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Did the New Yorker Get Snubbed from the Obama Campaign Plane?

Rachel Sklar at Huffington Post passes on the story that the Obama campaign had no room on its Iraq-bound campaign plane for Ryan Lizza, who penned a somewhat unflattering but fair and well-reported piece on Obama in last week’s New Yorker (the same edition that featured Barry Blitt’s editorial cartoon on the cover).

Let me approach this from a couple of different angles. On the one hand, I have very little doubt that political campaigns can behave vindictively. I say this because, in our work over at Baseball Prospectus, we have occasionally encountered baseball teams behaving in this fashion when it comes to issuing credentials. If baseball teams act vindictively based on what they perceive as negative coverage — and many of them go out of their way to be fair, but some of them are capable of it — I have little doubt that political campaigns are capable of it too. When this does happen, the excuse given is invariably the same one that the Obama campaign gave to the New Yorker — “sorry, there’s no room”.

At the same time, space actually is a problem — especially in a cramped major league press box or a campaign plane that has room for just 40 correspondents. Does the New Yorker clearly deserve one of those 40 seats?

I have absolutely no idea. But it perhaps isn’t a slam dunk. I’ve attempted to determine which news sources are driving the most Internet traffic based on the present Memorandum rankings. Excluding duplicates and portals that clearly do not have a reporting function, I come up with the following list:

1. New York Times
2. Washington Post
3. Associated Press
4. CNN
5. The Politico
6. National Review
7. Wall Street Journal
8. Huffington Post
9. Los Angeles Times
10. Talking Points Memo
11. The Atlantic
12. Times of London
14. Salon
15. The Hill
16. Reuters
17. ABC News
18. Telegraph (UK)
19. New York Post
20. Bloomberg News
21. Guardian (UK)
22. New Republic
23. Fox News
24. Newsweek
25. Boston Globe
26. McClatchy
27. Jerusalem Post
28. Der Spiegel
29. Daily Mail (UK)
30. Time
31. Weekly Standard
32. USA Today
33. Chicago Tribune
34. CBS News
35. New York Sun
36. Vanity Fair
37. US News & World Report
38. San Francisco Chronicle
39. International Herald Tribune
40. The New Yorker

There is The New Yorker, right on the bubble at #40. Of course, there are several names on that list that probably don’t belong (or that had no interest in sending a correspondent), and several others that didn’t make the list but undoubtedly do: Lynn Sweet at the Sun-Times was sure as hell going to get a seat on that plane, for instance. Nor is it clear that traffic generation ought to be the standard (though if the seriousness of one’s reporting were the metric instead, Lizza would surely belong in the top 40).

But clearly there is not an open-and-shut case — and so to report that Lizza was ‘barred’ or ‘snubbed’ is a little misleading. At the same time, it’s not the act of impropriety that matters so much as its appearance, and the Obama campaign ought to have gone out of its way to accommodate the request.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.