It was meant, Choi told me before it happened, to embarrass Reid, to expose the Nevada Democrat to the liberal crowd as having failed to fulfill his promise. Choi received his discharge papers on Thursday, a year after he came out on The Rachel Maddow Show in defiance of DADT.
And yet, here is how what happened between Choi and Reid was reported by CBS News:
"He earned his ring," Reid said. "I'm going to give it back to him."
Choi joined Reid on stage and gave the majority leader a hug. Audience members shouted at Reid to keep the ring until "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed.
"When the bill's signed, I'll keep it safely and then give it back to him," he said.
And the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Choi jumped onstage to give Reid a hug and his West Point class ring. Reid said he would return it after Obama signs away "don't ask, don't tell."
And on and on it went across the media.
So how did an effort to embarrass Reid turn into something of an emotional triumph for him? Let's go to the videotape:
As you can see, both the R-J and TPM had factual mistakes, TPM being the oddest because they provided this YouTube (that's where I got found it!) and showed their own readers that Choi never gave Reid the ring or papers at all.
Yet when Reid went all I'm-not-worthy and tried to give it back to Choi, there was so much noise and clatter (not heard quite as well on the video) that there was no way to successfully clarify for Reid that he had actually been dissed, not honored. McCarter made no effort to fix the confusion, either. And then Reid announces that, OK, he'll keep it until he could return it after DADT ends, and the audience erupted in admiration and emotion.
There was nothing left for Choi to do at that point but to hop on stage, embrace Reid's gesture and hope it would actually mean something. But make no mistake he's still pissed, telling me for AOL News afterward: "I find it very difficult to understand any kind of senator or leader who would make a promise to the LGBT community and, because of whatever fears are latent inside of this person running for re-election or unable to show the leadership to manifest the American promise, we're still getting fired."
Except you know what? The message was loud and clear. It was unambiguous, the media reported it exactly as it was intended and it provided striking visuals. Mission accomplished.
Choi's protest at Netroots on Saturday? Not so much. It was nuanced and complex, it was so easily misinterpreted that even the person Choi wanted to embarrass didn't get it. And in the end, the media got this warm moment of Reid and Choi embracing, and the idea of boiling into a soundbite everything I've written here was absolutely impossible. Mission failed.
There is another example of protesters being too clever by half at the same session Saturday. Four Hispanic activists donned black graduation caps and gowns and stood in the front row as Reid answered questions about immigration reform, which he has also not managed to advance in any meaningful way. The students wanted to call Reid's attention to support for the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship or permanent residency for undocumented students who came to the US as minors, graduated high school and have lived here for 5 years.
I have yet to read a mainstream media account other than my own about that protest. It was just too subtle. Reid didn't even react to it -- it's possible he didn't even notice -- and the press found it far to confusing to summarize even if they understood it at all.
What would have worked? Well -- and I'm not recommending these, just making an observation here -- some really raucous shouting. Someone rushing the stage. Something dramatic and visual and unambiguous. All of that would have gotten the point onto the evening news loud and clear. And, yeah, it would have pissed off a lot of people at the event.
But in a way, Saturday was a useful lesson in the art of protest. These didn't work. At first I blamed the media, but when I realized I was about the only one in the MSM who got it right, it dawned on me that it wasn't my colleagues' faults. Had I not been forewarned by sources of what was about to take place and why, I probably would have interpreted it very similarly.
Choi-Reid photo credit: Queerty.Com