Black Reporter Removed From Covering McCain Stephen Price of the Tallahassee Democrat was one of several reporters covering John McCain's stop-over in Florida last week. But he was the only black reporter in the press corps that day when McCain's security team singled him out and asked him to leave. Price shares his story with NPR's Tony Cox.

Black Reporter Removed From Covering McCain

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TONY COX, host:

From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Tony Cox. A newspaper reporter recently became the subject of news when he was thrown out of the press area during a rally for Senator John McCain. Stephen Price of the Tallahassee Democrat was one of several credentialed reporters covering McCain's stopover in Panama City, Florida, last Friday. Price was the only African-American reporter in the press corps that day, when McCain's security team singled him out and asked him to leave. The McCain camp is denying that race was a factor.

We are hoping to have Stephen Price on this morning to tell us what happened, but in the interim, any experienced political reporter knows that there is protocol, there is hierarchy, ethics, and finesse involved in gaining access to candidates during a campaign. But what goes on behind the scenes during a political press junket? For answers, we turn now to Kenny Irby. He covered Capitol Hill during the first Bush presidency. He now leads the diversity program at the Poynter Institute. That's a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida. Kenny, welcome to News & Notes.

Mr. KENNY IRBY (Director, Diversity Program, Group Leader, Visual Journalism, Poynter Institute): Thanks a lot, Tony. How are you?

COX: I'm fine, thank you. What was your reaction when you first heard about the incident involving the reporter from the Tallahassee Democrat?

Mr. IRBY: When I first learned of the report, I was slightly surprised and concerned about what the motives and what the actual details were surrounding, you know, what is something that doesn't normally happen in an organized press event, when you are actually inside the local pool and preparing for the traveling press pool.

COX: Now, you and I have both covered presidential campaigns in the past, and as we said, that you covered the Hill during the first Bush administration. Perhaps it would be helpful to explain the protocol for covering a presidential candidate, in terms of the different levels of access for local, for national, and for the traveling press.

Mr. IRBY: Yeah. There is hierarchy in the - in terms of access, and there is the traveling pool. That is the group that normally meets with the candidate. As we were talking about yesterday and today about the presidency, that is an established pool, which is often called the tight pool, and then there is the national pool that may join that group, and then there is the local media that will usually be convened at the site of the event or the interview.

COX: I was trying to describe this to someone, and I want to know of the analogy that I used to was one that you think it is applicable. And basically, if you are in the local press pool, let's say, and a candidate is coming to a facility, the local press might be limited to the parking lot, the national press would be allowed inside the building or the room, where the presidential candidate was going to speak, and the tight pool, as you say, the traveling pool, would be the pool that is actually traveling with the candidate, and would have the best access, right up front, during an appearance. Would that - does that sound about right to you?

Mr. IRBY: Yes. That's appropriate, perfectly lined out analogy.

COX: Now...

Mr. IRBY: That is the hierarchy that takes place in events, press pools, and major - all major sporting and entertainment kinds of events. That is the reality.

COX: Now, I understand, Stephen Price is just joining us. So, Kenny, hold on, I'm going to bring him in to talk about what happened, and we'll continue our discussion together. Stephen, are you there?

Mr. STEPHEN PRICE (Florida Capital Bureau Reporter, Tallahassee Democrat): I'm here.

COX: Tell us what happened to you last Friday in covering the McCain event in Florida.

Mr. PRICE: Sure. We covered a press conference at Panama City Beach earlier in the afternoon, and there was a rally in Panama City by the marina that evening. And so, there was a country/western performer. He performed. Governor Crist and Senator McCain came on stage. Senator McCain gave a booster speech, and after that, he left the stage. So, me and three other state reporters decided to go to the side of this area, where it was section off by bike racks, and it was just for the media. We had to show our press credentials to get there, including the press credentials they gave us for the event.

I went in. My three colleagues went in also. We were in front of the McCain bus, waiting for McCain to get on the bus, and I saw the governor get on the bus, and I'm waiting for McCain. And about that time, a gentleman with the Secret Service approached me, asked me what am I doing there. I told him, I'm with the press. He asked for my credentials. I showed them to him, and about the same time, an officer with Panama City comes to me and he's kind of aggressive. His hand is on his holster, and he is asking, what's going on? What's going on?

And the guy with the Secret Service says, well, this area is just for the national press. And at that time, my colleague with the Palm Beach Post intervenes and she says, well, we are all state press. And she points to the reporter with the Miami Herald. She points to the reporter with the St. Pete Times. And he says, well, I have to go. And then after she intervenes, he says, well, she has to go, too, and so she goes, well, what about them? They're all state press. At that time, there weren't any state press around. And he didn't do anything about that, and the officer proceeded to eject us from that area.

