AT&T thanks blue dog Democrats with a lavish DNC party

by Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Last night in Denver, at the Mile High Station -- next to Invesco Stadium, where Barack Obama will address a crowd of 30,000 people on Thursday night -- AT&T threw a lavish, private party for Blue Dog House Democrats, virtually all of whom blindly support whatever legislation the telecom industry demands and who also, specifically, led the way this July in immunizing AT&T and other telecoms from the consequences for their illegal participation in the Bush administration's warrantless spying program. Matt Stoller has one of the listings for the party here.

Armed with full-scale Convention press credentials issued by the DNC, I went -- along with Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher, John Amato, Stoller and others -- in order to cover the event, interview the attendees, and videotape the festivities. There was a wall of private security deployed around the building, and after asking where the press entrance was, we were told by the security officials, after they consulted with event organizers, that the press was barred from the event, and that only those with invitations could enter -- notwithstanding the fact that what was taking place in side was a meeting between one of the nation's largest corporations and the numerous members of the most influential elected faction in Congress. As a result, we stood in front of the entrance and began videotaping and trying to interview the parade of Blue Dog Representatives, AT&T executives, assorted lobbyists and delegates who pulled up in rented limousines, chauffeured cars, and SUVs in order to find out who was attending and why AT&T would be throwing such a lavish party for the Blue Dog members of Congress.

Amazingly, not a single one of the 25-30 people we tried to interview would speak to us about who they were, how they got invited, what the party's purpose was, why they were attending, etc. One attendee said he was with an "energy company," and the other confessed she was affiliated with a "trade association," but that was the full extent of their willingness to describe themselves or this event. It was as though they knew they're part of a filthy and deeply corrupt process and were ashamed of -- or at least eager to conceal -- their involvement in it. After just a few minutes, the private security teams demanded that we leave, and when we refused and continued to stand in front trying to interview the reticent attendees, the Denver Police forced us to move further and further away until finally we were unable to approach any more of the arriving guests.

It was really the perfect symbol for how the Beltway political system functions -- those who dictate the nation's laws (the largest corporations and their lobbyists) cavorting in total secrecy with those who are elected to write those laws (members of Congress), while completely prohibiting the public from having any access to and knowledge of -- let alone involvement in -- what they are doing. And all of this was arranged by the corporation -- AT&T -- that is paying for a substantial part of the Democratic National Convention with millions upon millions of dollars, which just received an extraordinary gift of retroactive amnesty from the Congress controlled by that party, whose logo is splattered throughout the city wherever the DNC logo appears -- virtually attached to it -- all taking place next to the stadium where the Democratic presidential nominee, claiming he will cleanse the Beltway of corporate and lobbying influences, will accept the nomination on Thursday night.

The only other media which even attempted to cover the AT&T/Blue Dog event was Democracy Now -- they were also barred from entering. I was on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman this morning to discuss what happened. They put together a 5-minute video montage, including our efforts to enter the event and interview the guests, which they broadcast before my segment. The video and my segment can be seen and/or heard here -- it begins at the 1:00 mark. Transcript here, via Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: Can I just ask a question? If this is open to the delegates, why isn’t it—

UNIDENTIFIED: Other side of the property, please. The other side of the property, where the public can stand.

AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t this open to the delegates?

UNIDENTIFIED: No, it’s not. You could talk to the police right now.

AMY GOODMAN: This is not for the Democratic National Convention?

UNIDENTIFIED: Go ahead. Go to the other side of the property, where the rest of the public can stand, please.

UNIDENTIFIED: Here comes an officer to talk to you.

AMY GOODMAN: OK. You know, but we’re confused. We’re press for the DNC to cover the Democratic National Convention, and I’m just wondering—

UNIDENTIFIED: Unfortunately, I’m just telling you what I’ve been told.

AMY GOODMAN: And what have you been told?

UNIDENTIFIED: I need you guys over there or over there.

AMY GOODMAN: So are you saying there’s no press allowed in?

UNIDENTIFIED: Correct. I’m saying that it’s a private party, is what I’m saying.

AMY GOODMAN: So what is the party about?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: No idea. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get invited?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: No idea.

AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Can I ask you about the party inside?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: That’s right. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask about the party and who invited you? Are you guys delegates?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: Hi. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: Good

PARTY PARTICIPANT: No. No.

