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Screen Time

Is the once famously reporter-friendly McCain campaign screening questions on its conference calls? The evidence seems to suggest so. Mother Jones's David Corn notes that the calls are handled differently from those conducted by the Clinton and Obama campaigns:

When a reporter calls in for a conference call, he or she is asked by an operator to provide his or her name and media outlet. Then when it comes time for questions, there is a long pause--long enough for someone in the campaign to select whom should be called on....

During a July 1 McCain campaign call featuring Senator Lindsey Graham and Orson Swindle (who was a Vietnam POW with McCain), only two questions were taken--both from conservative bloggers. The first came from Ed Morrissey, who asked Graham and Swindle, "Can you explain the significance of John McCain's command experience in the well as whatever leadership he has shown in the Senate....and can you address...that Barack Obama doesn't have any executive experience at all?" The next query came from Matt Lewis. Referencing retired General Wesley Clark's recent comment that McCain's military service and POW experience did not qualify him to be president, Lewis asked Graham and Swindle if Clark's remark was part of "a concerted effort by the Obama campaign, or can liberals simply not keep themselves from attacking the military?" Then the call was over....

And several weeks ago, during a conference call, an operator came on the line and told me that I "was no longer needed" on the call. Though I explained I was a journalist listening to the call, the operator said he had been told to unplug me. I protested the decision, and he said he would check and get right back. The operator never returned, and I remained on the call. But during the question period, I was not called on.

In an email, I asked Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's communications director, if the McCain campaign was screening reporters in an attempt to manage the conference calls. She did not reply. I called the campaign's media office and posed the same question. The woman who answered placed me on hold. A few moments later, she told me that a press officer would soon call with an answer. No one ever did.

 --Christopher Orr