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Divide and Bicker

Spin Control

The internal struggle produced sharp disagreements about dealing with the legions of reporters who were investigating or traveling with Dean. The candidate and some of his advisers came to feel under siege by the media, while some correspondents were irritated by a campaign they viewed as not ready for prime time.

Dean's often testy relations with journalists were exacerbated, several officials said, by what one who spent time on the trail called O'Connor's "contemptuous attitude toward the press."

Howard Dean campaigning in New Hampshire four days before a costly loss in that state's Jan. 27 primary. (Laurie Swope For The Washington Post)

When Dean was to fly from New York to Detroit and back on a small charter, O'Connor turned down a request by New York Times correspondent Jodi Wilgoren to ride along, a campaign official said. At a luncheon, Wilgoren slipped Dean a note saying the staff's decision would prevent her from covering the Detroit event. Dean overruled the staff and allowed her on the plane.

"Kate didn't speak to me for a couple of weeks because I'd gone around her," Wilgoren said.

O'Connor said it wasn't her job to decide which journalists got on the plane. But she acknowledged her frustration with the coverage. "I stopped reading newspapers and watching television," she said, because many stories were "completely false."

Several officials say O'Connor helped stoke Dean's anger about articles viewed as negative, sometimes before public events. She "got him very worked up" about a Newsweek report on his finances before an Iowa debate, said one staffer who saw her read it on her laptop. Trippi told Dean by phone that the piece was tame.

Dean sometimes pressed Tricia Enright, the communications director, to complain to editors about negative stories by their reporters and say Dean would no longer deal with those reporters -- calls that Enright usually declined to make, two officials said.

Enright said she tried "to develop relations with the media." But Trippi said that "people like Trish Enright, who thought we should give more access to reporters, were seen as somehow soft on protecting the governor. You got a bad mark next to your name. . . . That created a schism. This was an overly protective group of people who thought they were protecting the governor but were hurting him."

While Trippi constantly bantered with reporters, he could lose his temper as well. When The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei wrote a story on Dean's misstatements -- filed on the night that he and Trippi had dinner and drinks -- Trippi sent word through an aide that neither he nor Dean would speak to him again.

In another incident that left tempers frayed, a Time story online quoted Dean from an interview as having said, "We won't always have the strongest military." According to an official who heard the discussions, Dean and O'Connor told Trippi, who was worried about damage control, that the candidate had never used those words and Trippi should explain that to the press. It turned out the Time reporter had recorded Dean's comment.

O'Connor called the matter "petty," saying she could not have disputed the quote because she wasn't there.

Even Trippi's admirers dubbed him the "mad scientist," a fast-talking, frenetic salesman who worked the phones all day and spent the wee hours answering bloggers on the campaign's Web site. But his detractors said he wasn't attending to the nuts and bolts of staffing and scheduling.

"Joe was a brilliant strategist, but he wasn't a manager," said an official sympathetic to O'Connor. "We all tried to fill in for Joe's shortcomings."

Enright's press operation also drew some internal flak, with detractors saying she held no morning message meeting and was slow in getting back to reporters. National spokesman Jay Carson said the campaign "got so big so fast that we weren't ready for a lot of the stuff that came down the pike."

Enright said her small staff, which she couldn't get permission to expand, was deluged with hundreds of calls a day. "We did the best we could with the resources we had," she said. "A lot of times it was triage."

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