GLENN GREENWALD: I’m Glenn Greenwald from Salon.com, and this is Jane Hamsher from FireDogLake, and we were here to try and cover the event, at first, and have press passes, and we’re trying to gain access. And we were told we couldn’t get in even.

AMY GOODMAN: But you have press passes.

GLENN GREENWALD: We have a press pass.

JANE HAMSHER: We have legitimate press passes.

GLENN GREENWALD: We have legitimate press passes from the convention.

JANE HAMSHER: Issued by the DNC.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going into the party? Are you going into the party?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who invited you?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: Excuse me.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re press.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, it’s amazing. And essentially, we probably tried to interview twenty-five, thiry people going in, and every last person refused to even give their name, identify themselves, say what they’re here for, what the event is for. It’s more secretive than like a Dick Cheney energy council meeting. I mean, it’s amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you here for? Why do you want to interview people?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, because, I mean, it’s extraordinary that the same Blue Dogs that just gave this extremely corrupt gift to AT&T are now attending a party underwritten by AT&T, the purpose of which is to thank the Blue Dogs for the corrupt legislative gift that they got. So AT&T gives money to Blue Dogs, the Blue Dogs turn around and immunize AT&T from lawbreaking, and then AT&T throws a party at the Democratic convention thanking them, and then they all go in and into this exclusive club.

AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] ask someone. Why don’t you ask this person?

GLENN GREENWALD: Hi. Can we—are you going to the party?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: I don’t know.

GLENN GREENWALD: Can we ask you a couple of questions?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: Rather not, thank you.

GLENN GREENWALD: Alright, can we just ask this gentleman here?

UNIDENTIFIED: That’s private property, right here.

GLENN GREENWALD: OK, we’ll take care of this, sir. No problem.

UNIDENTIFIED: OK.

GLENN GREENWALD: No problem. Remember, we kind of—

JANE HAMSHER: Who are you with? Are you going to the party?

PARTY PARTICIPANT: Yeah.

GLENN GREENWALD: This is area right here is where it is, right here?

JANE HAMSHER: Are you going to the party?

GLENN GREENWALD: This is the magical D line?

UNIDENTIFIED: No, the next one over.

GLENN GREENWALD: Oh, I see.

UNIDENTIFIED: Almost.

LOBBYIST: You know where the Blue Dog Democrats started out? They all used to meet in Louisiana, in the office of the one conservative Democrat in the state, who had a portrait of a blue dog over his fireplace. And from that point on—this was in the late 1800s, early 1900s—other conservative Democrats used to come to have this secret meeting in this place in Louisiana, and that’s how they became the Blue Dog Democrats forever more.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you both delegates?

LOBBYIST: No.

REPUBLICAN GUEST: No.

LOBBYIST: I’m a lobbyist.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, a lobbyist?

LOBBYIST: The other L word.

AMY GOODMAN: A lobbyist with who?

LOBBYIST: I do financial services and real estate.

REPUBLICAN GUEST: I’m just a guest tonight. I’ll tell you a secret: I’m a Republican. We just got invited, so…

UNIDENTIFIED: Free dinner.

REPUBLICAN GUEST: Free dinner.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel right at home?

REPUBLICAN GUEST: Yeah. It’s a party. Hey, what the hell, right?

AMY GOODMAN: So, Medea Benjamin, why are you all out here?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Code Pink is—has always been dogging the Blue Dogs, because the Blue Dogs are supposed to be fiscally conservative, yet they are the ones that keep cheerleading for this war and keep funding the war. But we also see that the Blue Dogs are big into the corporate sponsorship, and we’re here to say that, as the convention starts to begin tomorrow, the Blue Dogs should be ashamed of themselves for taking corporate money and then turning around and giving immunity to the telecoms industry for illegally spying on us.

CODE PINK PROTESTERS: Blue Dogs take cash from AT&T and give telecoms immunity. So Code Pink is here to give the dogs a bone, tell AT&T don’t tap my phone!

***

AMY GOODMAN: And that is the Code Pink singers, outside of Mile High Stadium. In fact, that venue was Mile High Station, where AT&T was sponsoring a party for the Blue Dog Democrats. That report was produced by Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films.

Glenn Greenwald was one of the voices you heard, one of the people you saw in that piece. He was outside AT&T Blue Dog fundraiser last night. Glenn is a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com. He joins me here in the Denver studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Glenn.

