Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Obama/Clinton in GF: Three Things

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#1 It was so relaxed.Free Press Photographer Mike Aporius and I were all anal retentive about covering the big deal in Grand Forks Friday night. We left Winnipeg super early. We worried about security and getting pinned in a crush of egos from NBC and CBS. We fussed about access around the Alerus and whether the cops would be jerks if we tried to wander around freely. We figured that after Sept. 11 and given the intensity of the nomination battle and the short notice that party oganizers and the candidates would turn the Alerus into Tiananmen Square.Whatever. Those were the nicest cops ever. At one point, Aporius grabbed his 47 cameras, snuck out of the media pen and wandered right up to the stage, thinking he'd be nabbed by Secret Service and sent back within five minutes. Instead, it took a long time for a party volunteer to notice him and even then a Secret Service guy stepped in and said 'Nah, he's alright." Aporius got within two feet of Obama as he walked the rope line, which we all saw on the jumbotron.Basically, no one really cared where we went. There was a special checkpoint before the ballrooms where Obama was having his $100-a-ticket private reception. We wandered through and the police officer just shrugged his shoulders and said "sure" when I asked if we could head down to the reception area.Compare that to my trip to Churchill last year to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper dole out some money to the railway and port up there. We schlumped 1,000 km there to ask him one question and get our bathroom breaks micro-managed. Every step we took was pre-ordained and after the brief press conference I never got within 20 feet of Harper again.#2Yes, I know. Clinton told a whopper.In my story from GF, I mentioned Clinton's highlight moment - a story she told about a pregnant Ohio woman who was uninsured and refused care at her local hospital. Her baby died and so did she. It was, for cynical me, the only tingly moment of the night.But Saturday morning my Blackberry was abuzz with readers pointing me to a New York Times story that morning that debunked Clinton's anecdote. The Times did some digging on the story, which Clinton has been using in her stump speech for at least the last month, and it turns out the woman had insurance and was never refused treatment. The small-town hospital is imploring Clinton to quit telling the story.That's disappointing, and given the Clintons' rep for manipulating the truth, entirely predictable. But the interesting thing about it was how many e-mails I had from people demanding we correct the record. The e-mails appeared to come from average readers - Lynnes and Dianes and Amys. After a little backing and forthing, I realised these weren't Winnipeggers who happen to read the New York Times (except you, Jeff Browaty). These were Obama supporters, probably part of some media monitoring office that sends e-mail blasts to reporters under the guise of being average folk. #3Clinton was still cooler. I was waiting for the big shiver when Obama spoke. He was great at first - with the kind of cadence and symmetry you only hear from politicians on The West Wing. Then it got kind of repetitive and empty and then I got bored. Then I realised I couldn't really remember exactly what he had just talked about.Clinton had tons of ideas, ones that made common sense and ones I actually remembered when it was all over. She spoke for too long but she had plenty of crowd support, a surprise since nearly everyone I spoke to was there to see Obama. Compared to Obama, she seemed miles more substantive and detail-oriented and mature. Plus she worked harder - she was the last to speak at an event where she was clearly second-fiddle. She worked the rope line for at least a half an hour, taking pictures and signing swag. Obama was out of there like a shot.I said all this to Conservation Minister Stan Struthers when I ran into him on the way to the bathroom. He countered with the idea that the top job ought to belong to someone who can really inspire people, get them thinking beyond themselves. You can hire people to come up with smart policy. You can't fake the inspiring part.

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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first covering city hall and then the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter. Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school. She has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category.

She was a Southam journalism fellow at the University of Toronto’s Massey College in 2012-13, where she studied indigenous issues, urban planning and political science. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists and has served on several boards.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.


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