How things are done in Washington
Saw some footage of a protest the other day, and it reminded me of the days when I worked in Interior Dept's legal shop. The Park Service attorneys were across the hall, and we often lunched together.
One day their conversation went like this: "It's all worked out. The protestors will come in as part of a White House tour group. They'll send ten, perhaps twelve. At 9:15 they leave the tour group and go onto the White House lawn and sit down. At 9:30, Secret Service will tell them to leave, and four will refuse, the others will return to the group. At about 9:40 the four will be arrested, booked, and released."
I was astonished ... how could you predict these events, down to the minute? The Parks attorneys explained that in a DC protest of this type, all the details were negotiated in advance between the protestors and the government. It made it more convenient for everyone. The government tried to dicker them down on how many would stay and be arrested (less work for the agents), and they tried to dicker the government up on how long a time window between refusal to leave and arrest. There might be other terms to be worked out as well. But this way the media could be notified to show up at 9:30 for photos, or earlier for the story. If you didn't coordinate -- why, what if the media showed up and security was shorthanded and couldn't make arrests for another hour? Or someone threw the timing off and arrested before the media showed up? Or somebody got hardnosed and instead of book and release, actually popped the protestors in jail? Much better to reach agreement in advance. Besides, by scheduling early in the day you ensure that the reporters have time to write the story.
I remembered reading a WashPo article on an AIDS protest where the police wore rubber gloves in picking up the protestors, and the protestors were angry because that wasn't part of the deal, leaving me wondering what was the "deal." That was it -- the negotiations hadn't mentioned gloves, and the protestors thought it spoiled the photos' intended impact. (I seem to recall that the police objected in turn that the protestors were not supposed to lie down and require carrying, as they did).
So the next time you see a DC protest (a non-rowdy one, anyway), remember it may have been negotiated out down to how many get arrested and the precise time at which it occurs.
amazing. political debates are scripted too. Seems like all of DC is a big show.
Posted by: SayUncle at December 20, 2005 11:16 AM
Oh dear G_d, speaking as a Washington communications professional, most of what you see on TV and happening in front of you live around town is scripted. I should know, I have helped with so many of these public press events around D.C.
It's scripted by everyone participating, including the protestors/opposition, police, and especially the media, so there are no innocent parties. Except those watching the final show on TV in fly-over country.
After a while, even us professionals wonder what is real...
Posted by: Poshboy at December 20, 2005 11:40 AM