The perils of covering a comic convention are not as apparent as, say, the perils of sending a reporter to the battlefields of Afghanistan.
And yet there are perils indeed—especially when a reporter is looking to get an unapproved interview from Star Wars legend Carrie Fisher.
This is the hard lesson Vice reporter Nick Gazin learned when he was physically accosted during his coverage of the Dragon*Con convention in Atlanta in September. For much of the five-day event, Vice was left alone. But when Gazin attempted to interview Fisher backstage without advance permission from the convention organizers, tempers flared and Dragon*Con officials got physical.
In a video segment posted to Vice’s website today, Gazin is seen approaching Fisher, introducing himself as a reporter, and requesting an interview (his overtures are met with initial skepticism in part because of Gazin’s outfit—a gold unitard, jockstrap, sunglasses, and leather jacket). Fisher eventually agrees to talk and proceeds to answer a few of Gazin’s questions before an unidentified woman intercedes and shepherds her away. “Please don’t ever do that again,” the woman says. “That can be all sorts of legal shit you can get thrown for. You always ask.”
The real fireworks, however, take place afterward when Gazin and his production team are seen interviewing two unrelated convention-goers. “Shut it down,” scream two people—who Gazin later identified to Adweek as the volunteer heads of media relations at the convention, Dan Carroll and his wife Robin—as they approach the Vice team.
The Carrolls proceed to grab at Gazin and at Vice’s production equipment and yell loudly for hotel security. “It was like being mugged,” Gazin says of the incident. “You don’t know how to react.” Gazin concedes that the area in which his team tried to interview Fisher was private but says that media had access to the space.
Reached for comment, Dan Carroll sounded a remorseful note. "What happened was completely inappropriate," Carroll said by phone. "All I intended to do was remove [the reporters' badges] I will let Dragon*Con make decisions about where we move from here." The chairman of Dragon*Con, Pat Henry, condemned the behavior of his press liaisons for accosting reporters with force, but he says Vice shares some of the blame as well. “[The Vice production team] told me at the time they knew what they did was out of bounds. Had my [media] guys not been inappropriate, I probably would’ve pulled their [press credential] badges. Foul on both sides here.” Police were summoned, but after discussing the incident in a back room with Henry, the Vice team was let go, and Gazin was ultimately allowed to cover the rest of the convention.
But what does Vice founder Shane Smith think of his reporters getting manhandled on assignment? “I’ve been arrested in my last three shoots. . . . I was just detained in Siberia. We’re used to getting arrested at Vice.”