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Obama Campaign Stiffs Ethnic Newspaper

New America Media, News Analysis/Commentary, Viji Sundaram Posted: Aug 25, 2008

Editor's Note: The Obama campaign repeated the same mistake made by the Clinton campaign six months earlier at the same San Francisco hotel holding a fundraiser with Asian Americans, but denying access to the local Asian American press. Viji Sundaram is an editor at New America Media.

SAN FRANCISCO What happens when you hold an event for South Asians and you don't invite any South Asian media? The Obama campaign is about to find out.

The venue: The Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Francisco. The date: Feb. 23, 2008. The event: A fundraiser for presidential contender Senator Hillary Clinton. Three media practitioners from the Bay Area-based Sing Tao Daily, World Journal and China Press are denied access to the event by her campaign workers, on grounds that they are not local media but "foreign press."

Fast forward to Aug. 17, 2008. The venue: The same Fairmont Hotel. The event: A three-part fundraiser for presumptive presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, targeting Asian-American supporters, the first part solely with South Asians. A reporter from the 31-year-old, national weekly newspaper India-West, who had sought credentials for the event two weeks earlier and continued trying up until a couple of days before the event, is told by the Obama campaign in Washington, D.C., that the event is off limits to the press. What about a pool report where one reporter is allowed to cover the event with the understanding that she or he shares the information with other reporters? "A report will not be available," e-mailed back Erin Fitzgerald from the Washington, D.C., communications office. "Thanks for inquiring!"

The next day, Aug. 18, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a report about the event, under the headline, "Obama reaps big bucks at S.F. fundraisers," by Carla Marinucci, senior political reporter at the paper.

"I was so annoyed when I saw that," said India-West editor Bina Murarka. "This was an event specifically for the South Asian community, and after all the pre-publicity we gave them, we were forced to rewrite someone's else's story. Do they think we are not important enough in the scheme of things? Were they just there to collect money?"

Obama raised a record $7.8 million at the event, some of that coming from the well-heeled South Asian community. One-hundred-and-fifty Indians and Pakistanis showed up, many of them from the who's who of Silicon Valley. Not all of them were registered Democrats. Each paid contributions ranging from $28,500 per couple for the VIP ballroom event, to $2,300 for the meet-and-greet reception.

Other political heavyweights at the event included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Mike Honda, former California controller Steve Westly and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

So why was an Indian-American newspaper stiffed, and a mainstream newspaper given preferential treatment? When India-West contacted her, Marinucci said she had been assigned as the pool reporter the day before the event.

Called by New America Media for an explanation, Nayyera Haq, communications director with the Obama campaign for the West Coast region, had this to say: "Our policy with fundraisers is we have one pool reporter from a mainstream, I mean, local newspaper, and one reporter who travels with Barack at those events."

The Chronicle was chosen over India-West, Haq said,"because the Chronicle reaches the greatest number of people in the area."

At the South Asian event, Obama ingratiated himself with his audience. He said he had an "enormous personal affection for the people of South Asia." He called himself a "desi" the Hindi term to describe those from the Indian sub-continent. He said he was an expert at cooking dal and other ethnic dishes.

"I am sure he must have had an Indian guy (tutor) him on what to say," said Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Kanwal Rekhi, a registered Republican, who nevertheless attended the fundraiser. Rekhi plans to vote for Obama because Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is "far too right" for his liking.

Rekhi said he was surprised that the Obama campaign denied India-West access to the event. "I don't know why they did that. I'm sure they would have liked the publicity."

But super delegate and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Kamil Hasan didn't seem to think it was a big deal. "It was a private fundraiser and press are not allowed at such events," said Hasan, national co-chair of the finance committee of Asian Americans for Obama, which co-hosted the event.

No other media representative from any of the other Asian American publications in the Bay Area tried to get access to the fundraiser.

A month after the media snafu at her own fundraiser last February, Clinton was forced to eat crow. She held a roundtable discussion with the Bay Area Chinese media and expressed "deep regret" over the "misunderstanding over press credentials."

I wonder if Obama will do the same.


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