The Ticket

Gingrich campaign to traveling press: Find your own damn ride

Chris Moody
The Ticket

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Newt Gingrich walks toward campaign spokesman, R.C. Hammond, right, after a news conference in Port St. Lucie, …

ORLANDO, Fla.--It's total newt-iny on the Gingrich campaign press bus.

For each caucus or primary during the 2012 presidential campaign, Gingrich's campaign has organized transportation for the reporters assigned to cover him--as is customary for nearly every presidential candidate. Each news outlet chips in to pay for the bus that trails Gingrich between each stop, and the campaign often lets reporters pay for a seat on charter flights for longer journeys. Many times, it's the only way to ensure the national media are with him at each public appearance.

That working relationship pretty much stopped working this weekend, two days before the Florida primary.

The trouble began when Daniel Malloy, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, started to do some simple math, always a risky endeavor for a working journalist.  Gingrich's Florida schedule called for a morning stop near West Palm Beach, and the press bus would follow him to Orlando in the afternoon. Also on the docket was a dinner that same night back in West Palm Beach, which Gingrich could attend only by arranging a private charter to fly him and the traveling press there from Orlando. The campaign would charter a second flight 200 miles west to Tampa that would leave immediately after the event. The total cost to news organizations would be about $2,000 per reporter.

Sitting in the back of the bus that day, the penny pinching press got to thinking: Why should their employers drop two grand just to attend one Gingrich event when the reporters could easily rent a cheap car in Orlando, miss the dinner, and meet up with Gingrich in Tampa the next morning? That made a lot more financial sense. Word got around. One by one, the reporters signaled that they would not join the former speaker on his plane.

By Saturday, the day of the flight, only a handful of reporters had committed to fly with Gingrich. And because fewer journalists would be on the plane, the cost per seat skyrocketed to more than $3,000. When the reporters who had given over their credit cards to join the charter heard about the new price, many called the campaign aides frantically to cancel. The campaign refused.

The reporters on the bus, now saddled with an unexpected new cost, fumed. Campaign aides were furious over the little mutiny. Reporters threatened to dispute the charges to their credit cards.

Then, the campaign dropped a bomb: No reporters would be allowed to fly with Gingrich on his campaign swing on Monday, when his schedule calls for more than 1,000 miles of travel, complete with campaign stops from the panhandle near the Alabama border to Miami. Without a plane, it would be virtually impossible to cover Gingrich on the day before voting begins in the primary that political observers think will make or break his campaign.

Also, the press was no longer invited to fly with Gingrich to the next contest in Nevada, which will hold its Republican caucuses on Feb. 4.

No one from Gingrich's campaign would say on the record why the reporters were no longer invited to travel with the candidate.

"I don't have to give you a reason," R.C. Hammond, a Gingrich spokesman, said.

In the end, only two reporters--one from Bloomberg and one from a French TV station--climbed onto Gingrich's Boeing 737 on Saturday night for the flight to West Palm Beach from Orlando. Not one of the TV embed reporters, who follow Gingrich everywhere but the bathroom, got on the plane. It remains unclear whether the reporters who booked and then decided not to go will be charged for the flight. Later that night, the rest of the traveling press corps watched from the bus, 200 miles away, as Herman Cain endorsed Gingrich for president.

The campaign tasked a press liaison to build a schedule that will let the press follow Gingrich in a bus to as many stops as are logistically feasible, but tensions are high between the campaign and the reporters assigned to cover him.

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