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Media Let Democrats Into Republican Convention

Security: Clinton aides allowed in for interviews. GOP chief demands equal access at Chicago gathering.


SAN DIEGO — Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour criticized Cable News Network and Fox Network on Tuesday for giving key Democratic spokespersons passes to the Republican convention, calling it a historic transgression of convention etiquette.

At a morning news conference, Barbour called the intrusion "provocative" and said he expected GOP spokespersons to get similar treatment at the Democratic convention later this month.

Network executives responded by saying that the passes did not give the Democrats access to the convention floor while it was in session. Access badges were necessary, the executives said, to get the Democrats into the hall and then into the sky booth areas for interviews and commentary to balance the Republican views.

"You can't just walk in there," Barbour said after the briefing. "You have to have a pass, and I assume those were press passes. And I also assume that the networks then will reciprocate and afford us the same courtesy when we get to Chicago."

Barbour said among those spotted in the hall talking to reporters and others were Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulos; deputy Clinton/Gore campaign manager Ann Lewis; Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), the Democratic Party chairman; and Democratic commentator James Carville.

CNN President Tom Johnson said Barbour had called him twice to protest the Democratic presence in the GOP stronghold. Johnson said he apologized to the RNC chairman for not escorting their guests directly to and from the network's sky booth. "I was embarrassed," Johnson said. "That's not the way we do business."

En route to and from the media sky booths, the Democrats were surrounded by reporters and others who wanted to talk to them or hear their "spin" on the proceedings.

"I guess what we're going to have to do is build another set outside the convention hall," Johnson mused, "and at great expense."

Marty Ryan, executive producer of "Fox News Sunday," said Stephanopoulos was escorted to and from an interview with conservative commentator Tony Snow, explaining that Stephanopoulos' input was needed for balance after Republican views were aired for more than 45 minutes on the show.

"It was well before the convention even convened, so I don't know what the big deal is," Ryan said Tuesday.

Joe Lockhart, press secretary for the Clinton/Gore campaign, said he and other Democrats had given interviews to Fox, CNN, C-SPAN and Reuters--and in each case had been escorted into and out of the hall by news organization staff members. He said the convention had not been in session during any of his interviews.

Lockhart said the same courtesy would be afforded to news organizations bringing in Republicans as commentators during the Democratic convention.

"I assume that if Haley Barbour comes to Chicago, they will work out the same arrangements," he said.

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