Paul Greenberg

color story, n., a newspaper feature that relies more on personal observation than straight news, often run as an adjunct (sidebar) to the main story.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Technically I was off last week, entertaining a couple of visiting grandchildren from up East, but I couldn't resist sneaking over to the arena one evening for the Big Show featuring Sarah Palin, the Molly Pitcher of our time.

A gospel/bluegrass band (Living Grace) was already a-hummin' and a-strummin' as I found my way to the risers set aside for the always suspect Media. Somebody politely got me a chair next to but not in the press section. Perfect. Opinion should always be kept separate from news. Just as it is on the few newspapers left that respect the difference.

Soon my autonomous nervous system kicked in and my foot started tapping to "Streets of Gold."

Run-ups to the main event can be the best part of any performance, like the prelims on a fight card featuring up-and-comers out to knock themselves silly. Only to be followed by anti-climax: a couple of lumbering heavyweights waltzing through the first three rounds.

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Maybe it's the anticipation that makes openers the best part of any show: the ballplayers warming up before a summer evening's game under the lights, a symphony orchestra tuning up. For whatever reason, there are some prefaces that are better than the book.

The feeling inside the arena brought back all the political conventions I've ever attended, and have succeeded in largely forgetting. It's not a pretty thing to see, the madness of crowds orchestrated by professionals, but, strangely enough, I realized I'd missed the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd.

But as soon as an amiable fotog sat down next to me and began unfolding his telephoto lens, it all came back to me: why I hate mob scenes, however well scripted. It was way up in the cheap seats at Madison Square Garden in 1992, where I'd gone to see Bill Clinton nominated for president, that a cameraman right behind me swung his telephoto lens around with such gusto that he succeeded in nearly knocking my block off. He seemed genuinely surprised when I took offense.

To be more specific, I'd kindly offered to propel him and his lens straight down, down, down, down to the floor of the Democratic National Convention if he weren't more careful. Sure enough, he was. There's nothing like a credible threat to encourage good behavior. Deterrence, it used to be called when the United States still practiced it.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.