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10 Plus 1: In The Wake Of The Midterms, Capitol Hill Producer Allison Davis

(Allison Davis)
We spent a day with Capitol Hill producer Allison Davis a few months back to get an idea of what it's like covering the Hill. She's been at CBS for five years now, and began as a page for the "Evening News." These days, it's all politics all the time – and there's been no shortage of that sort of news recently. In the aftermath of the midterm elections, Allison agreed to be our "10 Plus 1" subject this week. So here are some of her impressions on covering events that appear to be more political posturing than reality, why she'd like to see more stories that follow the money and why the power of the picture is occasionally one of the more frustrating elements of her job.

What do you do at CBS News?

Scandals, folly (or Foley, if you will), and the never-ending thrill that is the legislative branch! But, according to my resume, I cover Congress as a member of our Capitol Hill team for all avenues of CBS News. On most days, I scramble around the Capitol building, chasing down members of Congress, conducting interviews, covering hearings and attending press conferences. There's also a lot of required reading and research; from marquee legislation to cleverly hidden earmarks, I try to cover all our bases, reporting on stories that either originate or eventually wind their way through Congress. My work primarily aides the reporting of our CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
It is hard to choose just a "single" issue. As somewhat of a political junkie, I love in-depth stories that take a more critical look at exactly what Congress does with our tax dollars. For every infamous "bridge to nowhere" or a $10,000 toilet, there are literally hundreds of special projects—earmarks, as they're called in legislative lingo—that sail through Congress without much to do. I also believe personality drives politics, and always love a good profile piece on the many, many characters that make up the little universe that is Capitol Hill.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
The scene behind the scenes is usually the most amusing (or frustrating) part of my day. During the latest round of summer gas hikes and the inevitable national obsession that accompanies such a story, I attended a Republican "press conference" at a gas station situated no more than nine blocks from the Capitol. The Republican leadership including Speaker Hastert and a number of members were showcasing two alternative fuel vehicles. At the end of the so called "photo op," Hastert started to walk away, at which point one of his staff members ushered him back over to the alternative vehicle, removed a staffer, and gently forced Hastert into the front seat of the car. The whole scene seemed so awkward that I decided to follow them. The driver of the alternative fuel car took the Speaker and his small entourage about three blocks into the surrounding neighborhood, dropped off the Speaker at his running black suburban (which, let's just say, is NOT an alternative fuel vehicle). Hastert switched cars and was driven back to the Capitol in his black tinted suburban. It's all about the picture, right?
Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
I must admit, Republicans tend to have better culinary experiences at their events. So, I've contemplated objecting to a Democratic assignment from time to time but thought better of it later. And, yes, this could be problematic now that power has shifted.

Honestly, there are times when I cover certain political events that are more propaganda than news. You have to shift through the BS, but it is all part of the political process and you never know what might happen so sometimes, despite our better editorial instincts, it's better (or easier, depending on the circumstance) to send a camera and cover our bases.

If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I'd love to be a travel photographer or a photo-journalist. It is my favorite hobby – passion (obsession?) really... and I should carry my camera around more often! After I graduated from college I spent 30 days driving from California back to New York City where I made every effort not to drive on the interstate and I stayed in various bed and breakfast places across the country taking only black and white pictures. Many years later I am still sorting through those photographs. But now all I get a chance to take are photos of our dog. As a side note, Sen. Patrick Leahy is quite the photographer. He carries a camera all the time and has some pretty amazing records of historical moments.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I read Mediabistro to kind of keep up on our business. The one problem with political or Congressional blogs is that they really are not held accountable. It is an unfortunate place for rumors to start – especially about elected officials. But, I admit, they can be a hell of a lot of fun. I also read a variety of newspaper and Hill publications online.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
My husband and I started watching the classic movies again – "Philadelphia Story" is a favorite and I loved watching "His Girl Friday" because, as a journalist, it's still relevant today.
What is your first memory of TV news?
This is probably not the right answer as a CBS employee but I have vivid memories of my mother making dinner in the kitchen with Tom Brokaw's voice in the background. I distinctly remember watching as the Berlin Wall fell. My mother is still a bit of a news junkie so, to this day, I get frequent calls giving "recommendations" about what we should cover and what's not necessarily the news.
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
The pay. Just kidding. Unless you want to increase my pay.

Okay, well, if that's out, then in my current beat, it is always a challenge to be so driven by the power of the picture - or more specifically the notion that if a member of Congress did not say something on camera it basically did not happen. There are very specific and ridged rules in the Capitol building about where you can and cannot have a camera and time and time again I will be part of a gaggle of reporters where a certain Congressman or Senator will say something newsworthy or politically interesting and since it wasn't on camera, it doesn't work for our purposes.

Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
Fascinating? So many politicians can be fascinating. I loved watching Sen. Barack Obama at the Democratic Convention in 2004. He really came into his own on such a national stage. McCain, especially because of his history, is always fascinating and frank. We actually attended the same high school – Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va. It was especially interesting to watch Senator John Kerry, secret service in tow, on the cusp of the presidency, return to the Senate as one of a hundred.

Jerk? Well, that honor can be divided 435 ways on most days. No, not really. Let's just say that in the profession of journalism, like any other job or vocation, there are good days and bad days; fortunately, the good days (and good people) outnumber the bad in most cases.

Finally, a question just for Allison: What, if anything, do you think was missing from CBS News' election coverage?
Well the correct answer, of course, is nothing. And I would like to give a big shout-out to the Senate Desk on election night – did you see those graphics?

Seriously, I would have liked to see more from the headquarters of the key races to add some more color - as we put it – to get a better sense of the mood.


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