Sarah Palin Has Yet To Meet The Press

When political junkies flip through television stations on Sunday morning, they'll find policy-driven interviews with three of the four candidates on the presidential tickets — John McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They won’t, though, see Sarah Palin.

Less than two months before voters hit the polls, Palin has yet to sit down for or even schedule an issues-oriented interview with any newspaper, magazine or television network.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign has significantly scaled back the access of the national press he used to jokingly refer to as his “base,” and several speakers, including Palin, took shots at the media in their speeches at last week's Republican convention.

Since her debut in Dayton, Ohio, the McCain campaign has been receiving about 80-100 requests a day from news organizations around the world, according to spokesman Ben Porritt, who said interest in an interview was "through the roof" and that the campaign was going through them now.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the McCain campaign would like to run out on the clock on this," said David Chalian, political director for ABC News.

He expects the campaign will tightly manage access to Palin, but give some national interviews shortly before the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate with Biden, moderated by PBS' Gwen Ifill.

"They know they're not going to get through the next 60 days without doing interviews and being tested and prodded," Chalian said.


But even if Palin does submit to a few carefully selected interviews around the October debate, that means another month before the 37-million-plus viewers who tuned into Palin's speech and others get their first look at how the newcomer to the national stage performs outside of a campaign-controlled setting.

In the meantime, Fox News is rolling out a special (as are other networks): "Gov. Sarah Palin: An American Woman," a one-hour biography hosted by Greta Van Susteren that includes "exclusive video and photos" and "interviews with her family, friends and colleagues" — but not Palin herself.

Palin has already become a ubiquitous presence on newsstands. Presently, her face adorns the cover of traditional newsweeklies Time and Newsweek, Beltway favorites The New Republic and The Weekly Standard, and even celebrity glossies Us Weekly and Ok!.

While everyone from the New Yorker to CNBC has rushed to republish their older interviews with the Alaska governor, it's People magazine that has the only actual interview she’s done since joining to the ticket.

Larry Hackett, managing editor of People, said the McCain campaign offered the magazine an opportunity to photograph McCain and "Nominee TK" at the Aug. 29 event in Dayton.

 

In addition to a brief Q&A with both Republicans (as well as their spouses and McCain’s daughter Meghan) and an accompanying article that was mostly based on months-old reporting, the magazine also ran a lifestyle feature on Palin’s life as a working mother running a statehouse and her own house.

People has a long history of reporting on the personal side of candidates and their families, but Hackett acknowledges that "we have a different job" than overtly political titles.

"Are we going to ask about Pakistan?" Hackett said rhetorically, adding that it's not a focus for their readers.

That said, journalists are pushing hard to ask Palin about Pakistan — and Iraq, Iran, Russia, North Korea and Al Qaeda, not to mention a host of domestic issues, from the economy to health care.

Jay Carney, Time's Washington bureau chief, questioned McCain spokesperson Nicole Wallace about the lack of access on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last Thursday, resulting in a heated exchange that quickly got passed around via YouTube.

"We know now that Sarah Palin can give one hell of a speech," arney said. "She's a natural. And that's no mean feat. We don't know yet and we won't know until you guys allow her to take questions, you know, can she answer tough questions about domestic policy, foreign policy?"

"But I mean, like from who?” Wallace asked. "From you?”

When Carney answered "Yes," Wallace followed up with, "Who cares?

"I think the American people want to see her," Wallace continued. "Who cares if she can talk to Time magazine?"

Later that day, Carney — who last week had a much-buzzed about interview with McCain in which the candidate became testy, and refused to answer some questions — told Politico that the McCain campaign is acting "condescending and smug" toward the press.

"The national media," he added, "will be kept far away" from Palin.

They may be at once close and far away. Top newspaper reporters will be on the trail with her day after day, including The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin. The New York Times will have a rotating cast, beginning with Monica Davey.

And each network will have an off-air producer, or embed, devoted to the Palin beat: Matt Berger (NBC/ National Journal), Shushannah Walshe (Fox), Imtiyaz Delawala (ABC), Scott Conroy (CBS), and Peter Hamby (CNN). The bigger-name, on-air correspondents will also be on the road with Palin from time to time.

Sam Feist, CNN's political director, said that since Palin has had to focus on regional issues as Alaska's governor, he expects she'll begin with media avails on the road and only offer wide-ranging interviews after getting thoroughly prepared for them by the campaign.

However, he said, "if a presidential candidate or a vice presidential candidate declines to do interviews, the news organizations will note that."

Even when Palin does begin taking interviews, it remains to be seen if she’ll grant them to outlets with which the campaign has had a hostile relationship — most notably the New York Times.

"There's no question that we've had less and less access to McCain himself," said Richard Stevenson, the paper's political editor. "Certainly the Times has had a strained relationship with that campaign for a while."

"Strained" might be putting it mildly.

Since February, when the McCain campaign talked about going to war with the paper over a front-page article that included allegations of an improper relationship with a female lobbyist, there have been several public disputes. This past Tuesday, a McCain spokesperson described Elisabeth Bumiller, one the reporters on the McCain beat, as a "fiction" writer.

"I know whether or not they cooperate with us, we will be very actively looking into who [Palin] is, what she's done, what her record is — as much as we can learn about her in as concentrated a time as we can," Stevenson said.

"One of the costs to them of not putting her out there," he added, "is the coverage is going to define her as much as the campaign."
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