Anxiety about access has underpinned campaign coverage this cycle, be it John McCain's recently less cozy relationship with the press, the rollout of Sarah Palin, or Barack Obama's reputed "indifference" to the press and his campaign's reliance on its own digital media operation. Last weekend, GQ correspondent Robert Draper broke through the campaign news din with a New York Times Magazine story on the McCain campaign's shifting narratives. Like his book on the presidency of George Bush, "Dead Certain," for which he had rare access to the president, Draper's story benefited from on- and off-the-record conversations with McCain's inner circle, if not the candidate himself. Draper is blogging the election this week on GQ's Web site.
WWD: Some people wondered why the McCain campaign didn't require that you wait to publish the Times piece until after the election.
R.D.: When I began this story in early August, the McCain campaign felt pretty sanguine about their prospects....Though the outcome of the story is not as they would have scripted it, it's understood by them and others that I didn't sucker punch them. It helped that I had contacts in the McCain campaign from the previous GQ stories I had done and I had a lot of contacts in Bush world. A lot of those people had gone to work for John McCain. That led to their belief that they'd get fair-handed treatment from me. And we're talking about The New York Times, with whom they have an adversarial relationship....I think their calculation was, if they're ever going to get a fair shake from The New York Times, it's going to be with Draper.
WWD: Did it help that you had only one story to write, as opposed to filing every 30 seconds?
R.D.: Unlike some of the journalists for not only the daily papers but for networks, who have to constantly blog as well as file stories, I could be a little more leisurely, and beyond that, maintain a big-picture perspective. And frankly, the McCain campaign was much more responsive to that approach. They've come to be rather disdainful of the hyper-blogging that takes place on the press bus, and they think it has increased this mind-set of "gotcha" journalism, where every time John McCain would say something, instead of asking a follow-up question, people would go scurry off to their laptops and post to their blogs. And the McCain campaign believes that's not what journalism ought to be. I'm not positing myself as some kind of superior journalist, it's just that the format of long-form journalism allows me to be a little more leisurely, allows me to look at the longer view of things, and allows me two-and-a-half months on a single story.