COX: Now, I understand that you got a call yesterday from someone at the McCain campaign. What did they say?

Mr. PRICE: Right. Well, I got a call from Brian Rogers, spokesman for the McCain campaign, and he apologized. He said, if I felt like I was treated unfairly, he apologizes. He said, we feel terrible about it, and he said it's pretty clear if that area was for local - if that area was for national press, that all state press or local press should have been removed and not just me.

COX: Let me ask you, Kenny Irby, how much does a person's history, a reporter's history - or lack of history, actually - with a particular political figure play into the way he or she is ultimately handled?

Mr. IRBY: Well, I mean, it plays heavily in terms of access that one gains. However, Tony, at from the - what the - I've researched, it doesn't sound like that is really a germane issue. However, it does have a major impact, because the folks, based on experience, the size of the publications and the media organization, are giving greater access and greater credibility in terms of the connectivity and access to the candidates.

COX: We should point out to our audience that we did, here at News & Notes, contact the McCain campaign to hear their side of the story. So, far, the campaign has not returned any of our phone calls. Back to you, Stephen.

Mr. PRICE: Sure.

COX: What did you do right after you were removed? And how do you feel? How did you feel? And what did you want to do?

Mr. PRICE: Well, at the time, you know, I'm highly upset. And I see when - once the officer comes over and his hand is on his holster, and he is aggressive, I see this situation escalating quickly, OK? So, you know, I'm thinking, OK, I should have thought enough to get his name and badge number and what not. But at the time, you know, (unintelligible) I wasn't thinking, me and her, the Palm Beach reporter, were ejected. We complained. I talked to my editor, because we had to leave that sectioned-off area. And at the time, I talked to him, told him what'd happened.

And a little later, I decided, well, let me go back and see if I can get any names or anything like that. And they were gone. The bus was gone at that time. And the other state reporters, Miami Herald, St. Pete, they didn't even know what had happened, I mean, this guy never even went back to them, questioned, or challenged, you know, their credentials or whether they're national or state. So, my editor - I thought about writing a blog about it. My editor, Paul Flemming, decided to write a story. So, we wrote the story the next day.

COX: What should, Kenny Irby, what should reporters do in a situation like that? What can a reporter do when something like this happens?

Mr. IRBY: Well, when you're dealing with Secret Service, you don't have a lot of recourse. I think, you know, in this case, the thing that you should do is try not to be reactive, and to be reflective, and to think about going back to the roots of what you do and getting information. I tell folks all the time, if you have a camera with you, snap off a photograph to be able to identify and to follow up. Because when the Secret Service comes in - and there are matters of security that may have come in here - there are several possibilities that we could play out. You know, in this case, Stephen may have looked like somebody else.

There are briefings, there are press op teams, advance teams, and security go-through. The immediate response here is, the obvious condition of difference here is race. Stephen was the only African-American there, and - but we can't stop there. So, I say, do the reporting that journalists always do. Ask for a name, try to note badge numbers, and make sure that you stay - that there's somebody else, as teams. As media teams often do, ask someone else to ask the question or do some research as you're being taken away. That - those are three quick steps that would help in these kinds of situations.

COX: Really briefly. Stephen, let me ask you. Do you think - did you think at the time you were being questioned, and that the officer had his hand on his sidearm - that you were being singled out because of your race or because of the size of the paper that you were representing?

Mr. PRICE: Well, at the moment that the police officer came over, and his hand is on his holster, and he started to get aggressive, and you know, things started coming to my mind pretty quick, and I'm thinking, OK, I am the only black person out here, period. And yeah, I mean, it occurred to me. As a matter of fact, while we were being ejected, the Palm Beach reporter looked back at me and said, well, Stephen, you're guilty of being black while reporting.

COX: Hm. Well, that's a story that we have heard before. Unfortunately, our time has run out. I appreciate your coming on.

Mr. PRICE: Sure.

COX: Stephen Price is a political reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat. He joined us from the studios of WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida. Kenny Irby leads the diversity program at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida. Just ahead, our bloggers look at presidential endorsements, wanted and unwanted.

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Ms. PARIS HILTON (Star, "The Simple Life"): Hey, America. I'm Paris Hilton, and I'm a celebrity, too. Only I'm not from the olden days, and I'm not promising change like that other guy.

COX: And to drill or not to drill. Politics is next.

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