Going Along to Get Along

Dana Milbank reports that the people blocking reporters from interviewing Palin supporters at McCain rallies weren’t just thuggish campaign workers, they were the Secret Service:

I wasn’t at the Scranton event, but I have to say the Secret Service is in dangerous territory here. In cooperation with the Palin campaign, they’ve started preventing reporters from leaving the press section to interview people in the crowd. This is a serious violation of their duty — protecting the protectee — and gets into assisting with the political aspirations of the candidate. It also often makes it impossible for reporters to get into the crowd to question the people who say vulgar things. So they prevent reporters from getting near the people doing the shouting, then claim it’s unfounded because the reporters can’t get close enough to identify the person.

Obviously, if true, this would be a pretty serious first amendment violation, and even if it weren’t reporters in question, there would still be no right to prevent anyone from talking to anyone else at a public rally. Steve Benen asks:

But what I’d really like to see is some reporters ignore the mandated restrictions. Why on earth would an independent journalist play along with these ridiculous rules?

Let’s say a reporter leaves the designated area and approaches a voter. If one of the escorts/minders tries to stop the reporter, he or she should just keep going. Would the Secret Service arrest a journalist for attempting to talk to a voter on public property? I doubt it, but even if an arrest were made, it’d be a public relations disaster for the campaign and the Secret Service — and a breakthrough for the free press.

But that would just be, well, journalism. And our press corps is strictly a no-journalism zone (sort of like “free speech zones”). Because that’s not what gets you ahead in modern American journalism. It doesn’tget you on the campaign plane, and it doesn’t get you close enough to the politicians to be able to get the kind of access you need to write the kitchy human interest pieces or the fawning profiles that newspapers (and politicians) want run. If this were 30 years from now, every reporter in the country would be chasing the NSA wiretapping program, or the US Attorney’s scandal, or Republican voter suppression tactics and Rove’s co-opting Justice for that end, in hopes of becoming the next Woodward and Bernstein. But it’s not the 1970’s anymore, journalism is not part of a “reporters” job.