realize that there are about 100 of them and only so many places to sit.
9:16 a.m. — Corporate Magic‘s James “Jim” Kirk (pictured and no relation to Star Trek‘s James T. Kirk) looks over the sight. He’s one of the very few without a tie. He and his group are orchestrating the production. They smile and look pleased.
9:22 a.m. — Burson-Marsteller Exec/former Bush White Houser Karen Hughes has journalists lined up trying to talk to her. While she and Philip Sherwell from The Sunday Telegraph are practically knee-to-knee in their sit-down conversation, she manages to grab a bite to eat.
Helicopters can be heard overhead.
Bud Kennedy is talking with SMU President Gerald Turner.
The pr gal for the construction company asks if anyone would like to talk with representatives.
9:29 a.m. — Philip (pictured) continues to monopolize Karen, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She edges closer and closer to him to get her points across. Their heads are just inches away. Talk about hunkering down! Other media is starting to look a tad bit PO’ed.
The sound above makes it feel like a chorus line of helicopters are performing.
The media is starting to interview each other.
9:31 a.m. — Karen is done with Philip. She greets Dallas Morning News‘ Taylor Adams (pictured). Used to work with Taylor’s dad, Doug Adams, when they were at KXAS. PR assistant waylays Karen from the waiting media. Not good. Media feels threatened. Karen tells PR Assistant that she has to talk with the media first. Media smile. Karen scores points.
The crowd in Mega Tent has grown considerably. The front rows are starting to look very boldface with the likes of Ebby Halliday, Nancy Dedman talking with Nancy Halbreich, Rachael Dedman chatting with Baylor’s Ken Starr and a slew of dignitaries on the other side of the tent.
9:45 a.m. — Former VP Dick Cheney is seen near the base of the elevated stage. Someone says that he’s with his daughter Mary (pictured right with Dick Cheney). Someone else says he’s lost a lot of weight and looks frail. Wouldn’t you if you had had as many heart surgeries as he’s had? He is walking with a substantial cane.
9:55 a.m. — SMU Chair of the Board of Trustees Caren Prothro is shown to the front row. Chairmanship has privileges.
A suited Dirt Guard is now in place and politely tells people not to touch the dirt.
Gerald Turner is walking through the tent looking pumped. It’s all coming together nicely.
10:07 a.m. — Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, who graduated from SMU’s School of Law, visits the Media Pen staying on his side of the red rope. He’s a hit with the media.
Someone in the Media Pen points out, “Isn’t that Mitt Romney (pictured) over there?” Yup, sure is. “There’s Mary Matalin!” Yup again. “I see Wayne Newton! That is Wayne Newton, isn’t it?” We’re starting to sound like tourists on a bus tour of Hollywood. Why didn’t anyone bring some binoculars?
10:15 a.m. — An official sounding voice announces that the program will start soon and seats are to be used. Music starts playing. Is that Elvis Presley singing “A Little Less Conversation”?
A cute blonde media wrangler in the Media Pen advises the media to take their seats.
“You can’t stand up,” Cute Blonde admonishes.
“I wasn’t planning to,” old journalist going to her front row seat says.
“Good because you are not to stand up at all,” she says nicely but firmly.
The media chairs are so tightly wedged together that reporters writing notes continuously elbow their neighbors. Perhaps organizers rented the chairs based on size and got a bargain.
All the seats in Mega Tent are filled except a few in the farthest back of the bleachers. The place looks like a very well-heeled revival meeting.
10:30 a.m. — The Official Sounding Voice introduces the dignitaries (aka Platform Party). The applause grows greater each time finally resulting in a standing ovation for Cheney as he enters the stage. It’s a Cheney-flavored crowd.
10:35 a.m. — Special Video Presentation “The Story Unfolds” starts. Among the slides is one of George W. standing with the NYC construction worker talking to the crowd over a bull horn. The crowd in the tent applauds.
10:38 a.m. — George W. and Laura Bush (pictured right with George W. Bush) are introduced. The crowd goes wild with standing ovation, cheers and whoops! The couple that has kept a relatively low profile since returning to Dallas is front and center.
