I left it last week with me—a journalist by no stretch of anyone's imagination—on the verge of attending my first press conference. Holding it was Alberto Gonzales, George Bush's idea of what constitutes an attorney general. It was Alberto who brought 100 demonstrators out on short notice to the original location of the press conference. That many dedicated citizens wouldn't drop everything they were doing to show up and protest just any Congress-stonewalling bum. I happen to know, personally, a few of the people there, and I also happen to know they have more to do than protest every run-of-the-mill crook that blows into Boise for a couple of hours.
If anyone has earned himself a protest, though, it is Alberto. Here we have—in one personality-challenged package—the man who has given legal cover to the Bush/Cheney gang to conduct torture, to suspend some of the most basic of civil rights and to use the Justice Department as a tactic to further the schemes of Karl Rove. He can duck out of Washington (on the very day those subpeonas were delivered ... wink, wink) and try to hide his complicity behind the mask of being a crime fighter, but a criminal of his stature needs to know he can't run even to the most Bushy backwater in the country, and expect to get out un-protested.
But enough about the protest. If I don't get on to that press conference pronto, I may have to turn this into a three-parter.
So I wandered over to where the press conference had been relocated. In the parking lot, lined up one behind the other like a scene from a Tom Clancy yarn, were five sparkling SUVs, ready to get Alberto outta there on a moment's notice. I can't tell you exactly why, but the sight of those serious-looking vehicles, and the serious-looking men gathered around them, made me start to wonder whether I should have popped my press conference cherry on something a little less serious. A Tammy DeWeerd press conference, perhaps. Or a Jim Risch event.
I hung around a TV crew preparing to enter the building, thinking that, if I tagged along with them, maybe I'd look a little more like I belonged there. That only made them nervous, I could tell. They kept glancing at me over their shoulders like hikers do when they come across fresh bear dung. If I look this shady to a local news crew, I thought to myself, those Secret Service guys'll have me in Gitmo before the sun goes down.
Fortunately, a photographer BW had arranged to get pictures of Alberto showed up, and we went in together. He was carrying a tote bag and we had to wait for a bomb-sniffing dog to give it the once-over. Assuming I was next, I asked the handler what would happen if the dog smelled my daughter's new kitten on me, and he told me not to worry about it. Easy for him to say. He was the one with the gun.
The room in which the press conference was held was in the office of Idaho's U.S. attorney, Tom Moss. It's on the seventh floor, well above any potential protest songs that might have wafted up from the street. Outside the door, two genial cops asked the photographer and I if we were carrying any guns or knives. I wanted so badly to tell them about when I inadvertently carried a pocket knife into the county courthouse, but instead decided that if there was ever a time to keep my mouth shut, this was it. Inside, three TV cameras were already set up and a half-dozen print journalists were chatting with one another. I had thought ahead to bring a note pad my kid left in the car and a ball point pen I found under the seat, just so I'd look more like a journalist. But it didn't help. Not one of the other journalists came over to chat with me. I leaned against a wall and tried to blend in. That didn't work either. As soon as Gonzales entered the room, one of the serious, suited guys with him positioned himself behind me and slightly to my left, and never moved from that spot. It might be my imagination, but I was sure he was watching the back of my head, just waiting for an excuse. I took my mind off his obvious ability to take me out in a thousand different ways with just his bare hands by trying to think of a good question to ask Gonzales.
Not that it matters, but Alberto had come to Boise to see how our local anti-gang efforts are doing. By the time he finally held the press conference, he had toured the Community Center and had his picture taken with a little girl shooting pool. The idea, I guess, was to show that if kids shoot pool in community centers, they are less likely to end up in a criminal gang? Briefly, I considered asking him if he had ever played pool in a community center when he was a youngster, and if so, how does he account for the fact that he still ended up in a criminal gang. Down deep, I knew I'd never cough up the nerve to ask the attorney general such a question, but I'm still curious to know what the guy behind me would have done if I had.
In all, Gonzales responded to about six, maybe seven, questions. It took him approximately five minutes. To those questions that had to do with federal involvement in the Treasure Valley's anti-gang activities, he answered with such phrases as "win-win situation," and "for the children." That's all I got written down on my kid's note pad—the kind of banality we hear so often, I should have it all memorized by now. To those questions that had to do with why he ducked out of the original press conference venue, he answered that his message was too important to be distracted from by protesters. I assume he meant the "win-win situation for the children" message.
Throughout the press conference, Tom Moss stood at his side like a well-behaved pet monkey. I wanted to ask Alberto what it was about Moss Rove that he likes so much, that he wasn't fired along with all the others, but I didn't ask that one, either. I eventually came up with a question I had the nerve to ask: Mr. Gonzales, how can you show your face in public, knowing what everyone is thinking about you? But by then, Alberto had been whisked away by the men in suits, and when I walked outside again, I could see the caravan of SUVs sparkling in the distance as they carried him farther and farther from human contact.
The cop with the bomb-sniffing dog walked out with me. I told him his dog looked like a chocolate lab, and the cop said she was. That is probably the most reliable information I bring to you from my first press conference. "Chocolate Lab on municipal payroll."