Becky Diamond

Since September, 35-year-old Becky Diamond has been on the campaign trail (plane, bus, rental car) covering Sen. John Kerry for NBC News and MSNBC, contributing reporting and video footage to NBC, MSNBC and MSNBC’s “First Read.” Today, she discusses the “top secret[iveness]” of the Kerry camp, “tense” off-the-record moments, and the finer points of orange bowling. This interview is part of Campaign Desk’s ongoing series of interviews with reporters and commentators about how the press is covering the election.

Liz Cox Barrett: You’ve been on the road for six months now with many of the same reporters covering a single candidate. How has all this time in the same company affected your sense of competition with colleagues and sense of perspective and objectivity vis a vis the candidate?

Becky Diamond: The answer to both of these questions is to acknowledge and accept that you are human and have normal human emotions and reactions to people and events, but while you might feel a certain way about the candidate and about your colleagues the most important objective is to seek the truth and to report the story itself. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Covering a campaign is an incredibly intense experience — I spend eighteen hours a day, seven days a week with virtually the same group of fellow reporters covering the same story. While there is an obvious competition, there is also an intense camaraderie. We help each other when appropriate — with common knowledge, sharing sound bites or quotes made in public events and debating the meaning and implication of the candidate’s statements and actions. All of these things are incredibly helpful. The feeling of competition is there — but — while there might be some envy when others break news or report a great story — that also comes with respect for another person’s work as well as motivation to do an even better job yourself.

As for my perspective on John Kerry: Having followed Senator Kerry on the road for such a long time, I have a deeper sense of perspective on his candidacy in certain ways than others who have not “logged” those hours. However, I lack a perspective that others who don’t travel constantly with the candidate have as I live in a fish bowl and I must look out and gather information that isn’t readily available on the John Kerry campaign trail. It’s important to seek out opinions from Bush supporters, from other Democratic leaders and from the opposition in general.

LCB: Before you became, in September, one of what MSNBC once officially called its “campaign embeds” (MSNBC later changed the title to “campaign reporters”), you were embedded with US/Coalition naval forces in the Persian Gulf. How are the two gigs similar and how are they different? Is it more difficult to get information from the Pentagon/the military or the Kerry camp?

BD: Talk about top secret … the Kerry campaign is more protective of its information than any military unit I covered during the war! Getting information from the Kerry campaign can be like pulling teeth. The spokespeople for the Senator limit what they say and stay consistently “on message.”

Being embedded with the US military could not be more different than being “embedded” with John Kerry’s campaign, physically or professionally. First, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was fully embedded — living with the unit I covered and getting access to much information, some of which I could not report until a certain amount of hours passed, if at all. I have never been embedded like that with the Kerry campaign.

Campaigns are not organizations that will allow a journalist to be truly embedded and report on day of news. The newsgathering is also very different. In a war situation the reporting is based largely on information that you see with your eyes as well as information that you dig out. For example, a ship launches X number of Tomahawk missiles at X time of day heading towards X location. The sailors on board the ship said X about the launch. The ship has X number of Tomahawk missiles left to launch … In a campaign the reporting is not as obvious and immediate. News is not made every day and you must put the candidate’s statements and events into a frame from which people view it. For example, John Kerry made X statement today which is important because of X reason in the campaign. A lot of the news you report is information that you work to acquire and that takes time to research. In a war situation it’s a bit more of the moment (and exciting!). But at least I’m not worried about getting killed on the Kerry campaign …

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.