Janesville stories arise from Ryan media storm
JANESVILLE Many stories emerged from Janesville in the past week as dozens of reporters converged on the city to learn more about the hometown of Paul Ryan, who was announced Aug. 11 as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate.
At the same time, the swarm of national and international media made and left behind their own stories in what normally is a quiet southern Wisconsin city. Here are some of them:
Up-tick in business, intrigue
Some downtown businesses have seen an up-tick in business and intrigue as national media have staged productions and interviews downtown.
While reporters use the color of Janesville’s Main Street to paint a narrative of Paul Ryan, downtown business owners are basking in the attention.
Joni Bozart, who owns Carousel Consignments in downtown Janesville, said several national news reporters and television producers came in to her shop to browse.
Some snapped up pieces of General Motors memorabilia. Bozart said a few of the television producers said they planned to use the curios as props to paint a picture of life in Janesville.
One customer, Bozart said, was Fox News commentator Greta Van Susteren.
Van Susteren was in Janesville to get live interviews from Janesville residents on Ryan’s nomination for her show, “On The Record with Greta Van Susteren.”
Bozart said Van Susteren, who is a Wisconsin native, bought an interesting item: a life-size cutout of Brett Favre.
“She was in and out pretty fast, and you could tell she knew exactly what she came in for,” Bozart said. “It was pretty cute.”
Appetite for publicity
Next door at 29 South Cafe, owner Angela Collas said she’s lost track of the reporters and crews who have come pouring in for lunch and to stage interviews.
Collas said her cafe, which is across the street from Ryan’s Janesville office, has been frequented by production crews for Fox News and reporters from the Los Angeles Times, to name a few of the media outlets.
One TV crew filmed her and her staff at work in the kitchen.
Collas said Ryan’s family are “great customers” who come into her café regularly. For the record, Paul Ryan’s usual order at 29 South is healthy, sensible and no-frills, Collas says: It’s turkey burgers and fruit. No French fries.
Tony Huml, a friend of Ryan since grade school, was first interviewed by The Gazette on Saturday. That started a deluge of calls from all over.
“Let’s think,” he said Tuesday, his voice sounding a bit hoarse. “Sunday was CBS national, CNN, The Daily out of New York. Yesterday was ABC national, CNN, there were two CBSes, too. And then I’ve got a call from Reuters and then the AP. And tonight, the Spanish newspaper.”
Huml said Tobin Ryan, Paul Ryan’s brother, asked if it was OK if Tobin gave reporters Huml’s name as a childhood friend.
“Certainly, I said ‘Yes,’” Huml said. “But it’s tough to put a different spin on the same story. How long is this going to go on?”
He said the interest from people all over the world has surprised him.
“I will say, a couple of times, they wanted to hear something spicy,” Huml said. “I don’t have anything spicy.”
Don’t tell Bob
The national media descended upon Janesville with familiar story lines, including an interview with one of his teachers—did he throw spitballs in class?—and recollections of neighbors—did he cut across your lawn on the way to school?
Van Susteren adopted the city. She brought her show to Janesville and broadcast live from the Craig High School gymnasium.
“The first thing I thought when I was asked to be on her show was who would be appointed to tell Bob Suter a cable news show was using his floor for a stage,” said Stan Milam, a veteran reporter who has covered Ryan since his first congressional race in 1998. Suter is a retired Craig basketball coach who was known for his concern about and care for the gym floor.
“I didn’t have much time to think about it,” Milam continued, “because I was off to Cost Cutters for a trim and application of forming cream.”
Milam, who graduated from Craig when it was known as Janesville Senior High School, got a taste of national media when the Van Susteren crew asked if they should send a car to bring him to Craig.
“I’ve had teachers and administrators ask me to leave the premises but never an offer to send a car to escort me to the school,” he said. “I told them I could find the place.”
Milam described the experience as “40 minutes of boredom followed by three minutes of frightening uncertainty.”
He must have done OK because Van Susteren asked him to do a Main Street Janesville piece that was to air Friday as part of her special on Ryan.
Most famous prom queen
Heather Crandall Gwaltney has heard reports that her picture has been in the most unlikely places, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Inside Edition and many websites.
She’s the one standing next to Paul Ryan in a high school picture.
“We had that picture taken for The Gazette, and it was just advertising the prom was coming up, and we were the prom king and queen,” she said Wednesday.
“Who knew, 25 years later … ”
Her kids say she is famous, said Gwaltney, who lives in Virginia Beach. She said she responds, “I’m not famous. Paul is famous. I’m just the nameless person next to him in the picture.”
Gwaltney wasn’t prepared for the spotlight, although she did get a call from a journalist last year when Ryan floated his budget and became a household name.
“I thought that was odd and random,” she said.
The photo first showed up when Ryan was Time magazine’s runner-up for Person of the Year.
“It’s too funny,” she said, but added the publicity makes her a little nervous. The only reporter she called back works for her hometown paper.
Gwaltney hasn’t talked to Ryan for 20 years.
She gets angry when she sees references to the fact he was called a “brownnoser” in the school yearbook.
He wasn’t a brownnoser; he was just really likable, she said. He could converse with everybody and had a level of maturity.
“He’s a nice guy,” she said. “Everybody liked him.”
The pair did not actually date, she said. He was class president so was automatically king, and she was class secretary.
“I was a safe choice,” she said. “We just went as friends and had a fun time.”
She doesn’t remember Ryan dating anyone in high school.
“His dad passed away in ’86,” Gwaltney said. “He would have been a sophomore, and he just had a different perspective than most of us on reality.”
“We’re proud of Paul, and I’m sure all of Janesville has the same perspective,” she said.
“He’s stayed rooted. He’s one of us.”
Really? $2 shoes?
Terry Moss on Monday was still fretting about talking to a reporter last weekend from USA Today.
She is a neighbor of Janna and Paul Ryan and wasn’t prepared for the deluge of reporters roaming the area over the weekend.
She and her husband were outside when a USA Today reporter stopped by.
She was mortified when her comment about Janna Ryan’s $2 shoes from Goodwill showed up in media all over. Janna Ryan’s fashion sense is of hot interest, and the $2 shoes were a tasty tidbit.
The article also said the Mosses were Republicans, and Moss said they never discussed that.
After that, WGN Radio from Chicago called, along with the Washington Post and the Miami Herald. Then, the couple simply said: “We hold them (the Ryans) in the highest esteem, and that’s all we were going to say.”