Avenue of the Americas: Tale of two press corps
There is no more popular pursuit among the press corps covering the campaigns of Al Gore and George W. Bush than sniping at their colleagues on the rival campaign.
For the Bush media, the Gore press are a miserable bunch, moaning about their lack of access to a dreary candidate. For the Gore media, their Bush counterparts are inexperienced lapdogs, swallowing every word from their candidate without question.
One thing is not in dispute. Both sides agree that the Texas governor comes across more warmly and positively than the vice-president, and that is reflected in their rapport with reporters.
Of course, the candidates themselves must bear at least half the responsibility for their sharply differing relationships with the correspondents covering them on the trail. But the Gore press corps goes one step further, questioning their colleagues' ability to road test their candidate.
The consensus is that the vice-president is being stalked by experienced White House reporters, who have covered previous elections and are therefore tougher on their man. In contrast, the Bush media are younger reporters covering a campaign for the first time. According to this argument, their eagerness to report on the White House means they fail to be sufficiently critical of the Bush campaign.
One Gore reporter, covering his second presidential campaign, said: "Our Bush reporter said to me I should drop by their campaign sometime because they were having so much fun. That should not be your priority on a campaign. They just want to have fun."
However the Gore media, for all its experience, sometimes appears to step over the line in its pursuit of critical coverage.
At the heart of the press corps are three reporters, known to their politically-incorrect colleagues as the "Spice Girls". The three are perhaps the most influential reporters on the Gore campaign, having covered the vice-president almost without break this year: Ceci Connolly of The Washington Post, Katharine Seelye of The New York Times and Sandra Sobieraj of the Associated Press. They can also be the most hostile to the campaign, doing little to hide their contempt for the candidate and his team.
Connolly expressed her feelings most dramatically on last month's plane trip to North Carolina where the Gores were taking their pre-convention vacation. To lighten the mood on board, the campaign had given reporters beach accessories including plastic water pistols.
According to several witnesses, when Gore came back to chat to with the press on his plane, Connolly put her arm around the vice-president's shoulder and held the gun to his head. It might have been a joke. But for the secret service agents on board, as well as the Gore campaign, there were no smiles.
Seelye may not go that far. But New York Times reports sometimes take a personal edge about Gore which is absent from its coverage of Bush. Take one example in its coverage last week of the official announcement of Joe Lieberman's candidacy as the vice-presidential candidate, jointly written by Seelye and Kevin Sack.
It was astonishingly hot in Nashville's war memorial plaza, where the event was staged outdoors in front of around 1,000 supporters. Gore, Lieberman and the entire press corps were drenched in sweat well before Lieberman finished speaking. In fact the Connecticut senator twice reached for a towel to wipe the streams of sweat from his face, joking that he was just getting warmed up.
But the Times took a different view of the heat. It reported that the "sweltering 97-degree heat . . . left Mr Gore's drenched shirt stuck to his back (Mr Lieberman was wise enough to wear an undershirt)".
When a working relationship is reduced to the wisdom of undergarments, you know the Gore campaign has trouble on its hands.