GLENN GREENWALD: Great to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we were there, dogging the Blue Dogs, trying, actually, just simply to get into the party. The delegates and the lobbyists were able to walk in and out, but we had a lot of trouble.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one of the things I found so interesting is that there’s a very stringent credentialing process, as you know, in order to obtain press credentials for the convention. And because I write with Salon.com, Salon has obtained press credentials for me and others.

And I expected, quite naturally, that the press passes would enable access to the party. I mean, here is a meeting between the nation’s—one of the nation’s most influential corporations and probably the single most influential faction in the United States Congress, which is the Blue Dog Coalition, meeting at this lavish party with hundreds of people present near where Barack Obama will speak. The last thing that occurred to me was that it would be closed to the press, given the public significance, the fact that members of the United States Congress are meeting. And yet, the first declaration that they announced when asked if we could enter was that press is completely banned. It was an entirely private affair.

I guess only Democracy Now! and us were the only press interested in covering it, in any event, but they certainly, whether that rule pre-existed our arrival or was created specifically for us, it was made very clear and enforced, through layers of security, that press would not be able to access the event.

AMY GOODMAN: The police were there, working in force. They clearly are telling—explaining to protesters what the rules are, the line that they can’t step over. And then when we came up, when Democracy Now! came up, the police very patiently explained this is private property. The security, not the police, but the security, was Mile High, as well as the actual venue of Mile High Station.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: These were big guys, and they weren’t kidding around. It was interesting. The lobbyists were a little more willing to speak than the actual delegates who were being rushed in there. A lot of limousines were coming in.

GLENN GREENWALD: Absolutely. I mean, I found the symbolism of the event very revealing. First of all, as you say, there was a very intended-to-be-intimidating wall of private security surrounding the event, and they were actually infinitely more aggressive and angrier than the Denver police were. And in fact, I was there with Jane Hamsher, the blogger from FireDogLake, who at one point was trying to speak with one of the individuals entering the party, and she was physically pushed by one of the private security members, notwithstanding the fact that the Denver police had been there the entire time, navigating and negotiating where it was that we could stand.

The other aspect of it was, was that what the police had been clearly trained to do is create this façade of being accommodating and cooperative and pleasant, but what it really does is it masks the fact that their strategy is to ensure that any sort of dissident voices, or people off script, are relegated to places where they can’t really be heard.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very hard to figure out in these situations. You know, you have a sidewalk, which is owned by the private venue, and where the public can use the public sidewalk, they’re showing you the cracks, the crevices in the sidewalk, and they’re saying that’s theirs, this is yours.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, well, I mean, I found that very odd, too. At first, we were told that we could stand in a certain place that was on one side of one of the cracks that appeared in the sidewalk, and I was kind of amazed that the Denver police knew with such precision, based on the cracks in the sidewalk, where private and public property were demarcated. But when it turned out that where we were told to stand originally still enabled us to accost the people who were exiting the cars and try to interview them, suddenly the cracks in the sidewalk shifted to a place further away, and then suddenly that became the public-private line, and then we were told to stand there.

AMY GOODMAN: And the key was, that for all the people who were driving in in their various limousines and being let off at the front of the AT&T party thanking the Blue Dog Democrats, that was the place that the press couldn’t go, which is the place to talk to the delegates. I thought, actually, we were going to be able to be inside, at least in the lobby, but that’s where the lobbyists are. It gives sort of new meaning to the term “lobbyist.”

GLENN GREENWALD: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: But it keeps the press away from the people we’re trying to interview.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, that clearly was the intent, and like I said, I don’t know if they expected press and created this rule in advance or created it in an ad hoc way once they saw that we were there with cameras and wanted to keep us away.

