That, and other news, in today’s Political Panorama.

As the retail politics of the presidential race give way to TV-and-tarmac campaigning, “free media” comes all the more important, whether on late-night talk shows, morning gab fests and just plain unexpected places. (See “Access Hollywood,” below.)

Clinton_4_2And as candidates fanned out on the morning talk show circuit on Wednesday, one bit of a surprise was where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama appeared — on “Fox & Friends.” The day after the New Hampshire primary, both candidates gave interviews on the show.

Flash back to almost a year ago, and it was an entirely diffierent atmosphere. “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy suggested that Obama had been educated in a madrassa — a false claim based on a story that ran in Insight magazine. In what amounted to a clarification, he later read the Obama camp’s labelling of the story as “ludicrous.” After a variety of incidents, MoveOn and other progressive groups campaigned, successfully, to get the Democratic National Committee to pull out of Fox-sponsored debates. The Clinton and Obama camps then declared that they would not participate in non-DNC sanctioned forums. John Edwards was sharply critical of the network in some stump speeches.

Obama_4 But the shunning of Fox had its limits.

Clinton has since appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” and Obama has given interviews to correspondent Carl Cameron. And, of course, he spoke over the weekend to Bill O’Reilly — albeit very briefly.

Did MoveOn have any reaction to the appearances? “Not really,” the group’s Adam Green said via e-mail. “Our issue with the debates was that we didn’t want Fox propped up as a neutral debate moderator.”

More Coverage Consternation: The Politico’s John F. Harris and Jim Vanderhei pen an article in The Politico called “Why Reporters Get It Wrong,” which addresses many of the false assumptions that have been made about this year’s presidential race.

They write, “If journalists were candidates, there would be insurmountable pressure for us to leave the race. If the court of public opinion were a real court, the best a defense lawyer could do is plea bargain out of a charge that reporters are frauds in exchange for a signed confession that reporters are fools.

“New Hampshire was jarring because it offered in highly concentrated form all the dysfunctions and maladies that have periodically afflicted political journalism for years.”

IATSE Chides Obama: The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the stagehands and below-the-line union, sent out a press release on Wednesday charging that the Obama campaign was using non-union labor despite a promise not to do so.

IATSE (or IA) endorsed Hillary Clinton last month, a fact it made clear in its press release. It came out on the same day that Obama received the endorsement of the Culinary Workers union in Nevada.

The IA’s gripe all stems from an agreement Obama made with a union local involving his choice of the non-union Verizon Wireless Arena for his appearance with Oprah Winfrey in Manchester, N.H., on Dec. 9. The venue was apparently the only one large enough in the area to hold the crowd.

IATSE states in its release, “When Oprah Winfrey campaigned for Obama in New Hampshire in early December, it was decided to hold the event at a non-union venue. Local 195 contacted the campaign and requested they move to a union site. The campaign refused. When IATSE threatened an informational picket line at the event, Obama promised to make pro-union statements at the rally and to use union labor for future events. The picket was then cancelled. Obama did make a pro-union statement at that event, and the campaign promised that they would use union venues in the future.

“Then on Dec. 10, 2006 [sic], the IA endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. While campaigning in Iowa, the Obama camp asked IA locals for one union employee per event, but used additional nonunion labor at each one. Stage technicians set up stages, hang backdrops and run technical equipment needed for many of the campaign rallies and speeches that are broadcast frequently.”

The release goes on to quote a New Hampshire stagehand who chides the candidate — but the worker is not named.

When the agreement was reached, New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Mark S. Mackenzie was fine with the set up and praiseworthy of Obama’s support of unions with his votes in the Senate. “He understands that the clearest path to the middle class is through a union,” he said in a statement. It was too late in the day to get a response on the latest wrinkle.

The Obama campaign did not offer a statement in response.

An IA spokeswoman said about the timing, “Don’t read anything into it.”

Saban’s Politics: The Center for Public Integrity launched the new website “Buying of the President 2008” on Wednesday, which will look at how big money and special interests influence the path to the White House. Among the features are profiles of high-profile donors, including Haim Saban, who has given more than $13.4 million to Democratic candidates and committees since 1994. He’s a major fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton this year — and has been public about his enthusiasm for her campaign. He’s a longtime friend of the Clintons dating to their White House years. In an interview with Haaretz in 2006, he said, “I’m not after power. But I do not belittle the fact that . . . I sit with [Bill] Clinton in the White House and he goes to the refrigerator and asks me if I want regular water or fizzy. Sometimes I tell myself that there’s something a bit nutty here. He’s the president of the United States. I sell cartoons. So he is going to serve me and ask if I want regular or fizzy water?”

Edited from initial post.