The McCain campaign is attempting to do
something unheard of in the modern political era. It is not just
running against the mainstream media, it is running around it.
This strategy is not so much expressed in McCain campaign manager
Steve Schmidt's declaration last week that the New York Times is "150
percent in the tank" for Democratic Sen. Barack Obama or the
media-bashing by several speakers at this month's Republican National
Convention. It's more about the GOP's continued sheltering of its vice
presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
She has yet to hold a major press conference 32 days after McCain
announced her as his running mate - and that's not changing anytime
soon. McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb said Palin will do at least one
news conference before election day. That could mean that the person
who could potentially lead the free world will have done one national
press conference before being sworn into office.
The Democratic vice presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has given more
than 89 national and local interviews over roughly the same period of
Other than TV interviews with CBS anchor Katie Couric, ABC anchor
Charlie Gibson and conservative Fox News commentator Sean Hannity,
Palin hasn't engaged the press. The effort to shield her is so intense
that when she met with foreign leaders in New York last week, the
campaign initially would only allow photographers near her.
"I don't think the campaign is doing her any favors by not letting
her answer any questions," said PBS political editor Judy Woodruff, who
has covered politics for 30 years for CNN and PBS. "If she's elected
vice president of the United States and were she to succeed to the
presidency, she needs that interchange with journalists. The American
people have a right to know what does she know and how does she think."
"The media needs to continue to say, every day, until she has a news
conference, 'When is she going to have a news conference? Why isn't she
having one?' I just find it astounding," Woodruff said. "I think the
media has a responsibility to continue to point out that this is unlike
any presidential or vice presidential candidate in memory. She has been
more bottled up."
When television news outlets threatened not to run any images of
her meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai on Tuesday unless
reporters were allowed in as well, the campaign allowed CNN - which was
providing the pool report for the event - inside. Briefly. According to
the network, "CNN's producer and other photographers were allowed in
the room for just 29 seconds."
'Free Sarah Palin'
Last week, The Chronicle began a "Free Sarah Palin" campaign on its
Politics blog, documenting the continuing lack of access to the
candidate. The effort was echoed by CNN host Campbell Brown, who called
on "the McCain campaign to stop treating Sarah Palin like she is a
delicate flower that will wilt at any moment."
"This woman is from Alaska, for crying out loud. She is strong. She
is tough. She is confident. And you claim she is ready to be one
heartbeat away from the presidency. If that is the case, then end this
chauvinistic treatment of her now. Allow her to show her stuff," Brown
said. "Free Sarah Palin."
The real loser in this game of hide-the-candidate: voters. Palin
was not well-known outside of conservative circles before the campaign
chose her. Polls, including one taken by the Pew Research Center, taken
over the past few days show that Palin's approval rating has dropped
since she was nominated.
"The lack of access is potentially damaging in the eyes of the
voter, because they are trying to get to know the candidate," said Paul
Dimock, associate director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for
People and the Press. Palin is especially vulnerable because voters
know McCain, Obama and Biden better, he said.
"The McCain campaign has discovered it has a major problem," said
Carol Jenkins, president of the Women's Media Center. "Increasingly, it
has become clear that she doesn't have a grasp of the issues. If I were
John McCain, I'd be doing the same thing with her."
But Jenkins said the campaign doesn't have an incentive to give the
media more Palin face time. "If there is anybody more despised than
Congress, it's the media."
So what can the media do? Jenkins said they shouldn't have given in
to the campaign's demands last week during Palin's New York visit. "At
some point, the media has to stop cooperating with the campaign."
Friday, syndicated conservative columnist Kathleen Parker had seen enough of Palin - and called on her to withdraw.
"Palin's recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity and now
Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident
candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League," Parker wrote at the
National Review Online.
"Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood.
Cut the verbiage and there's not much content there," Parker wrote. "If
BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself."
But other news executives say what the McCain campaign is doing is not that unusual.
"All politicians go through a stage where they want to minimize how
much they are exposed to the media," said Paul Friedman, vice president
of news at CBS, the network that scored one of the three major Palin
interviews. He shrugged at what could be learned in a news conference
that couldn't in a one-on-one interview. "I just don't think it is that
cosmic of an issue. We'll see more of the candidates soon. Just wait
for the debates."