With National Media Watching, Obama Talks Up Boise State Technology And Innovation

Jan 22, 2015

During President Barack Obama's speech at Boise State, he bragged about innovation taking place in Boise and on the BSU campus. At least 5,000 people heard his remarks firsthand. But a lot of people who wanted to be there couldn't. The White House limited the number of tickets available. And, as Adam Cotterell reports, those who watched Mr. Obama on TV, may have actually had a better seat than those in attendance.


Adam Cotterell: If you've never been to the Caven-Williams Sports Complex on the Boise State campus, it’s a football field under something that resembles an airplane hangar. It's big. And it’s loud. And today, there’s a stage where the president will speak in about an hour. Thousands of people stand waiting for him. But some of those waiting can’t actually see that stage.

Audience member 1: Is there any way I can get up high so I can see?

Audience member 2: Hey I’m shorter than you.

Audience member 1: By an inch.

Cotterell: But it’s not so much height keeping these people from seeing as the 10-foot-tall platform between them and the stage.

Audience member 1: What’s up there, press?

Cotterell: Press yeah.

It’s a platform with dozens of TV cameras between part of the audience and where the president will speak. One audience member remarks that if one particular cameraman could move, she might be able to see.

Audience member 2: The guy with the black sweater, with the headphone thing on.

Cotterell: The audience is separated from the media by a metal barrier. Security here is tight. But I’m on the media side.

Audience member 2: If you could walk over and ask him to move over…(laughter from other audience members.)

Cotterell: So I do. I climb the platform and strike up a conversation with Ryan Hilliard.

I was talking to some people back there and they said you are right in their way. See them waving back there? Are you going to be standing here the whole time?

Hilliard: Yeah we're broadcasting this for channel 7. I'm in charge of making sure everyone at home can see what I'm showing. So I think that's the important thing. You know.

Cotterell: Those audience members I spoke with - people who stood in line outside Albertsons Stadium Monday to get tickets - want to know why the facility is set up this way. So I ask one of the people behind the scenes. He requested that I not use his name but his company does light and sound for everything from rock concerts to presidential appearances.

Event worker: This is all about TV and the press. Where a concert is about making an event for a live audience. This is more about making a great event for the press.

Cotterell: Melissa Davlin has noticed that this event seems to be more about media than the audience. Davlin is with Idaho Public Television. She notes all the space reporters have. One whole end of the field has been cordoned-off just for media. There are tables for computers, two platforms for cameras. Meanwhile, the audience stands below - and in some cases - behind the press.

Davlin: And you notice to that in the press area they give preference to the national media. So it's not even about the Boise community or the Idaho community. The goal is to get the president's message, from what I understand, out to the national audience as a whole. So it is kind of a media event.

Cotterell: On one level, it’s obvious. The President of the United States doesn’t travel across the country to speak to a few thousand Boiseans. He travels across the U.S. to speak to the whole country with Boise as the backdrop. But by and large, those who are here, seem to be okay with arrangement.

It is after all, a rare moment when the President of the United States is focused on their city, their university.  And of course, their football field.

Obama: In Idaho, the only Blue Turf is on your field.

Cotterell: So if Obama’s message was for the nation, not his Boise audience, what did the nation end up hearing? They heard that Boise State is much more than its famous football field. The national audience yesterday heard a message about innovation, hands-on learning and technology that's helping the local economy. 

Obama: Some of your faculty and students are working with next generation materials like Graphene. Which is a material which is thinner than paper but stronger than steel. It's amazing. And the work you do here is one of the reasons Boise is one of our top cities for tech start-ups.

Cotterell: It was a message delivered, of course, by none other than the President of the United States.

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio