by Scott Bolohan
Last week, I participated in a conference call with Sen. Barack Obama, which brought us college students closer to the campaign than ever before, giving college newspapers a chance to talk right to the candidate about the issues of financial aid.
However, after this call, I couldn’t help but feel used. The Obama campaign sent out a press release talking about how Obama had announced his financial aid plan to college reporters before the event had even started. I understand the need to get out the news as quickly as possible, but it seems like the campaign was only using the college newspapers as a publicity ploy to make it appear as if it prioritized college students as an important part of their campaign.
In my experience, this isn’t true. Writing here at The DePaulia, I’ve been trying to attend Sen. Obama’s speeches and other events in the Chicago area. I thought it was a great news story to have someone from our city be a serious contender and I wanted to cover these events and try to bring out the issues relevant to college students from the speeches. You’d think that the Obama campaign would love some press, especially for an audience that has been very much behind him, right?
Well, so did I. However, when I’ve attended the events, I’ve run into the issue of not having "press credentials" to present to the people at the media tables to get media access. I would say I was from The DePaulia and it didn’t buy me anything. Now, I can understand that they don’t want Joe Schmo coming off the street and being granted media access, but for some of the events I was being shut out of because they closed to the public.
The Obama campaign had been very good early on with college newspapers, hosting conference calls with his press secretary Bill Burton, so I thought I could just attempt to contact the press secretaries to be granted media access for his events, but I never heard anything back. I told The DePaulia advisor, Mike Conklin, about this, thinking he might have more power to get me credentials, but he too never heard back from Obama’s people, other than being put on a mailing list that would encourage him to donate money to the Obama campaign.
After the second college newspaper conference call with Burton held on March 8, all contact between the Obama campaign and The DePaulia had come to a standstill, besides the almost daily press releases that I must have been put on a mailing list for. Even an e-mail asking for information about possible future conference calls went unanswered.
And then I got an invitation to participate in the conference call with Sen. Obama the night before it happened. Which makes it seem like college students are really only important to the Obama campaign when we can be used for political purposes.
On top of that, I received a call from one of Obama’s press secretaries, Kate Hogan, asking me for my e-mail account, because the press secretary I called the day before didn’t write it down. She said they had received ‘a million e-mails from me before’ but wasn’t sure what my e-mail address was. They had been receiving all my attempts to contact them, and still disregarded them like they were junk mail.
In the first conference call with Burton, held on March 1, he said, "He’s [Obama] committed to making sure college students and young folks everywhere are an important part of this campaign. If you listen to what he says, he specifically points to the fact that at every important juncture in our history, it was young folks that stepped up and forced the change to happen. He considers this to be another such opportunity and looks forward to all that students have to offer."
These words seem almost comical to me given the events that have unfolded. The Obama campaign is now able to say they have been communicating with college students, even though communication broke off months ago, other than a politically motivated conference call last week. It would appear we were just used for a political tool, something I feel used about, as I thought this campaign really cared about us young people.
But that’s also not to say that the other candidates have been any better. The John McCain and John Edwards campaigns have not responded to e-mails asking for information about their plans for education and plans for the college aged person. This isn’t even counting the interview requests I put in to Obama, McCain, and Edwards. I understand The DePaulia isn’t Time Magazine, but getting no response from any of them, not even a ‘sorry, he’s busy’ response seems like a poor choice to make for a group of people that ‘forces change at every important juncture in history.’
I also would have loved to attend Hilary Clinton’s recent stops in the Chicago area, but her Web site offers no links to contact her press secretaries or any way to come into contact with media access. The same goes for Rudy Giuliani’s and Mitt Romney’s Web sites. So even though I’m upset at not getting a response from Obama, McCain, or Edwards, at least they have been open to contact from the media, while the others have not even made it possible for college media contact.
To be honest, the Obama campaign really has been the best campaign, in my experience, at being in contact with college press. Heck, on the McCain Web site, it doesn’t even mention a word about his plans for education. Perhaps I’m being too critical of the Obama campaign and expecting too much from them. Or maybe I just expected more from someone who so many young people have seen so much hope in.
Perhaps Burton will be right when he talks about young people stepping up and making a change, but that change will come when college students have a candidate that really does care about them, instead of using them for political gain.