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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Ryley Wilcox
Ryley Wilcox
News Editor

I found my passion for journalism during my sophomore year of college, writing articles here and there for the North Wind. Since joining the staff this past semester as the news writer, I have been able...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

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A Week in Political heaven

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series chronicling the experiences of NMU students attending the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Last week’s paper featured the first part of the series.

While most NMU students probably spent the first week of September becoming familiar with new classes and adapting to a sleepless schedule, three students spent that time in St. Paul, Minn., rubbing elbows with and taking in speeches from the nation’s political elite.

The Republican National Convention (RNC), which was held in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. from Sept.1-4, drew a large and varied group of people. There were Republican faithful, interest groups, counter-conventioneers and protesters from all corners of the nation. And there was Neil Passinault, Darren Widder and Keith Voorheis, who each went to Minnesota and served as interns at some of the most prestigious news outlets in the country. Passinault worked for NBC, while Widder interned with Bloomberg News and Voorheis was with TIME and TIME.com.

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Morning Joe

Passinault, a political science/pre-law major, made the 8-hour drive to Minnesota a week before the convention and worked setting up the stages and booths that the network would use the following week.

“I didn’t really have any expectations,” he said. “I’d never been to a convention before. I’ve only seen it on TV, so it was interesting to see what it was like behind the scenes and what goes into the entire process.”

Once the on-air talent arrived in St. Paul, Passinault was assigned to work on “Morning Joe,” MSNBC’s weekday morning talk show hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

“I was lucky to get ‘Morning Joe,’ because they have three guests on every 10 to 15 minutes, so with a three-hour long show, you end up meeting a lot of people,” Passinault said. “I met a lot of senators, governors, congressmen, media personalities and, of course, anchors.”

Passinault said that he also saw his fair share of famous faces when he was away from the “Morning Joe” set, when, during a Starbucks run, he met Jon Stewart of Daily Show fame.

The NMU senior said he hopes the contacts he made during his two weeks at the RNC will help him in the future.

“An experience like this is great, just because you get to meet so many people behind the scenes that, typically, you don’t get access to,” he said. “You get a chance to network and exchange contacts with people that could really help you out down the line somewhere.”

And while Passinault enjoyed the media interaction, the most memorable portions of his experience were the nightly speeches, which he was able to watch from floor level.

“My favorite part was probably being on the convention floor and being in the heart of everything and just trying to soak it all in,” he said. “It’s just such a unique experience. Not many people actually get to be on the floor during a convention, especially during (Republican presidential nominee John) McCain’s speech on Thursday night.”

Crossing party lines

Widder and Voorheis traveled to St. Paul together and didn’t get into town until the Sunday before the event started.

“We’re at a crossroads in our country and it was a very historical convention, for both the Democratic and Republican parties. It was just an honor to be there.”

Widder, who worked for Bloomberg News during the convention, echoed his travel partner’s sentiments.

“I’m glad I was selected and I think they selected a really great group of people to go,” he said. “They were just intelligent people that would represent the school well.”

Widder added that it was nerve-wracking to head into a high-stress, breaking news environment to work alongside a collection of professional media members.

“The closer the convention got, the more intimidated I was,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow. I’m working with these people that have been in this business [for decades].”

Each of the two interns spent a large portion of his time fact-checking and doing research for their respective employer.

Voorheis, who worked on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign and served as his representative to NMU, was used to operating in a conservative political environment. Widder, on the other hand, describes himself as a moderate Democrat and publicly supports Barack Obama in November’s general election.

Such a difference in opinion made for an interesting week.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Widder said. “People are kind of accepting, but at the same time, when you’re talking to someone, they are always knocking the other side. But of course, everyone does that.”

Widder has been interested in politics for years and said that even though he didn’t fully agree with the popular opinion at the convention, it was an immersive and rewarding experience.

“Even talking to people about McCain, Palin or any of the speakers there, you are talking amongst intelligent people,” he added.

Widder said the most memorable moment of the convention was Palin’s Wednesday speech.

“The Palin speech really seemed to energize the convention center and Palin as a pick seemed to energize the party,” he said.

Protests

Much of the media attention during the four-day event was focused not on speeches and plans for the nation, but on a series of sometimes-violent protests that made headlines around the nation.

“The police did a very good job of controlling the protesters and keeping them in certain areas,” Passinault said. “But if you were in that area at that given time, you knew it. There was tear gas and pepper spray, the riot police had to respond, the National Guard had to respond. There were broken windows and slashed car tires. There were gallons of urine that they tried to throw on police. It was just bad.”

After spending the first two days of his convention experience fact-checking and doing research, Widder was given a new assignment: protest duty.

“I was out among the crowds, talking to people and doing interviews with protesters and spectators, trying to get some residents to talk about how the convention affected the city,” he said.

Widder said that based on his experience, he didn’t feel the protests were quite as serious as they were made out to be in the media.

“Even when I’d watch the news there, all I’d see was these people slashing tires and breaking windows and lighting fires,” he said. “Those incidents were fairly [isolated].

“The one kid breaking the glass with his hands – that was repeated and you saw it over and over again, like the riots were this horrible thing that was rampant all over the city. I don’t think that was the case.”

As one of the few Democrats at the convention, Widder’s political beliefs may not have fit in with the core of the Grand Old Party, but the crowds outside weren’t always more welcoming.

“I think I did feel a little more comfortable with the protesters, in some sense. Talking to them, I would go, ‘Yeah, I can agree with that, but maybe you’re getting a little extreme.'”

The future

While the 2008 convention experiences may act as a springboard into political futures, the interns aren’t as confident.

Passinault hopes to stay in contact with some of the media members he met while in St. Paul.

Widder is currently applying to law schools, but said he doubts the convention will ever play heavily into his choices or opportunities.

The highly political Voorheis, said the convention will help him in multiple ways. Not only was such an internship useful as a résumé builder, but it also served to help him see the variation within the GOP.

“It was interesting to me because you see such a wide range of people,” he said. “You see the Texas delegation and they’re all dressed in the same shirt, same hat. Then you see the Wisconsin delegation and when they announce their votes for McCain they say, ‘We still love Brett Favre.'”

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