The headline on Archibold’s piece read, “Democrats Seek Louder Voice From Edwards.” If the Times grasped the irony in the premise, it didn’t let on. After all, here was the country’s premier newspaper — which, as much as anyone, controls the visibility of candidates by deciding what merits coverage and what does not — running a story about prominent Democrats wondering out loud about why exactly Edwards had become invisible.
The Democrats named in Archibold’s story blame Edwards’ lack of a “national profile” on a failure of strategy: Edwards has not been utilized properly, is not attacking enough. The Edwards campaign blames the press itself, particularly its preference for controversy and attack. (Mark Kornblau, who heads Edwards’ traveling press staff, complained to Campaign Desk: “At this point, things are often not judged as news unless they are highly confrontational and borderline offensive. That’s why Vice President Cheney has been in the news so often.”) In turn, the press blames lack of access to Edwards himself — a candidate is less likely to crack the front page if he’s not even available to field questions.
“[Edwards] doesn’t do press conferences,” Archibold said. “Since Labor Day he’s come back once to our area of the plane, to give a cake to a departing reporter.” (The airline attendants on the Edwards plane said they’d never seen the candidate go back to the press section). “Sometimes after an event [Edwards] gives statements,” Archibold said, echoing the complaints of several other reporters on the campaign plane, “and we fire questions at him, and he walks away.”
According to Archibold, there are some “heavy hitters” who have been granted quality time with Edwards lately. He pointed to NPR’s Nina Totenberg who interviewed Edwards last week for her own “where has Edwards been”-themed piece. Asked if the New York Times and the Washington Post — both represented on the Edwards plane — were not “heavy hitters,” Archibold offered that it is more about the seniority of the reporter than the news organization: the Times’ Nagourney would be more likely to get access than Archibold; the Washington Post’s Dan Balz would get access before Matthew Mosk, who has recently rotated on to the Edwards plane for the Post. (Mosk told Campaign Desk he was struck by how “skeletal” the press contingent was when he joined last week. On Tuesday, half of the very expensive seats in the press section of the Edwards plane were vacant.)
What would have to happen in Pittsburgh for Edwards to make the next day’s front page? Archibold explained: “Major shifts in campaign message are likely to come from Kerry, not Edwards. The VP candidates, by nature, are JV. It’s harder for them [and hence for Archibold] to crack the front page.” And then, affirming both Kornblau’s point and that of the various Democrats Archibold had quoted fretting about Edwards, Archibold said: “Cheney has been able to [get on the front page] by saying some pretty controversial stuff.”
Archibold’s “Louder Voice” story bred copycats. NPR, as noted above, ran its own “Where’s Johnny?” segment last week. As the Edwards press buses rolled toward West Virginia on Wednesday, the Dallas Morning News’ Colleen Nelson checked in with her editor to provide an update on her own in-the-works version of “Is Edwards being used effectively?” And, she told her editor excitedly, “The rumor on the bus is there might be some sort of press availability or ‘on-the-record’ something today. If [Edwards] does talk to us I should write about that because it would be unusual.” (Turns out, no such “press avail” took place).