Press Excluded from Biden Meeting: What Are They Thinking?

Woe hen Governor Sarah Palin, the GOP vice presidential nominee, engaged in her whirlwind tour of heads-of-state earlier this week, the McCain campaign sought to exclude reporters — but not photographers and television cameras — from being in the room. By doing so they expressed a total lack of confidence in Governor Palin to perform appropriately on the world stage, totally undermining any political benefit from the photo opportunity. Instead, they handed the Obama campaign a gift: it wasn’t the “left-wing media” or political opponents undermining their vice presidential candidate — it was Senator John McCain’s own campaign doing the damage.

One might expect Senator Barack Obama’s campaign to keep the story alive as long as possible, emphasizing the difference between Governor Palin and the Democratic party vice presidential nominee, Senator Joe Biden.  Senator Biden’s foreign policy credentials comes from long experience, proven expertise and bi-partisan respect, not meaningless proximity to a desolate portion of Russia.

One might expect the Obama campaign to emphasize this difference, but that’s not what’s happened. Instead, when Senator Biden held a meeting with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashivli today in Wisconsin, reporters were excluded from the room — but not photographers and television cameras. The reason, according to the Obama campaign and as reported by the Associated Press, is that “It’s a private meeting between the senator and a head of state.”

So what? Last month Senator Bident and President Saakashvili met in Georgia in the aftermath of the Russion invasion of the country. Maybe the campaign was thinking this was simply a continuation of that meeting. Senator Biden is, after all, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This would take the meeting out of the realm of politics.

No way. Senator Biden is running to be Vice President of the United States. If this was a private “official” meeting, exclude the photographers along with the reporters. If there’s a photo opportunity, reporters should be allowed in the room as well. It’s all or nothing.

Instead, the Obamacampaign gives the McCain campaign a “get out of stupid decisions free” card. When criticized for excluding reporters from Governor Palin’s meetings with heads of state, all the McCain campaign needs to say is, “Senator Biden does it, too.” In one act, the Obama campaign turned a major snafu by the McCain campaign into just another example of business as usual.

A spokesman for the Obama campaign noted, accurately, that the “transparency between the Biden campaign and the Palin campaign is worlds apart.” Unlike Governor Palin, who campaigns in a bubble through which few unscripted moments are allowed to pass, Senator Biden is accessible to the public and the media. That speaks highly of Senator Obama’s selection of Senator Biden as his running mate. And it reflects poorly on Senator McCain’s selection of Governor Palin.

That may be true, but by imitating the McCain campaign’s handling of reporters during photo opportunities, the bama campaign diminishes the relevancy of that difference.

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McCain Campaign Undermining Palin: Is There a Reason?

Senator John McCain’s campaign is quick to attack anyone who dares questions Governor Sarah Palin’s qualifications — or the lack of them — to serve as Vice President and, potentially, President. Yet they seem intent to underscore the concern in ways that are insulting to the Governor.

Consider the latest fiasco. In an attempt to burnish her foreign policy credentials, Governor Palin is holding private meetings with foreign leaders today and tomorrow. For instance, today she’s met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Columbian President Alvaro Uribe today (she’s scheduled to meet with former Secretary of State henry Kissinger later, too, but he only sounds foreign). Tomorrow she and Senator McCain will meet with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Ukranian President Viktor Yuschenko.  Back on her own again, Governor Palin is expected to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talbani, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

This is an impressive group of leaders from countries in the thick of current international concern and crisis. The McCain campaign will no doubt trumpet the meetings as proof that the Alaskan Governor has the mettle to deal as an equal with world leaders. By attempting to keep reporters (but not cameras) away from Governor Palin during these meetings, however, the Republicans are undercutting their candidate’s credibility.

According to the Associated Press, the McCain campaign barred most reporters from her meeting with Afghan President Karzai. They invited cameras in, but even tried to deny entry to a television producer with a notepad (he was eventually allowed into the suite). The photographers and cameramen were ushered out so the Governor and President could have a private conversation, so what was the McCain campaign scared about?

Photo sessions are often used by reporters to ask questions of the participants. And the McCain campaign has kept Governor Palin under a carefully controlled, near total press embargo. She’s done two interviews, both relatively soft. (The one with Fox News was an embarrassing love fest with Sean Hannity fawning over the GOP running mate. ABC’s Charles Gibson didn’t even give Governor Palin a hard time for claiming foreign policy credibility because Russia is visible from parts of Alaska).

In the roughly four weeks since being selected as Senator McCain’s running mate, those are the only two press interviews Governor Palin has given. There’s been no press conferences. No quick question and answer sessions before or after her speeches. No questioning permitted during photo opportunities like those taking place today and tomorrow.

It’s insulting. It’s insulting, and bordering on sexist, because it implies Governor Palin is unable to handle herself in front of the big, mean media crowd. It’s insulting to the American people because this woman is seeking the second highest office in the land. We deserve to hear her speak without a script, without the interference of her handlers, and with those, unlike Mr. Hannity, who want to learn about her political philosophy and beliefs, not just marvel at how fresh and different a politician she is. Who knows, maybe she’d talk to someone who would challenge her on supporting the Bridge to Nowhere and the pork barrell financed Bridge to Wasilla?

The McCain campaign is trying to have it both ways. But if Governor Palin is qualified to be Vice President, she’s qualified to meet the press. If she’s not qualified to be Vice President, then Senator McCain needs to explain why he selected her. The McCain campaign’s actions speak louder than their words (or their photo opportunities). They need to demonstrate that Governor Palin can not only meet with friendly world leaders, but that she can handle a sometimes hostile national press.

By preventing Governor Palin from taking questions from the media, the McCain campaign is communicating that it doesn’t believe she is up to the job she’s been nominated to fill.