“Rocky”

rockefeller v

Presidential Candidate

Nelson A. Rockefeller

1959

A Republican gathering at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel followed an unsuccessful speech before the San Francisco convention at the Cow Palace where Rocky was shamefully booed by Goldwater and Nixon supporters. Giant posters of Nixon hovered tastelessly over the proceedings. A picture could not be made of Rocky without Richard Nixon’s countenance. Nixon was his nemesis, and Nixon followers his enemy.

I covered Rocky on one occasion when some hard core print reporters influenced his press aide to split his press conference in two. The first half for print media, the second for television and radio. Disgruntled newspaper reporters claimed television news traded on their questions, their expertise, that TV news had no depth and newspaper reporters could explore the candidate in a more meaningful exchange without the presence of the upstart media. They argued that answers to print reporters questions often aired on television before some publications hit the street. The reporters neglected to mention they, too, utilized information solicited by TV newsreel cameramen. Newsreel crews did not have reporters with them in those times.

Furious about the decision, NBC officials assigned two crews to cover the first news conference: one on a tripod to cover Rocky, and me with hand-held sound to cover the brou-ha-ha about to develop.

The scene was heating up when we arrived. Several newsreel cameras had already set up and newspaper reporters were fuming. Key agitators argued with Rockefeller’s press aide and TV crews steadfastly held their ground. Television department heads were there demanding their right to cover the first press conference, stating there could not be a “separate but equal” press conference. I questioned the equality of it based on “what if” Rocky got knocked off in either press conference. Obviously, some would miss the story. The aide had an anguished expression, clearly sorry he attempted to set precedent to help his newspaper buddies.

I moved through shadows with available light candidly recording heated exchanges between the two factions. When Ed Conklin, second in command at NBC, showed up, I followed. Unaware, Ed approached Rocky’s aide, questioning what the hell was going on. I stood behind Ed in darkness with a zoom lens trained on the aide’s strained face. After some haggling, he stared hard at Ed and blurted out “Look, Ed. You know Rocky can’t say the same things to television that he can say to the press.” Glancing over Ed’s shoulder at my lens, he angrily protested, “Is that thing on? You should tell me what that damned thing is running!” I ran to the lab and we fed Huntley-Brinkley for the network show, a clear cut scoop which explained everything in a few terse words.

I apologized to Rocky later that night at another event. He understood, saying the whole thing was pretty silly. That was the last attempt at divided press conferences.

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