McCain Campaign Restricts Press Access
By Michael D. Shear
PITTSBURGH -- Welcome to the new John McCain press strategy.
McCain today held a 10-minute press conference, complete with podium, microphones for the questioners, network-quality audio and a camera for a local television station, which allowed CNN to carry it live.
And where was the national press corps?
Sitting on the runway 27 miles away, having been ferried to McCain's charter plane, totally unaware that a press availability was about to take place until one of the handful of "pool reporters" sent an e-mail alert.
The reporters frantically fired up their cellular modems and logged on to CNN.com to catch the end of the press conference, unable to ask any questions. The handful of reporters there asked about the FISA terrorism bill, Iran and about McCain's pledge to balance the budget.
McCain's schedule for Wednesday included a note about a "gaggle" with the pool reporters, but nothing indicated a live press conference. The tactic was a first for the McCain campaign, which
basically shrugged when asked about it.
"He took a couple of questions at the end of the tour from the pool. This will happen occasionally," responded Jill Hazelbaker, the communications director for the campaign.
The Republican presidential nominee has built a reputation for his access to the press, famously inviting the national press corps to gab sessions on the back of his "Straight Talk" bus during the 2000 and 2008 primary campaigns.
National reporters still get some access; in fact, the campaign promises some time with the candidate later today as the campaign bus rambles from West Virginia to Portsmouth, Ohio.
McCain gathered several reporters at the front of the plane while traveling in South America last week.
But that access has been whittled away as McCain became the nominee. The Straight Talk is reserved now as a carrot for local reporters, leaving the national press corps on a charter bus trailing behind.
The new approach may reflect the growing influence of the newly-powerful Steve Schmidt, a top adviser and protege of Bush political guru Karl Rove, who was famous for his desire to control the press's access to his candidate.
Schmidt now has operational control of the day-to-day activities of the campaign and is no doubt responding to criticism about a lack of message discipline by the McCain campaign.
Posted at 12:02 PM ET on Jul 9, 2008
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