Clinton photo-op has its hazards

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

As I sat down at a meeting across the conference table from my friend Chris Kelsey that day in 2001, I could tell he was excited about something as he asked if I had received his news release.

I said no, what’s up?

“Bill Clinton’s going to play a round of golf Saturday at River Valley Ranch,” the golf development manager proclaimed.

At first I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him, thinking he was maybe trying to get back at me for pawning the Rotary treasurer’s job off on him. When I got to the office, the fax, which had been sent about 30 minutes after my weekly newspaper went to press, was there and, sure enough, Clinton was coming to tiny little Carbondale, Colo., for a round of golf.

Nothing ever happens at the right time in the weekly newspaper business and it seemed somehow appropriate that Clinton would arrive at prime time of the biggest coverage assignment weekend of the year, our summer festival, Mountain Fair.

Undaunted, neither my reporter John Stroud nor I wanted to pass up the chance to cover an ex-president, so we both loaded cameras and prepared to join the papparazi.

Chris had told me they were trying to keep everything real low-key and laid back but I was surprised when he said we wouldn’t need any kind of media clearance or press pass. He said we would have to get our shots on the first hole with the rest of the media but that sounded like more than enough opportunity for a couple of local yokel newspaper hacks.

By the time we arrived, the Clinton party was finishing up a “longest drive” contest on the range across from the clubhouse. Sure enough, there was the former leader of our nation standing just a few feet away. We were gettin’ pictures like they were going out of style and things were going great. Until the prez jumped into his cart, and with a Secret Service guy hanging off the back, headed to the first hole.

As we all arrived at the first tee I could hear Clinton make the decision that his foursome would play the white tees (good choice on that course). Then I noticed the rest of the media was beginning to assemble to the right of the tee box. I overheard a Secret Service guy question Stroud as to which paper he was with then tell him to hurry up and get in place with the rest of the shooting gallery. I took that as a cue to hustle myself. Fast movement didn’t go over so well with the dark glasses crowd, however.

I was immediately intercepted out of nowhere by a Secret Service guy who asked me where I was going and, before I could, told me I couldn’t just go running out across the golf course.

He wanted to know where were my media credentials.

I pointed at the Colorado High School Activities Association photo pass attached to my camera bag that had sufficed to get me into the state football playoffs in Denver two years ago. It didn’t seem to carry any weight with the Secret Service boys.

I’ve only bothered to send off for my official press credentials once in about 15 years on various news staffs. I knew I didn’t have anything but my drivers’ license and City Market Value Card in the way of ID and I was sure this guy was already reaching for his handcuffs.

Chris Kelsey heard the commotion and vouched for me and the guy let me get set up for the tee-shot.

The whole escapade covering Clinton was a blast and talking to people who ran into the president for the story that week was even more fun.

We kidded our high school intern that she was our best chance of getting an interview with Bill. Not much of a Clinton fan herself, she snorted at the joke. I told her to tell her mom we were giving her that assignment to see what kind of reaction it would get. Her mom, the town dog catcher, was reportedly spreading the news all over town hall before daughter called her back and told her she was just kidding.

There were a couple of things that came up while doing the story that make me wonder.

First, it hit me as I was interviewing a lady I knew named Joan who had spoken with Clinton. She said her husband Nick had taken a picture of Clinton and Joan before handing the camera over to a Secret Service guy who actuallay snapped a photo of the whole gang with Clinton.

What the Secret Service would have hated to learn is that Nick, a journalist by trade, is a long-time stringer for the tabloids like National Enquirer. I asked Joan if she thought Nick might sell the photo of her and Clinton. She liked the idea of possibly being Clinton’s new love interest.

Karl Terry is managing editor for the Portales News-Tribune. He can be contacted at 356-4483, ext. 33. His e-mail address is:
karl_terry@link.freedom.com