During the World Series, baseball buff George Bush never wandered to the back of his press plane for a little postgame chatter. Reason: reporters had barred him, and his "off the record" sessions, from their part of the plane. It was their response to the campaign's decision to cancel press conferences for the last seven weeks of the campaign. For most pols, a blackout would be reason to haul out the peanuts and Cracker Jack, but for the slap-and-tickle candidate, this was punishment. Bush likes to gambol and gibe, because that's what baseball is too. Which is why his off-the-record chats tell you more about Bush in minutes than hours of reporting could ever uncover: what he thinks about the debates, the stolen debate tape and the electoral landscape. He mocks Al Gore. He pinches female reporters' cheeks and talks about his children, his parents and his Texas ranch. But the richness of these talks highlights just how managed the message is.
--By John F. Dickerson