Campaign Press, Engaged

LAT trail reporters dish on the candidates

The LA Times has twin front-page stories today chronicling a reporter’s life on the road with the each of presidential candidates. (Heavy on “a reporter’s life.”)

From the Times’ Maeve Reston we learn that “McCain was frank, garrulous and accessible — and then he wasn’t,” starting sometime around when Reston asked him “if he agreed with his advisor Carly Fiorina’s recent statement that it was unfair for some health insurance companies to cover Viagra but not birth control — because McCain generally opposed those kinds of mandates” and his “awkward” response turned into “an embarrassing ‘gotcha moment’ for cable television.”

Pre-Viagra-question McCain, writes Reston, “was unguarded and charming, occasionally solicitous about our lives.” (He used to ask us about us.)

For example? Back then:

One winter afternoon when Cindy McCain joined him and he was stuck with three newly engaged reporters, he gave us a 10-minute treatise on honeymoon spots…. For several months, he would often lean in and ask the same question: “Did you set a date yet?”

And, now?

Tape recorder out and within a foot of him, I asked if he could talk about his new economic plan, which he was to unveil that week. The man who once asked me about my wedding date returned my gaze with a stare, shook the hand of the strangers to the right and left of me and continued out the door.

The man who once asked about my wedding date was now pretending my wedding date didn’t even exist.

There’s a tale of (engagement) engagement, too, in the Obama piece (headline: “Obama rarely reveals true self”). That time when, as the Times’ Peter Nicholas writes, “I tried to wrest from Obama some display of personality” (this being what Nicholas’s campaign trail mission has, given the candidate’s distance and elusiveness, apparently been reduced to; or, in Nicholas’s own words: “Those of us who were sent out to take his measure in person can’t offer much help in answering who he is, or if he is ready. The barriers set in place between us and him were just too great.”). But, back to that engagement. Per Nicholas:

Amy Chozick, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was wearing a new engagement ring. I told Obama’s staff members they should send him back to take a look. A few minutes before takeoff my seatmate, Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, nudged me: “He’s coming back.” I looked up and there he was, hovering over Chozick, clucking about her “rock.”

He turned to our row. Just for fun and to see what he might say, I held out the $200 wedding ring I’d purchased four years ago at a chain jewelry store in a Sacramento mall.

What do you think of this ring, Senator? I asked.

He looked at it for a few beats. No reaction. He was back in robo-candidate mode.

Too bad that Obama didn’t “cluck” over— or even react, at all — to Nicholas’s ring. If only so Nicholas might have learned something about the candidate from the exchange. But surely something can be gleaned, some conclusion can be drawn, from the whole “rock-clucking” thing? (Other than that more than one campaign reporter seems to have become engaged during election 2008 — absence does make the heart grow fonder? — not that they’d expect the candidates to make a big fuss about it or anything, beyond, you know, weekly check-ins on seating arrangements). Maybe the lesson is that Obama doesn’t hold grudges? Amy Chozick is, after all, the reporter who wrote that “Could Obama’s Skinniness Be a Liability” story in which she trolled for people who might say yes on a Yahoo! message board. Or, maybe, that Obama doesn’t read the Journal at all? Or…?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.