But what’s so amazing is, think about how significant this event is to the public interest. I mean, you have, you know, fifteen, twenty, thirty members of Congress meeting with lobbyists and delegates in a matter that’s of great significance to public policy. And not only are they keeping the public out, but they’re keeping the press out, too. And what I found extraordinary, as your video illustrated—and it was really every person—nobody was willing to talk about what their connection was to the event, how they got invited, what their understanding of it was, why AT&T was thanking the Blue Dogs. It was almost as though they knew there was something corrupt and dark about it and didn’t want to be associated with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Glenn, the last time we had you on, you were actually blogging from Brazil, but you had discovered the picture of the delegate and press bag that we were all going to get, coming to cover the Democratic convention. I’m just holding it up right now, and for our radio listeners, it says, “Democratic National Convention, August 25-28, 2008, Denver, Colorado.” On one side is Coca-Cola, and that’s the symbol. And on the other side, we’ve got, well, that familiar symbol, AT&T. And this was right after the vote by Congress. Explain the vote.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one of the most significant political controversies, of course, of the past several years is the fact that not just that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans, that they were, but that they were doing so with the active cooperation of the telecommunication giants, led by AT&T. And it wasn’t just illegal for the Bush administration to do it, it was clearly illegal for the private telecoms to do it. It’s a felony for them to allow government access to the communications of their customers without the warrants required by law. So it wasn’t just the President who got caught committing felonies; these corporations, AT&T, Verizon and others, got caught committing felonies, as well.

And for several years, they vigorously lobbied Congress, and the Congress, just recently, led by the Blue Dogs, the very Blue Dogs whom they were thanking, enacted legislation that had little purpose other than to immunize these corporations from the consequences of their lawbreaking, to force the lawsuits that had been brought by customers based on these privacy infringements to be dismissed, and to put an end, a permanent end, to this scandal or any prospect for accountability. It was an enormous and extraordinary gift that Congress gave to the private telecommunications agencies. And of course, at the same time and immediately after, the private telecoms were funding, to the tune of many, many, many millions of dollars, funding this very convention.

AMY GOODMAN: Obama’s role?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, clearly Obama was—ended up being a prime enabler of that legislation, by announcing in the midst of it that he supported it. He had promised back in December, when he was seeking the Democratic primary, that he would filibuster any bill, as he put it, that contained retroactive telecom immunity. That was an emphatic commitment that he made, in fact, in response to bloggers and readers demanding to know his position. And six months later, when that very bill came before the Senate that clearly contained retroactive immunity, not only didn’t he filibuster it, he led the effort to support it and enact it.

AMY GOODMAN: The tens of millions of dollars that are pouring into this convention are not regulated the way individuals, or even corporations, are allowed to give money to the candidates or to the parties. And we’re not going to know how much money was poured into the Democratic convention or the Republican convention in St. Paul until Election Day.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a complete circumvention, by design, of the campaign finance laws. I mean, there are obviously limits on what these corporations can give to individual candidates. And they still give enormous amounts. But it’s at least limited, and there’s public disclosure requirements. As you say, the sham here, the ruse, is that these conventions are really civic affairs and that by donating tens of millions of dollars to these conventions, they’re not donating to political campaigns, what they’re really doing is promoting Denver. And that’s the ruse by which they do this. And, of course, what ends up happening is, not only is their logo all over the Democratic Party, as it probably ought to be—it’s symbolically appropriate—but they’re here in force with all sorts of key access to all of the very lawmakers who regulate their industries.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to have to break, and then we’re having a debate on Senator Biden. But before we go, did you go to the media party on Saturday night at Elitch Gardens?

GLENN GREENWALD: No. And unfortunately, I think is the right word, I missed that.

AMY GOODMAN: But the overall coverage of the media that you’re going to be watching and monitoring this week at Salon.com?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what’s interesting is, we had a party at Salon.com, and there were a lot of members of the media, the sort of mainstream media, who were there, and what was interesting to me, interacting with them—I don’t normally do that, thankfully, but I did that that night—is they sort of look at politics from the most cynical and the shallowest perspective, which is, they do what they do on television, which is, they talk about whether certain things are politically beneficial, how it will play in the eyes of the mythical American that they convince themselves they speak for, and it’s completely bereft of any substance. They’re just pageants, and that’s how they cover them.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Glenn Greenwald. I’ll see you out on the streets. Hopefully we can get into one of these events that are supposedly celebrating the Democratic process in this country.

GLENN GREENWALD: We’ll keep trying.

Jane Hamsher also filmed some of what transpired, and Salon has created our own video of last night, including the efforts by the private security teams and Denver Police to prevent us from standing on public property to interview the arriving members of Congress and AT&T executives and lobbyists. That will be posted shortly. There's nothing unusual about this event -- other than that it was more forcibly private than most and just a tad more brazenly sleazy. The democracy-themed stagecraft inside the Convention is for public television consumption, but secret little events of this sort are why people are really here. Just as is true in Washington, this is where -- and how and by whom -- the business of our Government is conducted.

article originally published at http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/08/25/blue_dogs/.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey