Photo courtesy of Samantha Nelson.
Laura Bush speaks at Samford University.
This article originally was published in The Samford Crimson. The author serves as the editor-in-chief of the Samford Crimson as well as the news editor of the Hoover Sun.
If you were in the audience for former first lady Laura Bush’s visit on Thursday, you may not have noticed the Wright Center staff patrolling the press section precisely three minutes into her speech. I can assure you, though, that the Crimson did.
Three minutes was the time limit for attending journalists to actually fulfill their job description. After that, the university staff made sure cameras, recorders, pencils and notepads were put away and left unused.
This started long before Thursday night. The Crimson, like every other media outlet covering Bush’s visit, had to jump a few reasonable security hoops to gain access.
However, slipped in among the security precautions was the mandate that photography, videography, audio recording and note taking would not be allowed after the three-minute mark. It was part of the contract the university signed to get Bush on campus, and it was a clear attempt to prevent any quotes being taken from the first lady’s speech.
So, what did the reporters of the Crimson, Samford News Network, AL.com, The Homewood Star and others get within those precious few minutes? Generic statements about Bush’s enjoyment of Samford and an update on the Bush family. Oh, and #SamNotStan.
If they wanted to report any of her statements on life in the White House, 9/11 or education – the actual reason for her visit – they had to rely on their memory alone and hope they could remember everything they needed.
That, in itself, is galling. Laura Bush is a public figure and invited to speak as part of a lecture series to students and the public. After living in the White House, I’d think she would be familiar enough with the media that a few pencils scratching away at paper wouldn’t ruin her time on stage.
It’s also just ridiculous. If you’re there to speak on education, why not let reporters use your actual statements on education? That’s a chance to extend her words beyond the Wright Center, and she wasted it.
Whether that was a decision of Bush herself or her aides, I don’t know. But whomever it was decided to deliver an extra injury to Samford media in particular. Earlier this week, we were informed that the university’s media were required to submit all photos, video and articles to Bush’s aides for approval before publication.
First, that’s something no journalists worth their salt will agree to. Second, drawing the distinction between Samford and the “real” media suggests, at least to me, that Bush and her aides know that behavior won’t fly with professional journalists, but they think they can make a power play and attempt to control what we say.
That’s going too far, and it made me angry.
However, I think I could have chalked it all up to Bush’s prestigious former position had the president not been speaking at another Birmingham college on Thursday. A friend of mine was part of the press pool at Lawson College for President Obama’s speech, and he was never asked to put away his camera, his audio recorder or his notepad. He also didn’t have to get anything approved by Obama’s staff.
I’m not sure how Bush and her staff would justify a former first lady having more media restrictions than a sitting president, but I’m betting it boils down to control issues. It’s also a complete failure to understand how the media operates.
The Crimson’s story and photo of Laura Bush were published Thursday night, without anyone’s approval but our own.