The Hazards of Reporting on Palin Rallies

Via TPM, we read about a reporter (Capital Beat, 10/16/08) who got knocked down at a Sarah Palin rally in North Carolina because he tried to interview an Obama supporter. This seems like the natural progression from the earlier report of Palin inciting her followers to hurl obscenities and racist insults at journalists. And, you know, maybe if your crowds are already shouting abuse at reporters, you should refrain from distributing songs that begin, “The left-wing liberal media have always been a real close-knit family/But most of the American people don’t believe them anyway, you see.”

In a related story, the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank described in an online chat (10/16/08) some disturbing behavior on the part of the Secret Service:

In cooperation with the Palin campaign, they’ve started preventing reporters from leaving the press section to interview people in the crowd. This is a serious violation of their duty — protecting the protectee — and gets into assisting with the political aspirations of the candidate. It also often makes it impossible for reporters to get into the crowd to question the people who say vulgar things.

The Secret Service denied Milbank’s report–sort of. “It’s not a function of the Secret Service to prevent or limit reporters from interviewing the people at events,” Secret Service spokesperson Ed Donovan told ProPublica (10/17/08). “We’ve never been asked by any campaign to do that.”

But the Secret Service does sometimes prevent reporters from interviewing the people at events–apparently without being asked:

Donovan said that at rallies for all the candidates, the Secret Service sometimes separates the press corps that is credentialed to cover the event–known as the pool–from the general public. That is for logistical and security reasons, he said.

“Being in a press pool gives them special access,” said Donovan. “But the other side is that they have to stay together. You keep national press away from the local press for the same reason.”

So if you want to have access to the candidate, the Secret Service can prevent you from talking to anyone not with the candidate? That sounds a lot like embedded reporting–and seems likely to produce the same caliber of journalism.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.