NEW YORK – The media's beginning to get hungry.
It's been 45 days since John Kerry (search) addressed the media en masse; it's been 37 days since he last took questions from the press pool. President Bush's (search) last formal press conference was April 13, although he often takes reporters' questions following policy speeches. And journalists are antsy.
"I think it's just the normal griping of people who travel a lot [on campaign buses], and you're thinking, 'God I'm trailing this guy all the time and he won't talk to me,'" said Chuck Todd, editor in chief for National Journal's The Hotline. "It's sort of like 'mom, are we there yet?'"
Speaking to reporters on a flight to a campaign stop in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Kerry said he would have a formal news conference "very soon … you'll be surprised."
"There is a time and season for everything," the Massachusetts senator added.
For his part, Bush fielded media questions at least four times last month: when he announced his plan to revamp U.S. intelligence services; appeared with Poland's prime minister; toured Hurricane Charley damage in Florida and after meeting with his national security team at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Kerry's style has been to make individual phone calls to various media outlets. On Wednesday, he phoned in to the "Imus in the Morning" radio show to talk about Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the presidential race, saying, in general, that Bush has "misled America."
The senator called The New York Times after last week's explosion in North Korea as concerns over a nuclear test erupted. "The mere fact that we are even contemplating a nuclear weapons test by North Korea highlights a massive national security failure by President Bush," he told the newspaper.
And Kerry recently had a half-hour sit down with Time magazine, where, despite recent reports and signs that his campaign may be in slight distress, he said, "I think we are doing extraordinarily well."
Political experts say that acquiescing to these individual interviews instead of throwing themselves to the wolves during press availabilities is a way for candidates to keep their messages on target.
"When you're trying to control your press or take control of it or take control back, you do it one-on-one and you don't do a free-for-all. And it's a free-for-all if they [the media] control it," said Susan Estrich, a FOX News political analyst and veteran Democratic campaign expert. "The truth is, Kerry's too available. He should have limited it a long time ago."
Kerry has, at times, gotten himself in trouble when opening up to the press. One instance came on Aug. 6, when Bush challenged Kerry to answer yes or no to the question of whether he would have supported the invasion of Iraq "knowing what we know now" about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
"I have given my answer. We did the right thing and the world is better off for it," the president said.
In response, Kerry said, "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have."
Some fellow Democrats who argue that the Iraq war is unrelated to the fight against terrorism were up in arms at that statement.
It's these kinds of dust-ups that provide fodder for the opposition.
"There is a very simple reason the campaign has made Kerry less accessible: They are afraid of him giving yet another, different, contradictory answer on the war on Iraq or on other issues that the Bush campaign will then use immediately against them," said Erik Potholm, partner with Republican media consulting firm, Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm.
But when taking on an incumbent president, it could help Kerry to be more available, some strategists said.
"As the challenger, you would think that he would want to be more accessible … If I were advising Kerry ... I would have said, 'go back there like, every other day, then it's not a big deal when you go back," GOP strategist Rich Galen said of the coach section of campaign planes, where most media sit and wait for the candidate to make an appearance.
Galen noted that Kerry began to shrink from the media around the time when various outlets reported that some Vietnam veterans were challenging his previous statements that he was in Cambodia for Christmas in 1968, helping to conduct a secret war.
"He has not wanted to be around the press because he hasn't wanted to answer any questions about it," Galen said. "Now, the position they find themselves in, they have been 'Gore-ized,' which is to say that Senator Kerry is also a serial enhancer of his record. What reporters are doing, they're sitting in the back of the plane, comparing notes."
But Kerry loyalists say it's not their candidate who's doing the dodging.
"John Kerry talks to the American voters every day" campaign spokesman David Wade said recently. "The real question is why George Bush and his campaign are trying to dodge a national debate in front of a town hall of Americans … it's pretty clear they're afraid to talk about their record."
Even though both candidates have stayed mum since the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) started attacking Kerry's Vietnam heroism record — and, in turn, the Democrats started taking shots at Bush's Texas Air National Guard (search) service — observers say that's nothing to do with either man steering clear of the juicy-tidbit hungry press.
"Essentially, what they want reported is the message of the day ... their health care plans or their proposals or what's going on with Iraq," said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. "They don't want the message of the day interfered with or preempted with a question about swift boats or National Guard service or about Kitty Kelley in the midst of the message of the day."
And don't expect much to change between now and Nov. 2, experts added.
"As we get closer to the election, the stakes get even higher, and every mistake is magnified," Potholm said.
Added Madonna: "When you've got this intense polarization that's going on — the atmosphere is meteoric. It's almost like a tinderbox — waiting for another explosion to go off. And I don't think anyone wants to subject themselves to the prospect that their campaign gets mired down in a controversy."
FOX News' Catherine Loper contributed to this report.