Barnicle, waiting for Jon Huntsman to speak in Keene, nudged his Morning Joe panel-mate John Heilemann, national political editor for New York magazine, who was sitting with him. "Think about it," Heilemann said. "There's no drinking, there's no smoking, there's no swearing, there's no sex — that's the perfect press corps for Mitt Romney."
The criticisms may be unfair: many of today's campaign reporters are excellent journalists — hired away from those old local newspapers.
But there is another concern: that the current makeup of the campaign press corps is contributing to the lack of access to candidates.
Reporters covering the campaign are nearly unanimous that candidates have kept the media at a far greater remove than in previous election cycles. The candidates give few interviews and rarely hold press conferences, and even the press secretaries are largely uncooperative.
"Every cycle you lose access," says McPike. But this year, "we have far less access than we had in 2008."
That may be, at least in part, because the campaigns are not afraid that average voters will even notice, let alone care, that Real Clear Politics or Politico are being shut out.
But campaigns do care about getting good local press. That was clear in New Hampshire last week, when press secretaries frequently cut off the national journalists at press conferences, to let local reporters ask questions. Candidates have also given one-on-one interviews with local TV newscasters, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, far more frequently than to national ones.
But as those local journalists are less and less of a presence, it has become easier for campaigns to avoid the press altogether, and campaign entirely through advertising, debates, and carefully controlled events. All of which leaves the swarm of reporters scrambling for minutia to report, making them seem even less relevant — and perhaps, seeking a way off the bus for good.
To read the Talking Politics blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dbernstein.