John McCain has cultivated the rep of a politician unafraid of questions. When he campaigned for president in 2000, he often hung out with reporters on his bus and fielded questions until the journalists were out of queries. In the 2008 campaign, as he did eight years earlier, McCain has held town hall meetings during which he called on attendees who were obviously not McCain supporters. (It was during one such exchange that McCain said it would be "fine" by him if U.S. troops remained in Iraq for "a hundred years.") So why then does it seem that the McCain campaign has been screening questioners during the conference calls featuring campaign aides and top-level surrogates it mounts for reporters?
In the 2008 campaign, conference calls with reporters have become an essential part of candidates' media operations. During the most heated days of the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton contest, both campaigns arranged at least one conference call a day (sometimes there were more). "Our calls were open to all press -- national, local, and online," says Howard Wolfson, who was communications director for the Clinton campaign. "Although from time to time we tried to give priority to local press in whatever state we happened to have a primary, we never screened reporters or questions." And Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, says, "We don't screen our calls."