September 23, 2008
(AP) - Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who has not held a press conference in nearly four weeks of campaigning, on Tuesday barred most pool reporters from her meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the first foreign head of state she has ever met.
Journalists protested the campaign's decision to exclude all but photographers and a TV crew from Palin's sessions with foreign leaders. CNN decided to withdraw its TV crew, effectively denying Palin the high visibility she sought for her initial foray into world affairs. The campaign then reversed course, saying pool reporters - a small group that provides information to all media - could attend the meetings planned after Karzai hosted Palin at his suite in The Barclay New York Hotel.
A television producer with a notepad was denied entry into Karzai's suite by a man who repeatedly said, "No writers." However, a Palin official stepped in and let him pass, according to a pool report.
In the Karzai suite, Palin sat in a large chair a few feet from Karzai. Behind her were foreign policy advisers for the campaign, Steve Biegun and Randy Scheunemann.
Photographers and the TV crew were asked to leave after about a half-minute of recording Palin and Karzai. An exchange clearly heard above the clicking of cameras involved Karzai's son, born in January 2007.
"What is his name?" Palin asked.
"Mirwais," Karzai responded. "Mirwais, which means, 'The Light of the House."'
"Oh, nice," Palin said.
"He is the only one we have," Karzai said.
Presidents and members of Congress routinely allow reporters to attend photo opportunities along with photographers. Reporters sometimes are able to ask questions during the brief photo sessions, usually held at the beginning of private meetings.
In response to questions about why pool reporters who routinely travel with Palin were denied access, spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt didn't offer a reason in a statement that read, "The decision was made for this to be a photo spray with still cameras and video cameras only."
At first, campaign aides said pool reporters would not be admitted along with still photographers and a video camera crew taken in to photograph Palin's meetings with Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who were in town for the United Nations General Assembly. She was to meet later with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Those sessions and meetings scheduled for Wednesday were part of the Republican campaign's effort to give the Alaska governor some experience in foreign affairs. She had never before met a foreign head of state and had first traveled outside North America just last year.
At least two news organizations, including The Associated Press, objected to the exclusion of reporters and were told that the decision was not subject to discussion. Campaign aides subsequently announced that reporters would be allowed to accompany photographers into the later sessions with Uribe and Kissinger.
Palin has been criticized for avoiding taking questions from reporters or submitting to one-on-one interviews. She has had just two major interviews since Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose her as his running mate on Aug. 29.
On Wednesday, McCain and Palin were expected to meet jointly with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko. Palin was then to meet separately with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.