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Press Ban at the Press Club

It takes a certain amount of nerve to have an event at the National Press Club and then ban the press from covering it.

It takes another level of chutzpah entirely to admit members of the general public to your event at the National Press Club, recruit a news organization as the co-sponsor and then tell the press they can't cover it.

But that's exactly what former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe and Georgetown University did yesterday.

Plouffe was listed as the keynote speaker at the luncheon yesterday for "Transition 2009," sponsored by Georgetown University and Politico. The public was invited to the event -- students free of charge and everybody else for a fee. But at the last minute, Georgetown announced that Plouffe's speech would be "closed press," even though the speech was being given in the National Press Club ballroom, described on a plaque at the door as "the sanctum sanctorum of American journalists."

Read the whole Sketch here. And for excerpts from David Plouffe's "Off-the-Record" speech, continue reading this post.

Plouffe on the primary campaign:
"We got into this very late without a lot of planning. In many ways that benefited us."
"We didn't spend a lot of time thinking about our odds of winning the nomination because they were so low."
"We did not underestimate how strong Senator Clinton was."
"If we won Iowa, we had a chance, but only a chance, to reset the campaign."
"We had a very narrow electoral strategy."
"Barack Obama started out with less than 10,000 e-mail addresses."

On Iowa:
"What we did in Iowa is we had to reshape the electorate."
"We organized every high school in Iowa. We called them Barack Stars."
"If you got twelve high school kids to caucus for you, you change the math, you win delegates."
"On caucus night, the number of people under 30 who caucused was the same as those over 65. We didn't know we could get that high. Remarkable statistic."
"In Iowa, we were just trying to increase African American turnout by 1,000 people, that was it."

On New Hampshire:
"We thought we had to win New Hampshire."
"Our sense was if we won Iowa, that would be enough to shoot us past her."
"It was very strange."
"The first night we took the lead was the Sunday before. We were clearly ahead."
"I think we made some mistakes.... We should have found a way to remove the pressure to win. (Clinton made) really infuriating attacks.... We should have dealt with them.... If we had done that, I think we would have won."
"It's the craziest atmosphere in American politics.... We probably should have said enough, and we didn't do that."
"Because the coverage was so focused on Obama is going to win, McCain and Obama were competing for independent votes. Because the Republican campaign was seen as much closer... we had a lot of independents who that day told us we're going to the Republican primary."
"I think people needed to see him struggle with something -- how did he bounce back from a sure thing... We were probably better off for losing."

On Super Tuesday:
"It was a day we lived in fear of for 18 months."
"She wins New Jersey, an enormous state, and not by a small margin, by about 10 points, she netted 12 delegates. We won Idaho, a tiny state, by 50 points and we netted 13 delegates. So when people ask me about the primary, I say, 'All you need to know is Idaho and New Jersey, Feb. 5.' "
"The first time I thought Barack Obama was going to be the Democratic nominee was not the night we won Iowa or the night we won South Carolina. It was about 3 a.m. on February the 6th because we had dodged a bullet. Then we won eleven states in a row. Really by Feb. 17, mathematically, the night of the Wisconsin primary, it's over. We had to endure three and a half months of pure hell before we secured the nomination."

On later primary states:
"The biggest mistake I made in this campaign: Texas. We lost the primary. If we had handled that two-week period differently, we might have been able to win the Texas primary, and the primaries would have been over."

On technology:
"We used the Internet as a central way to move message. We had hundreds of thousands of people who signed up to be rapid responders. So when John McCain's attacking us on Bill Ayers, and other silly issues, those people were sending out the facts."

On the general election:
"I think the central electoral piece that's essential to remember is the expansion of the electorate."
"Barack won all three presidential debates; that's never happened before."
"Probably the most important 72 hours of the campaign... were McCain's suspension of his campaign right up through the presidential debate. One was steady, one was not... From that point on, people saw McCain as more unsteady and erratic. He was never really able to dig out of that."
"The only two states we contested that we lost were Montana and Missouri."
"Because we were such a big underdog, we were willing to take risks and see things that might not be apparent at the moment.... To completely reshape the Iowa electorate. To win states like Indiana and North Carolina and Virginia. To not be as bothered about day-to-day coverage in the mainstream media. What mattered in those 15 states was what happened that day.... We could evaluate every day: How did we do? We talked to 25,000 voters today in Florida; what was the breakout in terms of ID who are the undecided.... That's how we viewed the campaign."
"What we were focused on... was really not what was coming out of the coverage every day, and our candidate was very good about it."
"The McCain campaign was much more focused on putting ads out to dominate cable chatter for a few hours.... That was never what we thought was important."
"You put out a snarky TV ad or something controversial, that's all NBC, CNN and Fox are talking about, but that's not how you win elections. I think that discipline paid off."

