Barack Obama's campaign has booted from its airplane three reporters who work for newspapers that have endorsed John McCain.
The campaign says that a limited number of seats forced it to make the tough decision of which journalists would be permitted to follow the Democratic presidential candidate in the last four days of the campaign, but the papers are calling foul, claiming they were targeted for their editorial-page positions and kicked off while nonpolitical publications like Glamour and Jet magazines remained on board.
Eliminated from the plane's traveling press were the Washington Times, the New York Post and the Dallas Morning News.
"It feels like the journalistic equivalent of redistributing the wealth," said John Solomon, executive editor of the Washington Times.
"We paid all along to travel and cover Obama. This is a matter of basic fairness. We've committed a lot of resources and have been covering Obama since the beginning. By the campaign's own admission our reporter has done a fair job," he said.
"We've covered him since 2007 and paid our dues. By the numbers we've covered Obama longer and given more coverage to him than many of the other people who were given seats. Our readers are mostly from Virginia, an important battleground state. He's not punishing us, he is punishing them," Solomon said.
The Times is one of the most-read news Web sites in the country and has one of the highest circulations in Virginia, Solomon said. He said the paper would fly its reporters on its own to continue coverage.
In the final days of a campaign, it is not uncommon for journalists to be shuffled as multiple news agencies rush to get a coveted seat close to the candidate.
"Unfortunately, demand for seats on the plane during this final weekend has far exceeded supply, and because of logistical issues we made the decision not to add a second plane," said Obama campaign senior adviser Anita Dunn.
"This means we've had to make hard and unpleasant for all concerned decisions about limiting some news organizations and in some cases not being in a position to offer space to news organizations altogether," she said.
The Dallas Morning News, which has a daily circulation of about 300,000, acknowledged that it had not been covering the campaign as long as some other papers, but that it was discouraged to learn that magazines like Glamour had retained their seats.
"We're protesting it and we're not happy about it," said editor Bob Mong of the Dallas Morning News. "We're not in a swing state, but given our history of outstanding political reporting, we're upset, particularly when you see guys like Glamour on board."
Mong said he had no evidence that his reporter had been ejected given the paper's editorial decision. A Morning News reporter, he said, was ejected from the campaign plane of John McCain, Obama's Republican rival, earlier in the week, but had recently gotten it back.
The Obama campaign said the decision was not based on the way Obama had been covered and pointed out that both the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, which have been critical of Obama, had retained their seats.
The campaign said it needed to make room for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, but reportedly Jet and Ebony magazines have seats as well.
Col Allan, the New York Post's editor in chief, said, "We are happy to be on the outside looking in. It's what makes The New York Post special. We are not in the news business to be liked."
Journalists have complained in the past that campaigns kicked them off the planes as retribution for their coverage.
In 2004, The New York Times said it was not given a seat on Air Force 2 when Vice President Dick Cheney was stumping with President Bush, because the vice president was displeased with the paper's coverage of him.