Reporter's Notebook: An 'Insider's' Glimpse at the GOP Convention

For a FOX News reporter, walking around the Republican National Convention is a constant identity crisis.

On one hand, the living is easy — RNC volunteers literally salute FOX News reporters at check points, and at the GOPAC National Prayer Breakfast (search), one event organizer asked reporter Kelley Vlahos for a hug.

On the other hand, FOX folks are constantly reminded that they are despised by protesters, who stand outside Macy's on 34th Street and 7th Avenue and scream at the big screen broadcasting FOX News Channel. In other acts of disgust, detractors have defiled Bill O'Reilly's image with a magic-markered Hitler-style mustache on the subway, and winking police officers inform staff that they are the enemy of Democrats.

Kelley gets questions like "How's Bill?" -- a very familiar reference to the primetime host -- and she answers politely that she doesn't know, she works in the Washington, D.C. bureau, and O'Reilly has no clue who she is.

Peter Brownfeld, too, has had to fight off embraces by some Republican delegates, a number of whom told him how much they love the channel and that FOX News is the only fair source of news on television. A young Republican even approached Peter while he covered the youth convention Wednesday and offered to answer questions Peter hadn't asked.

One delegate from Maryland told Peter: “I don’t watch anybody but FOX News. Everybody feels that way.” She also shared with Peter the name of her daughter, Reagan, an obvious reference, and her son, Charlton, whom she named after actor Charlton Heston, the former president of the National Rifle Association. Peter said other delegates spoke admiringly about various correspondents and anchors on the channel and wanted to know if Peter had met them.

This reporter found that working for FOX News does permit greater access than it did at the Democratic convention in Boston. Twice, invitations have been offered to attend after-convention parties, and one invitation came with the stipulation that she not report on the event since delegates at the party would be uncomfortable having their festivities reported. However, the guests would be happy to have the reporter attend as a guest.

While mum's the word on that party scene, it is possible to report that a party held at the Rainbow Room (search) on Tuesday night in honor of the Latino Coalition was well attended by Hispanic members of Congress as well as other Republican Latinos and guests with a flair for salsa. India, La Princesa de la Salsa, and her backup band of about 11 musicians blasted music while, without putting too fine an ethnic point on it, some guests grooved and others just couldn't move.

The drinks and food were flowing on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center (search) and with the good fortune of having a wonderful host introducing guests to one another, it was possible to meet some interesting people, including the president of Blue Cross of California, one of the Platinum sponsors of the night's festivities. David Helwig said Blue Cross of California is happy to have a relationship with the Latino Coalition because the coalition addresses concerns to the community, including, he said, the need for health insurance among the booming Latino population in his state.

Another tie between Blue Cross California and the Latino community has emerged as a result of the appointment of Josh Valdez as senior vice president of network development for the insurance agency. Valdez, a Persian Gulf War veteran promoted in January, has been described by his admirers as a definite future elected official for the state of California.

No Rest for the Weary

At conventions, delegates have the luxury of skipping events and sleeping in if they were out late partying the previous night, but reporters do not have such fortune. As it was, the Club for Growth's afternoon event was late enough in the day that no one would have an excuse to miss the series of speeches from several officials dubbed the "future stars" of the GOP.

Appearing before an audience of about 200 of the club's members were Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Reps. Mike Pence of Indiana, David Dreier of California and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Let it be known here and now that Mrs. Flake ought to be thankful that this reporter is a newly and very happily married bride or else she might have to watch her back. It's unclear what Flake spoke about during the first speech of the day since his perfect tan, summer blond hair and all around drop-dead surfer-boy good looks disrupted at least one person's ability to focus on the content of his speech.

Fortunately for him, the crowd at the Club for Growth (search) was about ten to one male to female so probably 90 percent of the audience was listening to the words rather than wondering what Broadway show he was so generously taking his wife to see that afternoon. Probably.

The speeches were varied and actually quite impressive, living up to the claims that the men speaking are, in fact, likely to be future stars of the Republican Party. At least one audience member said he was happy to support the candidates the Club for Growth endorses because it helps him in his business.

As a tax lawyer and CPA, the gentlemen said the Club hands out all kinds of detailed information on candidates that are identifiable "conservatives," a description defined by Club for Growth President Stephen Moore as someone who has demonstrated opposition to tax increases and supports the free market system.

Sign Here

That free market system has worked well for at least one of the Club's members, who sponsored the meeting held at an undisclosed location. The venue apparently required that press members sign a waiver saying that they would not reveal the site of the event. However, a brief description without mention of the name was not prohibited, so details can be provided here.

The place was exquisite, a private invitation-only-to-join fraternity that has been operating in the city for at least 150 years. The public rooms were high-ceilinged and ornately decorated with gorgeous antique chairs and original paintings on the walls from such artists as Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Washington portrait painter Gilbert Stuart.

One of the staff at the undisclosed location said that the club is very private and doesn't like attention. He said the Club for Growth was permitted to hold its event there because a member of the venue had arranged permission. If the name of the location were to be released, the member would surely be punished, which would likely include being ostracized by his peers.

While agreeing to the "undisclosed location" rule, it wasn't reached without thought, especially after one of the organizers of the event mistook this reporter for a potential protester.

While long wavy red hair and casual shoes may not be the sign of the typical Club for Growth member, this reporter's appearance certainly seems (at least to this reporter) a far cry from some of the wild-looking folks who have been protesting the convention, particularly the woman who managed to enter Madison Square Garden and start yelling hostilities while Vice President Cheney was accepting his nomination on Wednesday night. That robust woman with untended hair and colorful clothes was quickly escorted out of the building, something that has not yet happened to any staffer.