The National Journal’s Chuck Todd writes in his On The Trail column that my party’s (especially press secretaries) default inclination to blame the media for receiving bad press coverage is a total bust as a legit, effective communications play.
And he’s right — that works for a few news cycles, then you’re back to square one having already pissed off the reporter/s and editors who have their own option of continuing the coverage. Attacking a reporter for consistently sloppy, slanted, unaccountable reporting is one thing, especially when you back up your bitching w/ facts — but just the general anti-media flail as a default first step reveals lack of skill and lack of judgment; gets you nowhere.
The Cheney debacle, and the way the Veep decided to allow a private citizen to inform the nation via the
Corpus Christi Caller Times was friggin’ wierd — there’s no other way to describe it. And saying the national press was upset because the Caller Times “got the story” was laughable. That’s just not how things work. High level GOP government press operatives cringed privately when discussing the mechanics of this press disaster. The press had zilch to do with it, and a ham-handed Cheney press operation (It’s Cheney’s fault, though) made it worse.
If Mary Matalin hadn’t come in to kick some internal ass they’d still be writing about this.
This is a must read article:
Will Media Bashing Ever Die As A Crisis Strategy?
By Chuck Todd, NationalJournal.com
Nothing makes us roll our eyes faster than a politician who does something foolish and then just trots out the ol’ media-bashing strategy.
And that’s exactly what Vice President Dick Cheney and his team did when he was backed into a corner after their disastrous handling of the hunting mishap. Among the more ridiculous charges by Cheney et al. was that the national media were somehow bitter because a smaller paper in Corpus Christi got the first release of news on Cheney’s shooting.
It is incredibly frustrating that there are so many smart Republicans apt to slip into this “all of the media are out to get Republicans” mindset.
Where this storyline came from is beyond us. The criticism from the media was directed at the lack of official communication out of the White House on the incident. And that is still a valid criticism. After all, it’s not every day that a vice president shoots someone. Why should some private citizen, who really wasn’t the best eyewitness, be the one to release a statement? She’s not beholden to the American people; Cheney is.
It appears this “attack the media” strategy is going to work in the short term for Cheney, at least among Republican base voters, who usually believe the media are out to get them until proved otherwise. Frankly, it is incredibly frustrating that there are so many smart Republicans apt to slip into this “all of the media are out to get Republicans” mindset.
What’s more, we always laugh when GOP flaks complain to us about how much better press, say, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gets nationally, or Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., gets in D.C. compared to the average Republican. Disgruntled Republicans assume that the press covers McCain and Davis more because they come across as moderates. There’s a much simpler answer: McCain and Davis get better coverage because they treat the media with respect and, well, ask for coverage.
One Republican operative who frequently is helpful to us (and he’s no moderate, by the way), actually lectures fellow flaks and strategists on their combative relationships with the press. He reminds them that reporters have families and bosses, and that they are human beings who simply have a job to do. Are there grandstanders in the press corps? Sure. Are there grandstanders inside the two major parties? You bet.
All that the media are out to get is a story, period. There are members of the Fourth Estate who have axes to grind, but for the most part, the media are solidly fair and biased. Yes, we wrote “biased.” As we’ve written in the past, there’s no such thing as “fair and balanced” reporting, because you can’t “balance” the truth. The best anyone can hope to be is “fair and biased.”
As long as human beings are filling journalism jobs, bias is going to creep into reporting. It’s not usually left/right bias as much as it is “exposure” bias, i.e., the idea that what reporters are exposed to on a daily basis in their lives inevitably will influence how or what reporters cover. Maybe a reporter who has had a friend murdered randomly is more likely than others to cover death penalty issues. Or maybe a reporter who has had a parent not get the best medical care is more likely to do a negative story on the issue. The point is, reporters are human beings, and all humans are biased about something. It’s not usually party; actually, it’s very seldom party and ideology.
Republicans ought to be careful with the “bash the media” strategy, because with the rise of FOX News, conservative-friendly media are becoming more popular (dare we say mainstream?). At some point, the media bashing could fall on deaf ears, because the cable media are perceived as a bit more friendly to the GOP.
Two things we will take away from this Cheney episode:
1) The media are going to give Cheney more scrutiny, not less, as a result. We’ve heard rumors of an official “pool” reporter/camera being added to the White House press coverage plan. At a minimum, you’ll see a lot more reporters taking an interest in tracking his whereabouts. But despite his best attempts, Cheney is not a private citizen. He was in 1999, but he gave that up when he picked himself to be vice president. More importantly, if he wanted to keep his privacy while in his post, he shouldn’t have become such an important cog in the running of the government.
2) Perhaps the more important lesson in this is how disconnected the Bush and Cheney power centers are within the White House. The fact that the vice president doesn’t speak to the president directly (at least, not in this instance) is bizarre. How much of a co-presidency is the Bush-Cheney White House? Or, is it better to ask, how much of a “co-president” does Cheney view himself? Of course, all of this would have been handled 10 times better if Cheney had any more political ambition. But because he’s not running in the next election, he doesn’t seem to care about his political standing, and that in turn leads to delayed responses like the one we saw last week.
Courtesy of The Hotline