Last week, a crowd heckled me at a press event. It was a crowd of 40-50 people, in tow with Michelle Nunn. The Democrat was at the state Capitol, filing to make her run for US Senate official.
Nunn is a political newcomer who has rarely appeared at press events around Atlanta. She also appears to be very disciplined with her rhetoric, sticking to the talking points that drive her message.
I approached the story about her appearance at the Capitol last week with a series of questions that I thought anybody might want asked of a candidate who presumes to step from relative obscurity to one of America’s most prestigious political offices. The questions were mostly about her experience. They were challenging. They were also quite predictable. (I asked many of the same questions of Jason Carter during his first sit-down with us after announcing his run for Governor.)
But the wild card was the crowd. They were there to cheer their candidate, not hear some blow-dried dimwit with a microphone.
When I prefaced a question with the supposition that she hadn’t “paid (her) dues” as a politician, some voices piped up in the background challenging the question. It was an uncomfortable moment. It was also, in many ways, a fabulous free-speech moment. Just as I was free to raise questions in public setting, they were just as free to weigh in.
But the crowd had no idea how close they were to breaking me. A look at the video reveals an unmistakable moment (at about 1:14) where my poker face kind of unravels in light of the heckling. I nearly didn’t get the question out.
To her credit, Nunn (like Carter) handled my predictable yet not-necessarily “friendly” questions with skill and mostly without evasion.
On this site, Steve Schwaid once observed that the Atlanta press corps is sometimes too “laid back” and “reserved.” Schwaid, the former News Director at WGCL, is accustomed to the press in Philadelphia. Like him, I’m kind of amazed at how deferential the press frequently is around Atlanta. One notable exception was during some recent snow “events,” when the press asked pointed questions of Governor Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed.
After some of those pressers — which the TV stations typically carried live — I got a lot of positive feedback from viewers, expressing thanks for making them answer questions that the audience wanted answered. One stranger notably stopped his car in the middle of a street in Grant Park, jumped out and made me shake his hand.
Meantime, last week one of the my coworkers greeted me with a you were mean to Michelle Nunn.
“Did you think the questions were unfair?” I asked her.
Not at all, she answered. She just cheerfully admitted that asking those questions, in that setting, would have scared her shitless.
And she said her husband, who watched the piece on TV with her, was cheering me on from the safety of their living room.