Plenty of meaty topics for political reporters to probe as Sen. Obama prepares to travel across the pond and beyond. The New York Times tucks right in:

[T]he regulars on the Obama campaign plane will have new seatmates: star political reporters from the major newspapers and magazines who are flocking to catch Mr. Obama’s first overseas trip since becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The article goes on to expore why Obama will be accompanied by Everyone Who’s Anyone in Journalism while McCain attracted mostly just the regulars on his last journey to Baghdad — the Obama campaign has courted the high-profile travel partners and, as the senior vice president of CBS News, Paul Friedman, said:

If this were John McCain’s first trip to the war zone, that would be a story and we would cover it big time. This is Senator Obama’s first trip — his positions and the public’s perception of him on national security issues are important.

In other words, we already have plenty of images of McCain in protective gear in Baghdad. Yes, there is video of Obama’s first “first trip” to Baghdad, back in 2006, when he was just a senator rather than a senator who is also the (must I still say “presumptive”) Democratic nominee for president, but that’s footage with Chuck Goudie and the I-Team of ABC7 Chicago (the only reporter who tagged along back then). And, as the campaign well knows, the “public’s perception of [Obama] on national security” hinges on having footage of him in Baghdad…being interviewed by ABC’s other Chuck. As for covering Obama’s “positions on national security issues,” that’s obviously not something that can be done from home, on a regular basis, sans photo-ops, or even by the regular guy on the campaign plane.

Another reason why Katie Couric is right now packing her bags? More from that CBS exec:

Mr. Friedman said Mr. McCain and the Republicans had helped make the visit a bigger story because they had repeatedly questioned Mr. Obama’s credentials…

Which might help explain why the press is purporting to closely examine “Mr. Obama’s credentials” (although, if “Mr. McCain and the Republicans” told you to jump off a bridge….?) but doesn’t explain why that requires A-List Anchor Tagging Along On Overseas Trip.

So much straining to explain; none of it becoming. Yes, please, cover the candidates’ foreign policy plans and credentials. But don’t think that sending the VIPs overseas for a few days and a few photo-ops suffices.

UPDATE: Howard Kurtz explains:

The plan is for Williams, Gibson and Couric interviews to be parceled out on successive nights in different countries, giving each anchor a one-day exclusive. (Correspondents could have done the interviews instead, but a certain competitiveness sets in once one or two anchors agree to go.)

Also:

Obama has “proven adept at generating excitement,” says David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio. He said the anchors hope “a little bit of that excitement will rub off on their newscasts if they can convey an American phenomenon abroad, if that’s what it turns out to be. Senator McCain is not as magnetic a figure in that way.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.