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June 12, 2003

Who is Greg Packer?

I liked this too much. Mickey Kaus pointed me towards this Ann Coulter article on a NYT story about the queue outside the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble in New York Sunday night, where people were waiting to buy Hilary Clinton's new book.

That convoluted enough for you? Here's what Coulter discovered about one of the line attendees featured in the article, Greg Packer.

Another average individual eager to get Hillary's book was Greg Packer, who was the centerpiece of the New York Times' "man on the street" interview about Hillary-mania. After being first in line for an autographed book at the Fifth Avenue Barnes & Noble, Packer gushed to the Times: "I'm a big fan of Hillary and Bill's. I want to change her mind about running for president. I want to be part of her campaign."

It was easy for the Times to spell Packer's name right because he is apparently the entire media's designated "man on the street" for all articles ever written. He has appeared in news stories more than 100 times as a random member of the public. Packer was quoted on his reaction to military strikes against Iraq; he was quoted at the St. Patrick's Day Parade, the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Veterans' Day Parade. He was quoted at not one – but two – New Year's Eve celebrations at Times Square. He was quoted at the opening of a new "Star Wars" movie, at the opening of an H&M clothing store on Fifth Avenue and at the opening of the viewing stand at Ground Zero. He has been quoted at Yankees games, Mets games, Jets games – even getting tickets for the Brooklyn Cyclones. He was quoted at a Clinton fund-raiser at Alec Baldwin's house in the Hamptons and the pope's visit to Giants stadium.

Coulter spins this as another blow to the rep of the NYT, but Greg Packer is actually a publicity seeker with well-honed skills.

By 8 o'clock on the coldest morning of the year, Greg Packer was already in his second hour waiting in line to go on a double-decker bus tour of Manhattan with Brandy, the R&B singer.

Spending a day waiting in line to meet celebrities is not unusual for the 38-year-old Huntington, N.Y., native, but his position so far back in the queue was. Packer has made obsessions out of being first in line and of being in the company of celebrities.

But on this day, he was 15th in line. That was good enough, for his goal was just to be among the first 50 who would make it on the Brandy bus.

If there's a global or celebrity-laden event in or near New York, odds are Packer is there, or is trying to be there. He was first in the line to see ground zero when the viewing platform opened at the World Trade Center site Dec. 30. He was the first in line in 1997 to sign the condolence book at the British consulate when Princess Diana died. He slept outside in the snow in Washington last January to be the first in line to greet President George W. Bush after his inauguration.

Here's another picture of him, waiting for the Times Square ball to drop in 2002. This is a man who enjoys the spotlight and seeks it out, not another giant screw-up by the Times. I suspect he can ID reporters from a half mile away.

Update: Kausfiles noticed! I am as giddy as a girl. 2 down, 2 to go.

Mickey wonders why the NYT hasn't caught on to Greg Packer yet.

But that begs the question of why the NYT would write about this semi-professional line-stander and quote machine as if he were a typical man on the street. You'd think he'd be notorious by now and "No More Greg Packer" signs would be posted next to the Metro desk.... Michael Cooper of the NYT did bust Packer when quoting him on New Year's Eve, 2001, but this week the NYT''s James Barron accepted him as an ordinary "fan of Hillary and Bill's" who wants Hillary "to change her mind about running for president."

I would think it's due to some inherent (though perfectly understandable) journalistic snobbery. Think about the stories Greg appears in. I don’t think there's a journalist in the world that looks forward to being sent out to interview the line freaks for a lightweight entertainment feature. It's beneath them.

They go in, they get a quote or two from people who come up to them and say "Hey, are you a reporter?" come back to the office and file a piece that reminds them exactly how far they are from their J-school dreams of being the next Woodward or Bernstein, then try to forget it.

Same thing with the editors. Even a crusty, knowledgeable old newsroom vet isn't going to give a crap about who gets interviewed for a "people queue up to meet Brandy" story.

On top of that, a lot of the reporters on the freak beat are probably low on the status ladder. As they move their way up, they escape from the "go interview the geeks" stories, and the new wet behind the ears guy or gal is the next guy to meet Mr. Packer. He seems them coming, gets his name in the paper, and gets nice little clipping for the scrapbook back home.

Too bad the jig's probably up.

Posted by Bigwig at June 12, 2003 02:04 PM | TrackBack
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