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|| News Item: Posted 2008-05-28

Campaign 2008 Different From Campaign 1968
Bill Eppridge compares photographing Barack Obama to photographing Bobby Kennedy.

By Bill Eppridge

Photo by Bill Eppridge

Photo by Bill Eppridge

Robert F. Kennedy campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Spring of 1968.
There is a world of difference between today's political coverage and the type of access that photographers had in 1968 when I covered Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign.

First off, I could go wherever I wanted, and there was virtually no security. Bobby Kennedy had only one bodyguard. His campaign was far less orchestrated than what is seen in today's made-for-television rallies with all their carefully printed candidate signs. And the calculated positioning of supporters in the background behind the candidate is not always apparent to television viewers.

I always felt like Bobby's appearances created a kind of spontaneous combustion in the towns where he appeared. Often, his bodyguard Bill Barry, and former Los Angles Rams star player Roosevelt Grier would have to physically lift Bobby out of the excited crowd.

I wanted to see for myself what the Obama phenomenon was all about, and how different it might be from what I remembered of Bobby Kennedy. Obama was having an outdoor rally in Philadelphia last month at Independence Mall. What could be easier, I thought.


Luckily I had the foresight to check in with my old friend Tim Shafer of Reuters who suggested I park my car at the Holiday Inn one block from the mall-that meant I had to book a room there.

The Obama website had information about the rally, including the notice that free tickets were available at locations around the city. The mall was fenced in for the event, and without tickets or a press credential there would be no access to the inside where Obama was going to speak. Having neither, I thought I would just soak up the atmosphere, and photograph the crowds.

My wife, who is my editor, was with me, and we walked the block or so over to the mall about an hour before the gates were to open. We were on the sidewalk on the Market Street side of the mall for about a half hour when I was approached by an Obama volunteer who saw my crooked walking stick (for those of you who don't know me, you can recognize me by the most crooked walking stick you'll ever see.)

Photo by Bill Eppridge

Photo by Bill Eppridge

Robert F. Kennedy with his dog Freckles on the beach in Oregon, May 24, 1968.
The volunteer asked me if I was a 'special needs' person. I stared at her with a blank look on my face as my wife started elbowing me in my rib. I got the hint, and said, 'Why, yes.' With that, the volunteer escorted us to the front of the line, and in we went.

We cleared the security tent, which was manned by secret service with scanners, and then found ourselves in front of the podium where Obama was going to speak. Aside from the occasional Obama volunteer who just didn't want to let me stand-they kept trying to escort me to the special needs area, just behind the press platform-I had no problem once we were in the crowd. I was closer to where Obama would speak than most of the press.

Back to what I said in the beginning-the candidate finally arrived three hours later, and he was not right in the crowd. He was separated from people by metal security fencing, and a phalanx of secret service agents. Those people behind him who on television look to be just a foot or so away, are actually on bleachers well behind him by at least 30 feet, and separated from him by metal gates.

The telephoto lenses tend to collapse those distances making it appear that he is right in the front of all those people. Hard to tell this is the situation unless you see it for yourself from that angle, or you happen to see an overhead photograph. I did notice that the pool of photographers had access to a 'cherry-picker' of sorts and were taking turns going up for the overall establishing shot with Constitution Hall in the background.

Today's presidential campaigns are being protected by the Secret Service whereas Bobby Kennedy was in charge of his own campaign. That, ultimately, is the final irony of all this. He alone made the decision to go back through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, retracing his steps against the advice of his bodyguard.

(Bill Eppridge's latest book, "A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy In The Sixties", is currently available and can be purchased from the bookshelf through Amazon: or at a bookstore near you. For more details on the book, go to this link: )

Related Links:
Book: A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy In The Sixties
Photo Gallery in Vanity Fair

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