Monday, October 20, 2008

Palin and the press

Guess what? She's great:
Though she often turns the "mainstream media" into a punching bag on the stump, Palin clearly enjoys interacting with reporters. She seems to relish the opportunity to demonstrate that her breadth of knowledge far exceeds what she offered to CBS News' Katie Couric in a series of interviews that were marked by vague, often convoluted answers to straightforward questions.
Via Joe at NoVaTownhall who sagely notes the most important point: I was right all along. Twenty-two years in the news business, but does any Republican ever ask my opinion about "media strategy"? No, but they'll shell out big bucks to "media strategists" who never worked a day in a newsroom. For want of a nail . . .

UPDATE: I just saw Frank Luntz on "Fox & Friends" say that it was wrong for Sarah Palin to do the Gibson and Kouric interviews -- and in this, Luntz is right -- but then he said she shouldn't have talked to any reporters until after the first debate, which is completely wrong.

Let me try to explain this briefly. The daily deadline reporters who are out there covering the McCain campaign every day should never be treated as the Big Media Enemy, except in those cases where an individual reporter commits some specific act of unfairness. Nor should the local and regional reporters who show up to cover specific events be confused with The Big Media Enemy.

The workaday journalist whose job it is to go out and cover campaigns deserves to be treated with respect. That reporter is supposed to be getting the news, and when campaigns don't allow reporters access to candidates -- when there's never a press conference, never any unscripted availability -- you can't blame the inevitable deterioration of the campaign's press relations on the press.

"You draw more flies with honey" -- that's the simplest summary of the secret to good press relations. "Walk a mile in my shoes" -- that's the simplest summary of why Republicans are so lousy at press relations. Because 90% of reporters are Democrats, there are very few people working in Republican politics who've ever been reporters. There is a lack of empathy, an inability to see press relations from the reporter's point of view, at the heart of the Republican Party's lousy standing in America's newsroom.

The liberal leanings of the press corps can't be helped (at least, not in the short term), but how Republicans deal with that problem is within their own control. "I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing," Reagan said, and today's GOP stands guilty of doing nothing about media bias -- except constantly whining and lashing out in paranoid rage, which is Nixonesque, not Reaganesque.

Republican campaign operatives have to get over their sadistic, punitive attitude toward the press. The Tucker Bounds School of GOP media relations -- where every interview is treated as an opportunity to show contempt for the interviewer -- is only making a bad situation worse.

Over the years, I have patiently sought to explain this to the Republicans I know personally. They nod in assent, but then . . . nothing. Maybe it's my fault they never seem to follow up on what I tell them. Maybe it's that I'm not a big-shot party operative like Frank Luntz or a 20-something know-it-all like Tucker Bounds. But with their mishandling of the Palin press roll-out, everyone can see how this blunderheaded attitude has cost the GOP a real political opportunity, so maybe something will change.

1 comment:

  1. What you say makes tremendous sense on a sensible workaday level.

    I've got no reportorial experience and I'm sure as hell not a campaign expert, but I do have a job. If my job were cover a candidate and I couldn't get anything more from him or her than what the cameras already got or what was supplied in the pre-speech notes, I would have to find something to justify my pay.

    If a few words in reply to a question isn't coming, or I couldn't get a backstage look even, then it'd have to be a little more creative. If I felt put-off by the experience it probably wouldn't be good. I'd like to consider myself professional enough to be even handed but then we all do have our biases and unexamined prejudices.

    Reports of Palin's recent availability may be too little too late to do much good. A few questions and answers to and from events shouldn't have the gotcha potential these people seem to fear. Thanks for the working journalist POV, we usually get the result of it without the background.