South Carolina Primary: Mitt Romney Press Corps Rankled By Travel, Access Mishaps
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The Mitt Romney campaign, renowned for its discipline and rigorous advance planning operation, has rankled some in the press corps after a handful of travel and access snafus in recent days.
Since Wednesday, campaign reporters have been left behind at the Greenville airport, scolded for asking questions at a BBQ restaurant, and denied access to an event at the Charleston campaign headquarters. On Thursday, some reporters were initially told there wasn't space with the rest of the traveling press on the campaign plane, a seat on which is logistically necessary in order to cover events held at locations that are several hours apart by car.
The Huffington Post spoke with several reporters about their concerns, some of which were a topic of conversation in the press filing center at Thursday's Republican debate and even bubbled to the surface on Twitter. However, none of the reporters agreed to speak on the record. A Romney campaign spokesperson declined to comment.
Some reporters, who acknowledge the recent friction, say that the Romney campaign has made efforts to address their grievances.
After reporters from several national news outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, NBC and ABC, were left at the Greenville airport on Wednesday morning, the campaign -- which originally told them they were on their own -- decided to delay the event and pick them up to cover it. (The campaign has its own grievances with the press, including the fact that some reporters tweeted about the scheduling mishap.)
Later that day, reporters were instructed not to ask Romney questions during an "OTR" stop at Hudson's Smokehouse in Lexington. With an "OTR" stop, reporters understand that the movement of the campaign and press is off the record until they arrive at the destination, but the Romney campaign apparently considered the entire event off the record.
So the two sides had different expectations when it came to the ground rules. The Washington Post's Phil Rucker was told there would be no questions after simply asking Romney if he'd tried the hush puppies, according to a tweet from the AP's Kasie Hunt. (Hunt herself asked a question about the breaking ABC News report about Romney's Cayman Island accounts.)
On Thursday morning, the Romney campaign allowed only network campaign embeds and a select few newspaper reporters, from The New York Times, Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal, into a stop at the Charleston campaign headquarters. Inside, Romney, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman shook hands with staffers, posed for photos, and made a few calls to prospective voters.
Reporters were initially unclear as to why some reporters, and not others, were being let inside, leading to speculation about whether some were being reprimanded for having asked questions at the previous day's "OTR" event. But the campaign said that it was limiting the number of reporters included for space reasons. To make sure those on the outside got details of what happened, reporters inside filed a "pool report" that was shared with the rest of the traveling press corps.
By Thursday night, however, another situation had arisen in which reporters were being excluded -- this time from the campaign plane traveling the following day. At least one reporter who was initially told there wouldn't be room got a spot Friday.
The Romney campaign accommodates more reporters than any other and routinely charters a plane to transport press to events. It generally gets high marks for organization and responsiveness from reporters covering it. So perhaps some of these mishaps may simply be growing pains as the campaign kicks up a notch.
Yet while none of the travel and access issues have led to full-scale insurrection on the campaign bus, the miscommunication and confusion over ground rules and travel arrangements has struck reporters as out of character for the usually unflappable Romney campaign, whose candidate just happens to also be stumbling of late in South Carolina.