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Jewish World Review Sept. 21 , 2000 / 20 Elul, 5760

Roger Simon

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Press is circling Bush like vultures searching for road kill


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- MEDIA, Penn. | The Bush plane is crowded these days. Even the middle seats on the Boeing 757 are filling up. This is not good news for the Bush campaign.

The press is circling the Bush campaign like vultures looking for fresh road kill.

He is not meat yet. Far from it. But the polls have gone bad, and when the polls go bad the vultures circle.

And they look for signs. Here is one:

When Bush was up in the polls, he had press conferences every day. He took questions on whatever the press wanted to ask him partially to prove he wasn't as dumb as reporters thought he was.

Now those press conferences have ended. No more press conferences, no more questions. In other words, he is doing just what Al Gore does.

Even at the worst of Bush's pre-convention days (and there were few bad days back then), even when he was enmeshed in speculation that he had used drugs as a young man, he still took questions from the press.

It was a bravura performance and he got high marks for it.

But that's when the polls were good.

He also would come back on his plane and schmooze with reporters. Unlike Gore, these sessions were on the record.

It came to be known as the "charm offensive" and Bush, a genuinely charming and gregarious guy, seemed to enjoy himself.

He gave the reporter's nicknames, inquired about their families, and answered whatever questions they had.

But not any more. When the polls went bad, those ended.

Bush still comes back on the plane, but it is strictly off the record. And cameras are banned.

He felt the pictures that television used were of him crouched in the aisle of an airplane talking to reporters, while the pictures of Al Gore were of him and real people.

So no more photos from the plane.

The Bush campaign used to enjoy stories about how Gore has not had a press conference in weeks and weeks.

Why didn't Gore, who prides himself on his vast array of knowledge, answer questions from reporters?

Because he has his own agenda. He knows exactly what he wants to do each day and exactly what he wants to say each day and the press just gets in the way.

The press "filters" the news, the campaigns complain, instead of presenting the news exactly as the campaigns wish.

Does press access matter a lot? Yes, the campaigns say, but in a negative way: The more access the press gets, the worse it is for the candidate.

Campaigns strive to be tightly controlled. They want to keep the candidate "on message." They don't want him to get "out of the box."

They want the candidate to say only what the script calls for, no more and no less.

When the polls were good, George Bush could break this rule. He could schmooze and answer questions and act like a normal, friendly human being. But that was when the polls were good.

Now, he must act the opposite: He must act like a candidate.



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