WILMINGTON, VT- Reporters wanting to interview campaign staffers are having a hard time trying to get through. That's because some campaigns are putting a tight lid on who gets to say what. The Deerfield Valley News, an independent weekly in southern Vermont, wanted to interview Brandon Riker, a former Deerfield Valley resident. Riker recently graduated from Twin Valley High School in Wilmington, VT and is taking a semester off from college to work for the (Barack) Obama campaign. The Deerfield Valley News wanted to recognize Riker and write a story on his efforts, but the Obama campaign is not permitting any interviews with full time staffers: no exceptions. Tim Foley, media liaison for Barack Obama's New Hampshire campaign, did not know why that policy is in place and also could not specify why it was in place to begin with.
"It's just a blanket campaign policy, it's something we haven't allowed and something we frankly made no exceptions for," said Foley. The Obama campaign does allow senior staff members or volunteers to talk reporters, but Foley maintains that anyone working on a day to day for the campaign is strictly off limits. When asked why the campaign would be concerned about what staffers might say, Foley could only muster the same response. "This is something that's come down from on high. It's been in affect well before I've been on the campaign and it will be in effect until the end," said Foley. Obama, fresh off a surprising win in the Iowa Caucus, is currently ahead of candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, and Dennis Kucinich in latest polls.
Randy Capitani, publisher of The Deerfield Valley News, has worked in news media for over 25 years and said he has never seen a communications clamp down like this, by any campaign, during any election year. "I just find it surprising that a campaign that talks about 'common sense solutions' would put such a thumb on what is so obviously a 'common sense feel good story,'" said Capitani. Mike Eldred, news editor for The Deerfield Valley News has worked seven years in the profession and said he was equally surprised by their policy. "I've never seen anything like this," said Eldred. "We have what is probably the most secretive administration ever and you have to wonder is this something that's going to be continued in the next administration, Obama or otherwise."
Unlike Foley, other campaigns are not as worried. Jim Harris, a national spokesman for Mike Hucakbee for President said they realize how much staffers mean to the towns they come from and if hometown newspapers are interested in writing stories recognizing their work, Harris says, "Why not?"
"We would make an exception with the excitement and all," said Harris. "I was the news editor for the Texarkana Gazette in Texarkana, Texas and I remember doing a 'feel good story' on someone local who was working Ross Perot (in 1992). I don't think that's that's anything unusual." Candidate Mike Huckabee is also coming off an Iowa Caucus win and is currently polling third behind McCain and Romney in the latest polls.
Chris Collier, NH Hampshire, media coordinator for Dennis Kucinich for President, said whether it's volunteers or paid staffers, they too can share their experiences. "They can talk to the media about anything except Dennis Kucinich's policies. That's Dennis' job." said Collier. "If it's about Dennis Kucinich or why you're involved, then we encourage participation at all levels. (Talking to campaign worker) has the feel of a real human being talking to you as opposed to someone else reading off a script."
A John McCain for President spokesperson also confirmed interviews with staffers are granted, provided they seek permission, while a spokesperson from John Edwards and Ron Paul campaigns said interviews are granted on a case by case basis. When The Deerfield Valley News shared this information to the Obama campaign, Foley maintained that all interviews are off still off limits, regardless what other campaigns allow.
"Each campaign makes up it's own rules and this was set from the outset by our press office," said Foley. "Unfortunately employers have certain policies with regards to their employees. That's particularly the case here with Brandon Riker and that's just going to be the policy of the campaign."
Calls made to the Clinton, Giuliani, Richardson, Romney, and Thompson campaigns had not been returned at press time.
While it's inconclusive to say whether this policy is the norm and not the exception during the 2008 campaign, the Obama campaign will enforce it nevertheless. In the meantime, Ryker can speak to The Deerfield Valley News, provided he works for Mike Huckabee.
"He can come and work for us and we'd more than welcome to let you talk to him," said Harris.
This piece is also published on Green Mountain Daily.