NEW YORK — For better or for worse, each of the four candidates comprising the Democratic and Republican tickets made headlines Tuesday. But one of them, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, did so without uttering a word to the voters or the press.
While presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama each held press conferences where they addressed the Treasury Department’s $700 billion rescue plan for the financial markets, and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden continued to make news with his awkward remarks, Palin continued to sidestep the media to an almost unprecedented degree for a national campaign.
Perhaps as a result, Palin’s meetings with foreign leaders Tuesday were nearly marred by stories chronicling her campaign’s brief standoff with reporters over access to her pre-meeting photo ops.
Palin, who has not held a single press conference since McCain announced her as the Republican vice presidential candidate, in the past week has held only one rally on her own, and has ditched her print press contingent to make an ice cream run with her family andto pose for staged photos with foreign leaders.
The shielding-Sarah-Palin strategy — which otherwise allows for lots of photographs and information about her attractive, young family, combined with occasional rallies — has worked well so far for the Alaska governor. She continues to energize the Republican base and draw considerable press attention despite never actually taking reporters'nettlesome questions. But there are increasing signs that the effectiveness of the unusual gambit may be waning.
After dominating the political headlines each week since McCain added her to the GOP ticket, Palin fell behind http://www.journalism.org/node/12900 both McCain and Obama in the percentage of campaign news stories between September 15 and 21 in which she was a significant or the dominant factor, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The economic meltdown likely had something to do with that. But the policy of keeping Palin under wraps may have also played a role. If nothing else, it has fed an unflattering, emerging positing that her unwillingness to face tough questions is because she is not quite ready for prime-time.
In the latest example of the extreme efforts to keep the press at bay, the campaign Tuesday sought to bar a Wall Street Journal reporter and a CNN producer from the small “pool” of journalists allowed to cover the grip-and-grin photo ops before Palin went into closed-door meetings with foreign dignitaries and international policy experts and advocates.
The reporter and producer were to have represented all the print reporters and television producers, respectively, that followed Palin’s campaign. Their written summaries of the so-called “pool sprays” – events where journalists can snap photos and film footage and possibly shout a question or two — would be fed to other journalists following Palin.
The campaign’s original reasoning in barring the journalists had been that Palin wasn’t going to take questions or make any statements at the sprays, so the sprays were only appropriate for photographers and cameramen.
The campaign eventually reversed its decision to limit the pool, but only after CNN threatened to withhold its camera crew from filming the pool sprays.
Later, the campaign only slightly offset negative coverage of the imbroglio by sending reporters an email promising “a little color for background use from today.” The details – that Palin’s husband Todd took their three youngest children to snap pictures of the Statue of Liberty, to Ground Zero and to F.A.O. Schwartz, where their 7-year old daughter Piper “enjoyed trying on some princess dresses” – were featured far less prominently in most news reports story than the standoff with reporters and descripions of her thin foreign policy credentials.
The McCain campaign believes Palin has been treated unfairly by the press, but it denies it’s shielding her. Aides assert that her popularity on the campaign trail makes that a better forum for her.
Rick Davis, a top campaign aide, in a Monday conference call, pointed to a Sunday afternoon Palin rally in central Florida that drew the largest crowd showall of any single Republican event this cycle. Crowd size was estimated from 23,000 to a harder-to-believe 60,000.
“If anybody ever asks us to make a choice between seeing 60,000 people at a rally on the I-4 corridor in Florida or spending an hour with a reporter,” Davis said, “I don’t imagine we’d have many questions about what we’d rather do.”
After the Florida event, Palin left behind the print reporter “pooler” designated to follow her – but not the pool camera crew – as she, Todd and their three youngest children sped off in their motorcade to a Cold Stone Creamery ice cream parlor.
Footage captured the Palins being greeted by cheering supporters and mingling with customers without the uncomfortable presence of reporters shouting questions at Palin. The campaign later sent them an email detailing the flavors of ice cream each ordered.
“Piper had Oreo Overload. Willow (14) had Birthday Cake Mix (sic). Todd had chocolate with peanut butter. Gov. Palin also had Birthday Cake Mix (sic).”
The flavors did not appear in many accounts of the Palins trip to Florida.
Amie Parnes and Victoria McGrane contributed to this report.