- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2008

UPDATE:

Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign decided to jettison The Washington Times, the New York Post and the Dallas Morning News from the Democrat’s campaign plane, insisting the expulsions were due to lack of seats and not because all three newspapers endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain for president.

The campaign said it ran out of room on Mr. Obama’s Boeing 757 because more reporters and photographers from his hometown newspapers — the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times — were coming aboard, as well as reporters from black-oriented magazines Ebony and Jet and the candidate’s wife, Michelle Obama, and her Secret Service bodyguards.

Other campaign staff said space was tight because TV network news celebrities were joining the trip and the HBO documentary film crew recording the final leg of his historic run for a project by actor Edward Norton joined the plane Friday.

“Unfortunately, demand for seats on the plane during this final weekend has far exceeded supply, and because of logistical issues, we made the decision not to add a second plane,” Obama campaign senior adviser Anita Dunn said. “This means we’ve had to make hard and unpleasant for all concerned decisions about limiting some news organizations and in some cases not being in a position to offer space to news organizations altogether.”

The campaign said The Times reporter will be off the plane as of Sunday. Separately, the campaign also denied a request from a Times photographer who has traveled on the plane previously.

The three banished newspapers are known for their conservative editorial pages, which operate independently of news departments. According to Editor & Publisher, Mr. Obama leads Mr. McCain in newspaper editorial-page endorsements by a 2-to-1 margin.

The Obama campaign, defending its decision, noted that some news outlets critical of the Illinois Democrat kept their seats on the plane, including Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. The foreign press corps, which is more interested than ever in the U.S. election, also was not allowed on the Obama plane.

Spokeswoman Linda Douglass said the changes on the plane had “absolutely nothing” to do with the organizations’ coverage.

The Obama campaign said it was unable to answer The Times’ questions about which news organizations would be traveling with the candidate or how many reporters and photographers from other newspapers would be aboard the plane. The only campaign staff with that information were on the plane and not readily available to comment, Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

About 64 reporters, photographers and members of TV news crews were traveling with Mr. Obama as of Thursday night, according to campaign.

The Obama campaign told The Times last week that a space crunch was expected in the last days of the campaign and that it was likely to bump The Times at some point, possibly as early as Oct. 27. The campaign moved back that date through this week to enable The Times to stay on the plane, but a final decision to expel the paper Sunday was communicated on Thursday and a final appeal rejected that evening.

The Times editorial page endorsed Mr. McCain over Mr. Obama on Tuesday.

Mr. Obama racked up endorsements Oct. 16 from the Sun-Times and Oct. 17 from the Tribune, with the latter endorsing a Democrat for president the first time in the paper’s 161 years. Ebony magazine, which had never previously endorsed a presidential candidate, came out Oct. 9 for Mr. Obama, as did sister publication Jet.

The Washington Times Executive Editor John Solomon vowed that his newspaper would not be deterred from covering the Obama campaign “fairly and fully” for the final days of the race. He said reporters would fly commercial jets and drive as needed instead.

“I hope the candidate that promises to unite America isn’t using a litmus test to determine who gets to cover his campaign,” he said. “This feels like the journalistic equivalent of redistributing the wealth. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars covering Senator Obama’s campaign, traveling on his plane and taking our turn in the reporter’s pool, only to have our seat given away to someone else in the last days of the campaign.”

News organizations typically pay campaigns the cost of traveling with the candidate.

Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan said his paper, which endorsed Mr. McCain on Oct. 8, was “happy to be on the outside looking in.”

“It’s what makes the New York Post special,” he said. “We are not in the news business to be liked.”

The Times protested the decision, noting that it has one of the top 20 most-trafficked newspaper Web sites in the country, distributes its print edition in the key battleground state of Virginia and has had its stories repeatedly cited by Mr. Obama and other Democrats throughout the campaign, including McCain adviser Phil Gramm’s comment about Americans being “whiners” and the nation being in “a mental recession.”

But the Obama campaign would not reverse its decision, instead offering space on the plane with Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Bob Mong Jr., editor of the Dallas Morning News, said his paper was “informed last week there wouldn’t be room.”

“We protested, we continue to protest. We believe that a paper of our size and stature ought to be on the plane. We noticed that they allowed some friendlier media on the plane,” Mr. Mong said, though he added that he could not prove the Obama campaign acted in reprisal for his paper’s McCain endorsement, which came Oct. 18.

The McCain campaign blasted the decision to selectively exclude members of the press.

“The least-transparent and the least-vetted candidate in history is now the least accessible — not surprising,” McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

The Obama campaign said providing a second plane would limit the number of rallies it could hold. The McCain team has added a second plane to carry extra reporters who could not fit on “Straight Talk Air” in the campaign’s final days. Both President Bush and Democrat John Kerry provided second planes in 2004.

The McCain campaign also has been criticized for barring unsympathetic members of the media from its plane, including two prominent liberal columnists — Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and Joe Klein of Time, who told Politico last week that he had been blocked from both the McCain plane and that of the vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Other news outlets, including the blog site Think Progress and The Washington Post, reported that a top McCain adviser threatened to oust Newsweek magazine’s reporter from the campaign plane because of an unflattering story.

Mr. Bounds said those situations are not comparable.

“Antagonistic opinion columnists are nothing like the hard-working reporters that regularly cover our campaign,” the McCain spokesman said. “It’s an apples and oranges comparison.”

Christina Bellantoni, traveling with the Obama campaign, and Tom Ramstack contributed to this report.

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