The press election

If Obama ends up with the nomination, we’ll have a contest between two candidates who have received extremely favorable press coverage (although scrutiny and skepticism of both McCain and Obama does seem to have increased — a bit — in the past week or two). One factor in a McCain-Obama election could be whether or not they are able to sustain the relatively positive coverage they have gotten so far, McCain by disarming and charming reporters with his openness, and Obama by wowing them with his cool charisma and the excitement he spreads among crowds. If they will be fighting for gentle coverage from the press corps as well as fighting for voters, then I can’t help but wonder whether it’s wise for Obama’s campaign to make reporters use port-o-potties and corral them behind metal fences:

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.

Reporters are only human, and they don’t like to be boxed into pens or made to use port-o-potties more than anyone else does. This treatment hasn’t seemed to hurt Obama’s coverage yet, but if his traveling press contingent is herded like dumb cattle from now until November, while McCain’s traveling press gets to sit around and shoot the breeze with John for hours in the front of his plane or the back of his bus, then I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing it reflected in the coverage to some extent. The press turns on almost everyone at some point — one job of a campaign, it seems to me, is to try to postpone that moment as long as possible.

I can see reasons for keeping the press at arm’s length, as Obama does. And I can see reasons for keeping them close, as McCain does. But treating them like livestock seems counter-productive — you don’t want to get on the bad side of people who have big egos and direct lines to hundreds of thousands of voters’ eyeballs.

And if Clinton is the nominee, well, God help us — her campaign seems to have lost all credibility with the press a long time ago.

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