- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2008

DEVELOPING STORY:

The Washington Times, N.Y. Post and Dallas Morning News — three newspapers that recently endorsed John McCain — have been kicked off Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s plane in the final days of his campaign.

The Obama campaign informed The Washington Times Thursday evening of its decision, which came two days after The Times editorial page endorsed Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama. The Times editorial page runs independently of the news department.

“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 reporters’ pool, only to have our seat given away to someone else in the last days of the campaign,” said Washington Times Executive Editor John Solomon.

News organizations pay campaigns for the cost of traveling on the candidate’s planes.

Read The Washington Times’ editorial on the endorsement of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain.

Obama spokeswoman Linda Douglass said the changes on the plane had “absolutely nothing” to do with the organizations’ coverage, an explanation echoed by Obama advisor and communications chief Anita Dunn.

“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. 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,” Ms. Dunn wrote in an e-mail to The Times Thursday night.

However, the Politico reported Friday that political considerations also were part of the decision. Bill Burton, another Obama spokesman, said the seat shuffles were an effort by the campaign to “reach as many swing voters as we can.”

Swing voters aren’t likely to change results among The Dallas Morning News’ Texas readership or the New York Post’s audience, but The Washington Times is widely read in Virginia, a battleground state where the race could still break either way.

“The Times won’t be deterred by the Obama decision from continuing to cover the campaign fairly and fully for the final days,” Mr. Solomon said. “Its reporters will fly commercial and drive to keep its coverage of Obama complete.

“I hope the candidate that promises to unite America isn’t using a litmus test to determine who gets to cover his campaign,” Mr. Solomon said.

Times reporter Christina Bellantoni, who has covered the Democratic campaign since 2007, was first told of a possible shortage of seats on Saturday, but was permitted to continue to fly this week.

The Times’ McCain endorsement ran Tuesday, and Ms. Bellantoni was informed Thursday evening that she would not have a seat for the final 72 hours starting Sunday.

In defending its decision, the Obama campaign said it respected Ms. Bellantoni’s reporting and simply ran out of seats on the campaign plane for the finale because of high demand. It also noted that the Obama campaign is allowing some news media critical of the Democrat to travel, including Fox News.

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