On e-mail lists:
"By the end, we were getting thousands of e-mails every day."
"For those of you on the e-mail list, you saw we sent out a couple of videos from the president (on the stimulus). I think that was impactful. Support for that spiked six or seven points in the last week.... We sent the videos out because people were hungry for more information from him about the stimulus."

On winning over Clinton voters:
"We had the Bush agenda up against the Obama agenda, the Democratic agenda, and a lot of those people are going to come home."

On Hispanic voters:
"McCain was attractive to the Hispanic community."
"We tended not to do a lot of tailored messages. Maybe nuanced."

On early voting:
"Election Day is really a misnomer these days. It's really Election Month."

On volunteers:
"Half of the people who gave us money or volunteered had never done so before in a campaign. Think about that. It's a remarkable statistic. Half had never given a dollar, never given an hour, to a political campaign."

On Sarah Palin:
"Vice presidential picks rarely but sometimes make an electoral difference. Our view was it probably wasn't going to matter that much. It's the most over-covered story in politics. This was the one exception to that. It did have an effect."
"She was our best fund-raiser and organizer in the fall."
"Those (celebrity) ads really hurt McCain. We just sat back and said he's doing huge damage to himself with independent women voters. When you coupled Palin to it, it was explosive and really destructive."
"I do think she helped him with turnout in some states."
"The night of Palin's speech, we raised $10 million online."

On 2012:
"No one's focused on that. I mean seriously."
"Given the times we're focused in, he's not going to focus on that at all. He can't."

By Dana Milbank  | February 13, 2009; 12:00 AM ET
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Good job, Dana.

It is always surprising and impressive to see how you have found a way to pursue journalistic ideals of objectivity and speaking truth to power in this strange world we now live in, where it sometimes seems that nearly everyone else from the "old" and "new" journalism has lost his or her bearings, and few still believe that a journalist should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, of both parties.

From time to time you have annoyed me, and I won't rehash the specific cases here. This is not one of those times. You did a good job.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | February 13, 2009 12:05 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Milbank. I have lost complete respect for you. I actually agree with at least some of your stand as to the appropriateness of Plouffe's groundrules at the National Press Club. But I learned in HIGH SCHOOL journalism class years ago that one of the first rules a good reporter should follow is not to become part of the story. In this case, you not only did not heed that advice, you trashed it. You gleefully have made your face prominent in this story and that is utterly unprofessional. Unfortunately, you along with some of your fellow cable roundtable regulars seem to feel as if you belong to some elite and priviledged group It's as if you are in love with the idea of your own celebrity. In fact, you come off as a self important clown. You may have some good points but its hard to take you seriously when you continually behave in this manner. If I ever have the chance to teach a class on journalism, I will use this story as an example of how not to do things. And I'm sure it wont take a 17 year old to figure out why. You should be ashamed of yourself. Somehow, I expect you lack the capacity to do so.

Posted by: nysteveo2 | February 13, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Dana lost respect for you, Your little tool, without Olbermann your no one !!!

Posted by: apgarcia53 | February 13, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse


If you're stupid enough to talk to Milbank, ir possibly any Washington Post "reporter" --


Posted by: livin_n_the_city | February 13, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

dana, one of the most enjoyable thing i've read this year. This is right out of Borges or Calvino. Would love to see u back on Countdown.

Posted by: twshen5 | February 13, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

"But I learned in HIGH SCHOOL journalism class years ago that one of the first rules a good reporter should follow is not to become part of the story."

Have you ever read a Milbank piece before? This is part of his schtick. He's part reporter, part columnist, part press activist, part comedian, and all satirist. If you don't like it, don't read it.

Posted by: Left_of_the_Pyle | February 13, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

While I am aware of his "schtick," he represents himself as a legitimate investigative reporter always jumping onto some CNN show with a controvesial scoop that is wrong as often as not. The FOXification of the media prefers the news to be more entertaining and not so informative because information is boring. Milbank may not be the cause but he is certainly a pure example of the problem. And if you don't like the criticism I offer towards him, don't read it.

Posted by: nysteveo2 | February 13, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Nice job, Dana. The problem is with the venue and you are right to point out that the press club is the LAST place that should be blocking access to the press. Incongruous and ridiculous. Shame on Mr. Plouffe. Shame on Georgetown.

Posted by: KimberlyDuffey | February 13, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Dear WP readers,
it's a much different story about how hard is the everyday life in the old Europe. Take a look at this:

Posted by: orbanklan | February 16, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

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