a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Presidential campaigns in a democracy don’t work this way

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 24th, 2008

Every night now, my 10 year old asks me, “has Sarah Palin done anything stupid today?” And every night — except for the “war with Russia? like, whatever” interview with Charlie Gibson — I have to answer that Ms. Palin hasn’t done anything at all, really.  As days have turned into weeks and Palin has yet to face a press conference, the McCain campaign has succeeded in prolonging her honeymoon with the right wing base, and controlling the terms of her coverage towards precisely the kind of “celebrity” status they once derided Obama for.

That’s why there’s some glee in the leftish blogosphere about CNN’s refusal to go along with a completely transparent ploy for free air time.  CBS News reporter Scott Conroy reported that hours before a Palin grip-and-grin with her first pair of foreign leaders (Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe), Palin’s aides notified CNN that while the TV coverage pool and CNN video cameras were welcome, the CNN producer wouldn’t be allowed to be at the proceedings. As Conroy explained:

This means that the McCain/Palin campaign would get the benefit of free pictures of Palin’s meeting with world leaders without having to face the possibility that the candidate might have to answer a question from the media.

CNN threatened to pull its coverage, leaving Palin invisible for another day — and the McCain/Palin campaign relented, allowing a a producer to attend the so-called “photo spray.” The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen was pleased — maybe a little too easily pleased — with the pushback:

Good call. The McCain campaign’s overbearing handlers are panicked at the notion of a candidate for national office hearing an unscripted question for which she has not been prepped. As a result, they want the benefit of the images, without the risk of embarrassment. As it turns out, presidential campaigns in a democracy don’t work this way.

Sure they do — McCain’s has so far. Several points: (1) “democracy” had nothing to do with the result Mr. Benen applauds; Ms. Palin merely ran afoul of CNN company policy. (2) What’s more, the decisionmakers involved would have instantly changed their minds if the event had been too juicy to pass up.  And finally, (3): the CNN producer, Peter Hamby got all of 29 seconds of access time, in which he was able to hear Mr. Karzai explain his son’s name to Ms. Palin, and apparently was unable to ask any questions.

As this MediaMatters video (“Change the Debate”) demonstrates all too clearly, the major media have accomplished nothing substantial in this election campaign other than to embarrass themselves and the country. If CNN, CBS, ABC et al are wondering how it came to pass that they’d be asked to be publicity cameramen for a nincompoop mayor from Alaska, they need only look in the mirror.

Still, as it turns out, Mr. Benen has a point after all: presidential campaigns in a democracy don’t work this way.  At least not for us.

UPDATE, 9/26: Well, I’ll finally have something to tell Maddie again; it appears that Ms. Palin has shown how extremely stupid and/or deer in the headlights and/or talented a word salad maker she can be in that Katie Couric interview.  The Editors at the Poor Man Institute have two clips of the interview and one useful comparison.

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