Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan protests that his campaign has been systematically ignored by the media. But on Monday, a Buchanan staffer refused credentials for two upcoming Buchanan events to this reporter. Why? Because Salon was "liberal crap, more liberal media crap."
Ouch! When asked about his candidate's recent complaint about not receiving enough media coverage, staffer John O'Kelly said: "Frankly, we've had enough coverage from Salon.com."
O'Kelly admitted no one else from the media had even asked to attend either of the two events, which are being billed as "fundraiser/receptions" and held at a tavern in Manhattan midday Thursday and at the Maine Maid Inn in Jericho that evening.
Later, Buchanan spokesman Brian Doherty explained that "Mr. O'Kelly is the person who's having the fundraiser for Pat ... and those are not open to the media ... So he was correct in saying that."
Doherty did offer that O'Kelly "was not correct in belittling" Salon.
OK, but O'Kelly never said the events were closed to all press, only to Salon.com, because "frankly, I checked out the Web site and I wasn't impressed. It's liberal crap, more liberal media crap." O'Kelly says he volunteers for the campaign, and the Buchanan Web site identifies him as a staffer responsible for getting Buchanan on the New York ballot.
This snub comes at an intriguing time for Buchanan's underdog presidential run, since he has heatedly complained recently about the media's lack of coverage of his campaign. Meanwhile, Reform Party activists seem to be having second thoughts about being represented by Buchanan and his deep-rooted angry conservatism, with Ross Perot allies threatening to cancel the national convention.
"We don't stand for intolerance," says former Reform Party chairman Russ Verney, a Perot ally. "I've had my differences with any number of publications over the years, and that hasn't stopped me from returning every single call I get from reporters."
And yet just a week ago, Buchanan wrote an open letter to Leonard Downie, executive editor of the Washington Post, complaining that the media, the Post in particular, has "the power to fix the election of 2000."
"Our fate is in the hands of our Big Media adversaries," Buchanan wrote. "You are standing on our windpipe, Mr. Downie."
You'd think such a desperate-sounding candidate would take any press he could get. Instead, O'Kelly's move is "reflective of the disregard that Buchanan has for the principles of the Reform Party, as well as the disrespect he has for the most basic principles of democratic freedom," says Reform Party national secretary Jim Mangia, an ardent Buchanan foe.
"And it's why he has to be stopped from getting our party's nomination for president -- at all costs. Because he is in direct violation of our principles," says Mangia, who says these principles include "openness, inclusion, tolerance, support for the U.S. Constitution, and freedom of the press."
Then again, this is the same guy referred to by Buchanan ally William Shields, head of the Delaware Reform Party, in a May 31 e-mail urging "a resolution at the convention to remove Jim Mangia from any leadership role in this party, and to physically eject him, along with any trash or dangerous biological waste that may have found its way onto the convention floor." Mangia, who is gay, took personal offense to being lumped in with "biological waste." Buchanan, when told of the e-mail, called Shields "a good man."
Presidential campaigns have occasionally refused to accommodate reporters from publications they have had disagreements, of course, but such incidents are rare -- and they rarely occur because of a publication's political slant (including any perceived "liberal crap"-ism).
"I'm surprised that a politician as media-savvy as Pat Buchanan would exclude any journalist on the basis of ideology at a time when Buchanan is complaining that he's not getting enough press coverage," said Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. "Most campaigns don't go out of their way to do favors for news outlets they believe are too critical, but they almost never go so far as to deny access to legitimate reporters."
Generally, liberal reporters are allowed to travel with conservative candidates and vice versa. Reporters from the Weekly Standard travel with Al Gore while George W. Bush lets writers from the New Republic tag along.
Salon.com has covered the Reform Party extensively, covering Jesse Ventura's successful run for governor of Minnesota in 1998, the 1999 Reform Party convention and Buchanan's leap from the GOP to the Reform Party, as well as running a comprehensive Q&A with former Reform Party chairman Pat Choate.
Granted, not all the coverage of Buchanan by Salon has been positive. Still, Verney was not much help in figuring out what Buchanan/O'Kelly's beef is. "Is it because you're liberal or because you're crap?" he wondered aloud.