Palin camp limits media from her own supporters
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Political rallies are usually ideal for reporters to chat with party activists, but the campaign of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin took an unusual step by appearing to limit access to her supporters.
About 20 seconds into an interview I attempted with Brent McDonald, 52, I was stopped by a Palin campaign worker in mid-sentence. “The press is not allowed out here,” she said.
I asked why. “I”m just telling you what they are telling me,” she replied.
A St. Petersburg Times reporter wrote that a campaign worker said that in the past negative things had been written. “The campaign wanted to avoid that possibility Monday,” the reporter wrote on the newspaper’s “This Just In” blog.
In my case, I thought there might be an easy explanation that had little to do with media control. As a Reuters correspondent, I typically travel in what is called a “press pool” — a group that sticks closely to the candidate and rides in the motorcade. We go where the candidate goes.
The “pool” is searched or “swept” by the Secret Service in the morning. Once that’s done, protocol requires we generally don’t mix with the public. That means staying clear of the big throngs at rallies. Otherwise, we’ll need to be searched again by the Secret Service — a tricky task when a motorcade is about to tear out of a rally.
But on this ocassion, I made it clear to Palin’s campaign that Clearwater was my last stop. There was no need to “sweep” me again. I wouldn’t be traveling with the pool for the remainder of the day. That freed me to mingle with the crowd.
So, I continued in my attempt to interview McDonald, who was starting to explain that his family were Democrats but that he was going with the Republican ticket.
“I can trust them. McCain fought for us and it’s pretty hard not to trust a woman who is a mother of five,” he said. But as he was about to launch into another thought, a second Palin campaign worker interrupted us, asking me to leave the area.
I jotted down McDonald’s name and was ushered into an area gated away from the main group of Palin supporters.
The crowd, estimated by police at around 5,000 people, feted the 44-year-old self-described “hockey mom” like a rock star. The crowd was especially enthusiastic in an area that was tightly organized with one section of supporters all dressed in blue shirts, another in red, and another in white. Standing together, they formed a human American flag.
Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank reported that some Palin supporters at the Clearwater rally turned on reporters in the press area, shouting abuse after Palin blamed CBS News anchor Katie Couric’s questions for her “less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.”
“Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, ‘Sit down, boy’, Milbank wrote.
– Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Szep (Palin supporters with their outfits form a U.S. flag behind the stage)