Media Circus Descends on Denver

From major media stars to political bloggers to hordes of producers, reporters and technicians, what's happening in Denver might as well be called a media convention, not a political convention.

The Democratic Party credentialed 15,000 members of the media from around the world to cover an event that will be broadcast live.

But they come not because there is necessarily any unexpected news that's likely to unfold here, but because it's a quadrennial television spectacle made irresistible to journalists this year by the twin narratives of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., becoming the nation's first black presidential candidate, and a party divided by supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., disgruntled after a bruising primary battle.

"I think we're looking to see how the Democrats behave," PBS moderator and managing editor Gwen Ifill told ABC News. "They're coming into this all of them on the same page but with varying levels of enthusiasm."

Reporters and political pundits are preparing to parse every syllable of Clinton's primetime speech Tuesday night and former President Bill Clinton's non-primetime speech Wednesday.

"We're all waiting to see what they have to say and how they say it," said Los Angeles Times political writer Mark Barabak.

With the Democratic and Republican parties scheduling back-to-back conventions and the candidates waiting until just days before their conventions to announce their VP picks, many journalists say they're racing to keep up.

"This thing feels like it's gone off like a rocket," said ABC News correspondent John Berman, who has been in Denver since Wednesday filing stories. "It was the VP pick, then the Democratic conventions, then McCain's VP pick, then the Republican convention, right into the debates and boom, it's Nov. 2."

New York Times and CNBC correspondent John Harwood said convention coverage plans are getting made on the fly.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Harwood, who changed his travel plans to fly back to Washington on a red eye at 5 a.m. Friday to be in place for Sen. John McCain's expected vice presidential announcement. He's then getting right back on a plane Sunday to fly to Minneapolis-St. Paul for next week's Republican convention.

While the party's national conventions have become tightly scripted, highly choreographed television extravaganzas, reporters have not been able to uncover whether ailing liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is planning on making a surprise appearance at the convention Monday night.

Media and Political Elite Converge

Downtown Denver has become a candyland for political junkies with television news personalities and national politicians schmoozing on the street.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews bumped into veep shortlister Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel near the Colorado Convention Center.

"This convention's always more fun that the GOP's," Matthews said. "Democrats just have more fun."

But some journalists say the two-hour Mountain Time difference will have them rising early and skipping out on the plethora of convention parties around Denver.

Harwood says he's going to try to make it to one of the hottest tickets in town -- Thursday night's Vanity Fair/Google party.

ABC News' senior political reporter Rick Klein said he'll rise two hours earlier than his usual 4 a.m. wake-up call to get ABC's "The Note" published on Mountain Time.

Journalists, Journalists, Everywhere

Occupying more than 150,000 square feet of media workspace real estate outside the Pepsi Center are journalists from 130 countries.

"The American presidential election is not just an American story, it's a European story and a world story," said Andrew Steele, the British Broadcasting Corporation's Washington bureau chief, who has about 50 people in Denver covering the convention.

Veteran Canadian correspondent Eric Sorensen of Gobal Television said Canadians are particularly interested in Obama's candidacy.

"It's his youth, his charisma and the prospect of the first African-American president given the history of race relations in this country and what that says about American society," Sorensen said.

New this year is a big push by the Democratic Party to credential 120 bloggers -- four times as many as the 2004 convention that credentialed 30 bloggers for the first time in history.

Blogger Abhi Tripathi, 32, of Houston arrived Monday. He founded his Sepia political blog targeting South Asian Americans four years ago with the goal of getting accredited for the convention.

He'll have additional support this year, with Google and YouTube hosting a lounge where bloggers can upload photos and video, blog and then get a free massage or smoothie.

Fake Journalists Alongside TV Heavyweights

Fake journalists, too, are broadcasting live from Denver.

Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart and "the best f@#!ing news team ever" is broadcasting live from the convention -- parking a huge bus outside the convention hall across the street from CNN's bus and a nearby restaurant the cable news network has taken over and renamed the "CNN Grill."

Not to be outdone, MSNBC has plastered a gigantic logo sign on the side of a nearby building.

Doubling down on Americans' interest in this year's election, the cable news networks are planning wall-to-wall coverage of both conventions with MSNBC hosting 20 hours of live coverage each day.

The three network anchors -- ABC News' Charlie Gibson, CBS's Katie Couric and NBC's Brian Williams are all in Denver anchoring nightly live specials.

The logistics of navigating a robust security effort and getting around spread-out Denver delivered an early challenge to sleep deprived journalists as they arrived for the convention.

Anti-War Protesters

Anti-war protesters shut down access to the Pepsi Center Sunday and created hour-long lines for news media and convention staff left standing in the hot sun.

"We'll have three hours a night of live coverage for 'The News Hour With Jim Lehrer' and we're late for our rehearsal," said PBS senior correspondent Margaret Warner, standing in a long line of journalists outside the security checkpoint to get into the Pepsi Center.

Ifill said PBS will have "complete" coverage of the conventions every night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

"Unlike some coverage, we're going to make sure people who want to see the convention see the convention, and then do analysis secondarily," she said.

But even with the hassles of getting around Denver and long security lines, veteran anchor Judy Woodruff said it's worth it to cover this election.

"It is a circus, but it's an important circus," said Woodruff, a former CNN anchor now a PBS senior correspondent.

"To me there's something extraordinary about the American people having this opportunity once every four years to hear from one party for a week and then the other party," she said.

"It's important, it matters, it's about electing the most power office in the world."