Charging For Coverage p. 19

By: MARK FITZGERALD REPUBLICAN PARTY ORGANIZATIONS in several states are demanding fees from news organizations that want to cover their delegations at the GOP convention in San Diego Aug. 12-15.
The unprecedented ? and last-minute ? demands are infuriating journalists ? who say they are ponying up only because they have no time to make other arrangements.
"We intend to write a hot letter to [Kansas Republican Party officials] after this is all over," said Darryl Levings, national editor of the Kansas City Star.
"We don't feel very good about writing that check," Levings added. "But what can we do? It comes down to practicalities, I guess."
Kansas ? home delegation of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole ? is drawing the most complaints for its fee demands.
In a three-page fax sent to news organizations in Kansas and Missouri, the Kansas GOP organization said it was charging a $250 "administrative fee to help defray the enormous expenses" associated with the convention.
The initial fax gave editors the impression that the fee was $250 per journalist ? a figure that shocked Levings, whose paper will be sending 10 or 11 reporters to cover the nomination of the Kansan. State officials later clarified that the cost was $250 per news organization, but Levings was hardly mollified.
"I talked to David Miller, head of the Kansas Republican Party, and he said, [the fee]s for buses," Levings said. "So I said, 'We don't want to ride in your buses.' So he said it's for dinners. And I said, 'We're not in the habit of eating your dinners.' "
The two went back and forth, Levings said, until finally Miller reportedly told the editor, "I don't give a damn what you've been doing ? we've got costs, and if you want to be with us you've got to pay the costs, too."
A call for comment to Miller was referred to Kansas Republican Party executive director Karen Castro, who did not return phone messages.
In addition to Kansas, GOP party organizations in California, Ohio, and New Jersey are also charging fees to journalists, according to an informal E&P survey.
The state party delegations basically have reporters over the barrel in this situation because each delegation controls the arrangements at their particular hotel in San Diego. Journalists that refuse to go along have to make arrangements with other states or the national party.
"We didn't care for [the fee]," said Paul Stevens, chief of the Associated Press' bureau in Kansas City, Mo. "But what was left for us was staying in a hotel about eight or nine blocks away from the Kansas delegation. We felt it best for [Topeka, Kan., correspondent Lewis Ferguson] to be as close to the delegation as possible.
"We were kind of stuck," he said.
An even stiffer fee ? $400 per news organization ? is being charged by New Jersey's state delegation, said Tom Jory, who is coordinating AP's election coverage.
New Jersey's governor, Christie Whitman, has frequently been cited as a possible vice presidential candidate, despite her repeated demurrals.
AP will be paying in New Jersey, too ? but reluctantly, Jory said.
"I don't know if we should be in the business of subsidizing party functions," Jory said.
In California, the state delegation is charging news organizations $350 for every three reporters
State delegations attending GOP convention are demanding 'access fees' from journalists who'll cover them assigned to the delegation, said David Lauter, political editor of the Los Angeles Times.
The Radio-Television News Directors Association has formally protested the fees in letters sent to the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic national committees.
No reports have surfaced of similar fees for journalists covering state delegations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago Aug. 26-29.
"It's just extortion ? it's a scam," RTNDA president David Bartlett said in a telephone interview. "The absurdity of this is that they need us a lot more than we need them. And it's not like they are selling anything of value."
RTNDA urged the national party organizations to "use their considerable influence to stop this before it spreads further. And we hope news organizations will stand up to local politicians who appear to be trying to make a buck off the national conventions by refusing to pay these outrageous access fees."
In an interview, Bartlett added, "I think probably shame will stamp it out."


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