10:39 a.m. — The presentation of the colors by the II Corps Fort Hood Sergeant Audie Murphy Club and the singing of “God Bless America” and the national anthem performed by SMU Belle Tones and Southern Gentlemen have everyone including the media on their feet. Hopefully, the little blonde media wrangler won’t get upset.
10:45 a.m. — Highland Park United Methodist Church Senior Minister the Rev. Mark Craig gives the invocation.
Everyone takes their seats again.
10:47 a.m.– Bush Foundation Board of Directors Chair Don Evans welcomes the crowd and is followed by Bush Foundation President Mark Langdale, Archivist of the U.S. David S. Ferriero, Gerald T, SMU Student Body President Jake Torres and then Bush Institute Advisory Board Chair Condoleezza Rice.
11:05 a.m. — One of the reporters on the front row drops her iPhone just out of reach. Knowing she can’t stand, she extends her pad to drag it back to her.
11:11 a.m. — Condi gets ready to take her seat when she sees Cheney standing and preparing to approach the podium. She quickly returns to the podium and like a schoolgirl admits that she forgot to introduce former VP Cheney. He’s greeted like a hometown hero with still another standing ovation. The media stays seated. They’re not about to rankle the wrangler.
11:12 a.m. — Looking thinner and paler than the old days, he still has a twinkle in his eye as he tells Condi, “Well, I’ve often been overlooked during my tours.” He goes on with a Cheney (pictured) jab, “This (the Bush Center) may be the only shovel-ready project in America.” The place is turning into a Dick Cheney pep rally. Dick knows what this crowd wants and he’s the delivery man. Even the more liberal members of the media are chuckling.
At one point in his talk, Cheney says, “He (George W) is his father’s son.” George W. appears to say “Thank you” from his seat next to Laura.
11:18 a.m. — As Cheney ends his talk and introduces George W., his voice sounds a bit weaker. Front row of the media stays seated, but everyone else is up on their feet and cheering. The former president welcomes all to Texas and “one of the finest universities in the whole United States.” Gerald, Jake and the SMU board of trustees look very happy.
He advises Jake, “it’s not too early to start thinking about your memoirs.” Good one!
George W points out the former president of Columbia is in the audience, as well as soldiers from Fort Hood (standing ovation). “I really don’t miss much about Washington, but I do miss being your commander in chief,” he says to the soldiers.
He thanks his former staff members and “the 160,000 donors whose generosity has insured that this building was fully paid for before we broke ground.”
George W talks about the Center and its goals. He reports that Laura will oversee the women’s initiative of the Bush Institute and how lucky he’s been to have had her in his life for 33 years. He turns over the podium to Laura with a kiss and a pat on the back.
11:31 a.m. — Laura talks about the plans for the Institute to empower women. The success of each of the Center’s goals depends on the contributions of women. Economy, politics, healthcare and literacy are dependent upon women.
11:39 a.m. — Laura completes her talk and is congratulated with a kiss and hug from the former president. George W tells the crowd that is now standing once again that “the speeches are over. It is time to shovel dirt.”
11:40 a.m. — With everyone on their feet, the white circle is hard to see. As the dignitaries including Ray Hunt, Robert Stern, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Alan Lowe and Caren Prothro (pictured center with, from the left, Ray Hunt and Alan Lowe) join the group from the stage and receive their shovels from SMU students, one wonders if the moment will be captured on the big screens. But wait. Still photos of Bush times are on the screens. The moment is going to pass and only those up close and pool photographers will see it. The moment everyone has waited for and it’s going to be blocked. At the very last second, the big screens show the group digging their shovels into the four-inch deep dirt as music thunders. Whew!
11:42 a.m. — The official sounding voice over the PA thanks everyone for attending, tells them to exit at the back of the tent and, “Please travel safely.”
Then as quickly as it happened, the shovels are returned to SMU students, Cheney with cane in hand departs with Mary and the crowd of 2,300 breaks into two groups. One departs for luxury buses and valet, while the other moves toward the stage to get a photo of the former First Family. But the couple is gone all too soon. Left without a former First Lady, President or VP, they take photos of each other on the stage and some even take pictures (pictured) of where George W and Laura dug their shovels into the dirt.