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The Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte Sept. 4-6, 2012. WFAE's comprehensive coverage of the event is found here.

To Drink Or Not To Drink At The DNC Media Party?

The Democratic National Convention means a lot of speeches.  But it also means a lot of partying as lawmakers and delegates celebrate the nomination of their candidate.  Reporters will have a busy week covering the hubbub.  But this weekend the media got an elaborate party of its own put on by Charlotte's host committee.  In an industry that's squeamish about taking gifts, this is one of the exceptions.  Here's how WFAE's Lisa Miller and Michael Tomsic navigated the ethics of the evening.

LM: I have a confession, Michael.  Back when I was an intern, I was at a city council meeting.  They had this table full of bagels and Danishes.  And I hadn't had breakfast and no one was really eating them. 

MT: You took a bagel, didn't you?

LM: I did.  And as soon as I did another reporter said to me, "They let you do that where you work?"

MT: Ouch.

LM: Yeah, that was a hard bagel to choke down. 

MT: And I bet you never took another one?

LM: No, I didn't.  

MT: But you're onto something here. We in the media often cover events where the hosts lay out food and drinks and there's always the temptation to take some.  But there's always a question about if that would be ethical.

LM: And now we have this party thrown just for us media folks.  The host committee with help from Time Warner Cable spent a couple million dollars on food, drinks, and music for the thousands of journalists coming to town.  After that bagel incident, I thought I should get some advice about how to handle it.  Charles Bierbauer has reported on several conventions for CNN.  He now teaches journalism at University of South Carolina.


BIERBAUER: I'm sure you'll behave yourself and you'll imbibe in moderation if you do at all.  But so much of this is just soaking up the atmosphere so you can report on this later. 

LM: So we're here Michael at the media party.  Let me tell you this is a far cry from the breakfast table at city council.
MT: Yeah, we've got people dressed up on stilts, welcoming the journalists in. 
LM: We've got a whole host of Southern delicacies…shrimp and grits, fried chicken..
MT: Banana pudding.
LM: And not to mention the booze.
MT: It's a completely open bar for four hours.
LM: All right, we'll see how we navigate this and we'll see how we get some guidance as well.

MT: One of the things that surprised me is that people really were partying. The N.C. Music Factory basically turned into a giant festival with all kinds of really loud music and people weren't holding back on the dance floor. 

LM: Also the bars were well stocked. 

BARTENDER: Liquors are Smirnoff, Beefeater, Jim Beam, Bacardi, and we got some great tequila.

LM: The host committee really rolled out the red carpet.  The committee's chairman Dan Murrey said there's a reason for that. 

LM: Do you think this will impact the stories they tell about Charlotte?
MURREY: Well, I certainly hope so.  But I figure, they might be in a good mood when they write.  Hopefully, they'll say good things about Charlotte, if they have a good time tonight. 

LM: But most of the people there weren't actually media.  There were politicians, delegates, convention organizers and a lot of people who were just there to party like Simone Battiste-Alleyne.  She doesn't see a problem with reporters enjoying themselves here.  She'll still trust them. 

BATTISTE-ALLEYNE: I think at the end of the day when the hangover clears, I think they're still going to remember what they're here for and I think they're still going to want to paint an objective picture of what's going on. 

MT: In fact, I talked to a reporter who said this party would help her paint a picture of Charlotte.  Karin Henriksson is with one of the major daily newspapers in Sweden. It's called.  Well, I'll let her pronounce it. 

HENRIKSSON: Svenska Dagbladet. It means Swedish daily news.

MT: Henriksson enjoyed some free Southern food and beer.  And she didn't see anything wrong with that.  She says for an out-of-towner like her, the party is a chance to learn more about Charlotte and what people here like to eat and drink.  

HENRIKSSON: I have actually even been learning a bit about grits. So I had some grits and shrimp here that were very good. 
MT: Shrimp and grits!

MT: Now, she says if she were back home in Sweden and she covered the people paying for everything at the party, she might feel a little differently.

LM: Well, I talked to someone in that situation. 

MORRILL: I'm Jim Morrill and I'm a political writer for the Charlotte Observer.
LM: And drinkless
MORRILL: Completely drinkless
LM: And foodless too
MORRILL: foodless too. 
LM: He doesn't have strong feelings about other reporters enjoying themselves, but this is the policy he operates under. 

JM: Typically, when I go to political events or anything like that, I don't partake because I hate to be beholden to any politicians or anybody sponsoring the event, or the interest group, and there was a thought that this represents the same kind of thing.

LM: And remember, he's covered the host committee who put on this party and he'll continue to cover them after the convention ends. 

MT: So there are two approaches - don't take a thing, or go ahead and eat and drink. Almost all of the journalists we saw at the party were in the second camp.

That included Dagmar Hovestadt, who's a producer for German TV news. She says getting to relax with your colleagues from across the globe is an opportunity that doesn't come all that often. 

HOVESTADT:  You always feel like you want to network, you want to meet people, you want to exchange stories, you want to find out what's going on.  It's a casual atmosphere.  It's not really that official.

LM: So there we are, everybody enjoying themselves.  And Michael, about three hours in, I was getting pretty hungry.  

MT: I think I know the moment you're talking about.  Let's play that back. 

LM: Let's go get some food.
MT: I'm hungry.  It's time. 

LM: And the shrimp and grits were great. 

MT: And that's where we drew the line.  No free booze, but after the party….

LM: I'll get a Catawba Valley Brown Bear.
BARTENDER: Do you want to start a tab for that. 
LM: No, I'll just pay for it. 

MT: We both bought ourselves beers. 

LM: I should've gotten a receipt so I can expense that. 
MT: Yeah, that's on WFAE, right?
LM: Yeah…..

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.