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Press secretaries say Internet brings change to presidential campaigns

May 9, 2000
Web posted at: 2:39 p.m. EDT (1839 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nonstop news cycle and increasing pervasiveness of the Internet are changing presidential campaigns, and not always for the better, the press secretaries for the presidential campaigns of Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said at a forum Tuesday.

Thanks to the constant demand for news and the limited access granted by some presidential candidates, "I think even more so now, the press is influenced not by us, but by itself," said Eric Hauser, press secretary for Bradley's now-ended presidential campaign.

Hauser and Howard Opinsky, press secretary for McCain's campaign, which the Arizona senator suspended in February, spoke Tuesday at a workshop to discuss the interaction of the press and politics in the two campaigns. The workshop was sponsored by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, in collaboration with CNN.

From the beginning, both men said, the two insurgent campaigns were different -- both in the way they operated and in the way their candidates interacted with the media.

McCain, for example, had spent years building friendly relations with Washington reporters -- an unusual tactic in the post-Reagan era of presidential campaigns, where campaign appearances and candidate accessibility is traditionally carefully controlled.

The first time McCain waded into a group of reporters while on a campaign bus last summer, "I was aghast," Opinsky admitted. "I soon realized that in many respects, that the typical shaping of the media that a press secretary is traditionally involved with was not going to be a part of this campaign."

Instead, Opinsky said, his job was to stay out of the way as McCain exercised his own long-held working relationships with reporters and offered the kind of access not seen in many presidential campaign cycles.

Hauser faced a different challenge: Bradley often came across as aloof to reporters. Hauser said that was not always a bad development, saying candidates should not necessarily have a friendly, but rather a professional, relationship with reporters.

Journalist Jake Tapper of said Bradley's attitude came across to potential voters. "We see ourselves as the medium between the candidate and the voter," he said.

McCain's wide access helped send a message to the public that he was honest and had nothing to hide, said Opinsky. "The virtue of authenticity is that it doesn't change in the course of time," he said.

The biggest effect of the Internet on the Bradley campaign was not news coverage, Hauser said. "We can talk all we want about the new media, but the Internet is increasingly important because it can raise money, and money is important because it can be used to buy television time," he said. Raising money online "allows you to process it fast and spend it right away," said Opinsky.

The recent, more open availability of the likely presidential nominees, Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Democrat Vice President Al Gore, probably is a direct result of McCain's success at generating positive media coverage through open access, panelists said. Gore went 61 days this spring without taking questions from the press, and "that hurt him. It built up a lot of press animosity," said reporter Ceci Connolly of The Washington Post.

Both campaign officials expressed concern that major broadcast networks were peeling back their coverage of presidential campaigns and the political conventions, with panelists suggesting that cable television-driven convention coverage would appeal largely to "junkies" or political insiders instead of serving as an educating force for the public.

In the end, both Bradley and McCain sought to convince voters that they were honest, thoughtful men, their aides said. "The virtue of authenticity is that it doesn't change in the course of time," said Hauser.

VideoThe Insurgency Campaigns: Did they make a difference? Frank Sesno moderates the discussion.

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