The Darwinian Free Food Hierarchy
Pretty much any asshole can get some kind of credential to get into a political convention; a look at the press room can tell you that. It's a low bar. Which is not to say that the RNC organizers are fools.
The powerful, the influential, and the rich are treated to their own parallel convention of exclusive, invite-only events held off-site, with catered food and good booze. The top tier media establishment is invited to those as a matter of course. The bottom tier media that just squeaked through the credentialing process is stuck in the convention center, where three crappy snack bars (and, in a serious breach of standard pseudo-event protocol, no free food at all) are the only choices. Everybody else who wants a decent meal is hustling to get into the CNN Grill: where schmoozing schmoozes schmoozily.
If I had to describe the CNN Grill in one short sentence I would say, "CNN totally built an entire huge ass restaurant and TV studio and bar right in the parking lot of the Tampa Bay Times Forum where there was none before which probably cost them roughly one bazillion dollars, and you have to get a separate credential to get inside there, and everybody wants one because guess what, all that food and booze is free and not even bad."
So at 5 p.m. each day, when the private parties have wrapped up, and if CNN PR has put you on the list, you can get your own credential and be welcomed into what is basically an upscale TGI Friday's with tons of huge televisions and Wolf Blitzer, in person, in the back of the room. And you, the hardworking journalist, can sit there and order dinner and beer and "work" on the free wi-fi all night if you want to, and as you reflect on how much nicer this is than the shit show in the press hall or in the convention forum itself, the subconscious feelings of love towards CNN infiltrate your brain, just as they want, bwahahahaha. Cobb salad and Greek yogurt with fruit and pulled pork an barbacoa tacos and IPA ale and fruit tarts for dessert? That will be zero money, for the hardworking press.
This shit is all free.
It is totally possible for a professional journalist to get his news organization to pay to fly him to Tampa and put him up in a hotel only to have him file all of his convention reports from a table in the CNN Grill next to a supersized CNN television wall, while eating free chicken wings, without ever setting foot inside the actual convention area.
The only bad part was when you go out to smoke you have to listen to half-drunk banking lobbyists tell off-color jokes. Nobody said journalism would be easy, though.
If this was sponsored by Halliburton or something you'd feel dirty, but since it's CNN you're pretty much, "Eh."