Magazine article Editor & Publisher

When I Covered My First Democratic Convention: Chicago 1968

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

When I Covered My First Democratic Convention: Chicago 1968

Article excerpt

With the 2008 Democratic national convention about to begin in Denver, I can't help recalling the first DNC that I covered in 1968, exactly 40 years ago next week. Yes, it was the infamous gathering in Chicago, when the conflict turned bloody. I never made it inside the convention hall -- but I did grab a front row seat for what "went down," as we used to say.

It culminated in the crushing of Sen. Eugene McCarthy's anti-Vietnam crusade inside the convention hall and the cracking of peacenik skulls by Mayor Richard Daley's police in the streets. Together, this doomed Hubert Humphrey to defeat in November at the hands of my old hero, Richard Nixon.

I've been a political-campaign junkie all my life. At the age of 8, I paraded in front of my boyhood home in Niagara Falls, N.Y., waving an "I Like Ike" sign. Four years later, in 1960, I represented Nixon in a 7th grade debate, and when the votes were counted, Kennedy had carried the class by about 20-2. Traumatized, I've never publicly endorsed a candidate since. But in 1968 I got to cover my first presidential campaign when one of Sen. McCarthy's nephews came to town, before the state primary, and I interviewed him for the Niagara Falls Gazette, where I worked as a summer reporter during college.

My mentor at the Gazette was a young, irreverent City Hall reporter named John Hanchette. He went on to an illustrious career at other papers, and as a Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent for Gannett News Service, but back then he was best known for his weekly column. It featured a comic creation known as "Falls Street Louie," who had all the inside dirt on the local politicos.

Hanchette was in Chicago that week to cover party politics as a Gazette reporter and contributor to the Gannett News Service (GNS). I was to hang out with the young McCarthyites and the anti-war protestors. To get to Chicago I took my first ride on a jetliner.

To make a long story short: On the climactic night of Aug. 28, 1968, Hanchette and I ended up just floors apart in the same building: the Conrad Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago. I was in McCarthy headquarters and Hanchette was in one of Gannett's makeshift newsrooms. Probably at about the same time, we pulled back the curtains and looked out our separate windows to see police savagely attacking protestors with nightsticks at the intersection directly below.

Besides writing his own stories, Hanchette was expected to "run" copy from columnist Dave Beetle to GNS at the convention hall. …

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