Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bubblicious Beat Reporting on the Campaign Trail

It was late Friday afternoon when a friend of mine caught me on the Google chat. He sent me a link to the New York Post's reporting of the Hillary Clinton RFK assassination remark in an editorial board meeting of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

Wow. A third rail comment of the first degree. So I went diving through the web to find other corroborating accounts of it. Came up very empty. The Argus Leader didn't even have the story.

Now, courtesy of Matt Phillips, writing for the Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire" blog, we know why the traveling press (though not the paper itself, which did a lame next-day story about it) missed one of the bigger gaffes in a turbulent campaign:

Clinton was scheduled to sit down with the editorial board at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader ahead of a campaign event at a Brandon, S.D., grocery store. The Clinton camp’s press people advised reporters that the editorial board meeting would be streamed online where reporters would be able to watch, take notes and report on anything worthwhile.

The press corps was sent ahead to the grocery story, Sunshine Foods, where they ensconced themselves in a reserved café area, picked at pasta salad from the spread, pecked away at their keyboards and tried to watch the Clinton meeting online.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens out on the trail, the local technology infrastructure didn’t seem quite ready for an influx of heavily wired journalists. Some reporters found the streamed broadcast of the editorial meeting excruciatingly slow, rendering it unwatchable. It didn’t seem that there would be any huge news out of a routine sitdown with the editors of a small-town daily, besides her batting away earlier reports that day that she was seeking to reach a deal with Obama’s campaign as way to exit the nomination race. She did, in fact, tell the editorial board that those reports were “flatly untrue… flatly, completely untrue.”

It was only after editors started wildly texting the beat reporters, wondering why the Post report was all over Drudge, that anyone covering Clinton on the ground in S.D. got around to it.

Addendum (3:31 pm): At the New York Times, Kit Seelye also weighs in from the front lines. Her account tracks largely with the WSJ's, but takes a bit more of a tack that Clinton was quoted out of context -- at least by the New York Post's initial account. But even she ends up with a note that "the day obliterated the arguments she had made in an earlier part of her interview with the editorial board — that she was 'more progressive' than Mr. Obama and would be a stronger candidate in the fall."

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