Add to My Yahoo!

Aides to 'straight talk' McCain won't be questioned by critical reporters
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday July 8, 2008

Print This  Email This

Update: McCain issues non-denial denial to call-screen charge

Back in 2000, when John McCain was building his reputation as a straight talking maverick, he became famous for his lengthy freewheeling rap sessions with reporters aboard his campaign bus.

Of course, that was before the blogosphere revolutionized the media landscape, when the only journalists who could get that kind of access to a candidate worked for major papers and networks that could foot the hefty travel bills.

Eight years later, the Democratic campaigns adapted to an era where anyone with a laptop could report on a campaign, and they opened daily conference calls to virtually anyone with a question, from NBC News and the Associated Press to RAW STORY and Talking Points Memo (at least a few crank callers got into the mix as well).

McCain's campaign seems to be keeping a much tighter yoke on its daily press calls. David Corn, a Mother Jones correspondent and frequent antagonizer to Hillary Clinton's advisers, outlines the evidence that McCain's team takes conference call questions only from friendly reporters.

When a reporter calls in for a conference call, he or she is asked by an operator to provide his or her name and media outlet. Then when it comes time for questions, there is a long pause--long enough for someone in the campaign to select whom should be called on. This has caused several journalists who have participated in these calls to wonder: is the McCain campaign screening reporters, and, if so, on what basis? A reporter for a progressive media outlet says that he has tried at least half a dozen times to ask a question on a McCain conference call and has had never been selected.

The same has happened to me. No matter how quickly I press *1, I'm never afforded the opportunity to pose a question. During a June 27 McCain campaign call with former Republican Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift (who was deriding Obama for holding a unity rally with Hillary Clinton at Unity, New Hampshire), I raised my hand, electronically. Two reporters were called on--one from AOL News, the other from the Tampa Tribune--and then the McCain aide hosting the call said, "Seems we are out of questions," and ended the call. My hand was still up.

The easy suspicion is that McCain aides are playing favorites and are not as enthusiastic about confronting tough questions as their boss. During a July 1 McCain campaign call featuring Senator Lindsey Graham and Orson Swindle (who was a Vietnam POW with McCain), only two questions were taken--both from conservative bloggers....

At least Corn has the opportunity to listen in fruitlessly. On at least a half-dozen occassions over the last several months including again on Tuesday, RAW STORY has requested to be included on McCain's press distribution list, only to be ignored on every occassion. It's unclear if this has anything to do with it.


The McCain campaign never returned Corn's or our requests for comment Tuesday, but they did talk to Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent

McCain spokesperson Brian Rogers tells me that the first time the McCain campaign hears the questions that are asked on the call is when the entire call-full of reporters hears them. "No one knows the questions before they're asked," Rogers said. "No one hears the questions before they're asked."

But are the questioners permitted to ask a question -- or blocked from doing so -- based on the news org they're affiliated with? "You've been on the calls," Rogers replied. "We take on all comers."

Sargent goes on to note that TPM reporter Eric Kleefeld has never been able to ask a question on the calls, despite numerous attempts.

Corn is unsatisfied with the explanation. Whether the McCain advisers hear the questions in advance, which Rogers denies, "is not the issue," Corn emphasizes, noting that the McCain spokesman refused to give a straightforward denial that the campaign screens its conference calls.

"All in all," Corn writes, "not a very convincing denial from the McCain campaign."