EDINBURG, Texas – For all the positive press Barack Obama receives, as he moves closer to clinching the Democratic nomination he is establishing himself as the candidate who keeps the most distance from the national media.
Reporters covering Obama can no longer move freely among the thousands of zealous supporters at his events — unless the reporter receives a staff escort through the security gates. (In one city, that meant using a port-o-potty outside because the route to the indoor plumbing ran through the crowd.)
And the traveling press corps has been shut out of monitoring Obama’s satellite interviews with local media outlets, which is a normal practice on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.
On top of that, the traveling media has been tussling with Obama aides to keep conversations with the candidate on his campaign plane on the record.
In any other campaign year, the media strategy might not raise eyebrows since it is standard practice for a front-runner. But this is a year when the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, has set a new standard for press accessibility, creating a potentially stark general election contrast between a reticent Democrat and the most accessible GOP nominee in decades.
Watch out, Barack — tell us what we want to know, or you will have a “stark general election contrast” to deal with!
Obama has received grudgingly ambivalent coverage throughout the campaign because he 1) presents himself frankly, humorously, and sometimes intelligently, as opposed to a latter-day Lady Macbeth; and 2) does not have any real dirt on him.
The press, especially CNN, ABC, and Fox-Drudgico, loved Hillary because, besides the fact that her weakness makes her easier to control, her advisers are devout acolytes of the “news cycle” “image management” school of politics: the candidate’s popular standing is all about the best possible connotations in the headlines. Which means they are all about sucking up to reporters, giving them what they want plus a few extra scoops, offering lavish expense accounts, and so on.
The Obama campaign treats the “image management” school of political consulting as half scam, half kabuki. They have never treated MSM reporters respectfully — which is a great thing. With reporters it’s all about openly extrapolating from something completely irrelevant — eg the stunningly ridiculous “Obama in Somali dress” boomlet — wondering about how this will be reported by a critical mass of the reporters themselves, and how many dumb hoi polloi will be subsequently misled. The internet has revealed to ordinary news junkies the pointless, self-referential nature of the entire process. The MSM has lost its power — and the Obama campaign knows it. Hillary’s campaign doesn’t.
It’s also true that press conferences with national media tend to veer into areas that do not necessarily underscore the campaign’s message of the day. The focus is often not on issues like the economy or health care, but on process and punditry, which campaigns loathe.
“The questions that seem to dominate now are superdelegates, pledged delegates, Florida and Michigan,” Gibbs said. “I just don’t know that they provide a tremendous insight into the type of president” he would be. …
Around the Super Tuesday primary elections on Feb. 5, the barriers around the press area at Obama events went from easily penetrable, fabric rope lines to interlocking metal gates manned by vigilant gatekeepers.
Bottom line: The media can no longer roam free.
For months prior to that, reporters could mingle among hundreds of supporters after rallies as Obama worked the rope line. It was a chance to see him interact with voters – and one of the few opportunities to squeeze in a question.
But camera crews and reporters often clogged the rope line, which annoyed Obama because he viewed it as his time to meet voters. Foreign TV crews would sometimes do stand-up shots there.
Now, reporters must usually flag down a staff member before entering the rope line area.
An outrage! An outrage!!