Archive for November 8th, 2008

November 8, 2008

‘Rebuild the Party’

Several of my friends — including Erick Erickson, Matt Lewis, Jon Henke, and J.P. Freire — have formed Rebuild the Party, an effort to construct an online-based project to modernize and strengthen the Republican Party.

Commenter Rae says, “I don’t see R.S. McCain on their coalition list.” Correct. I wasn’t asked to participate. It’s a Young Turks organization, and I’m 20 years older than most of those guys. (Yesterday, I was talking to a conservative activist, a guy about my age, regarding the Old Guard and the Young Turks, and he referred to himself as a “Medium Turk,” which is an apt description.)

I’m not the “joiner” type, anyway. I work for money, and don’t much go for that volunteer True Believer stuff: Save the Whales, Save Darfur, Save the GOP. As a professional journalist, of course, I’ll be interested in covering their project, and certainly wish them success. The Republican Party is such a wretched mess nowadays it’s hard even to imagine how it could be fixed.

November 8, 2008

So NOW the NYT is fair to Palin

Once the election is over, the New York Times provides something in the neighborhood of factual reporting about Sarah Palin. They couldn’t have allowed facts to get in the way of anonymous smears and tendentious misrepresentation so long as it was possible that The One might be hurt by the truth. Fausta Wertz has a nice roundup on today’s Palin news, and says:

Part of Palin’s appeal to people like me is that she tells it like it is, unlike the current convoluted language in the media and the upcoming administration.

She links Doug Ross who says about media bias:

Put simply, there appears to be only a turnstile between a Democratic administration and a cushy media job.

For a couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to think of how to boil down into a single column exactly how the Republican Party has blown its media-relations operation over the past decade. What does the GOP do wrong? Well, “everything” might be a short summary.

If the media is 90% liberal (and it’s close to that), this means that there are relatively few opportunities for Republicans to hire campaign operatives who have actual newsroom experience. So you’ve got people running press relations who don’t have the faintest clue about what motivates reporters.

Out on the trail covering McCain and Palin, you could not miss the campaign staff’s vibe of hostility (or perhaps a defensive fear) toward the press corps — a hostility returned with interest by reporters who were tired of being fed press releases, shuttled around to scripted events, and denied direct access to the candidates. The campaign would set up a “pen” for the press, and any reporter who wandered outside the pen to try to get some “local color” quotes from the crowd was apt to be confronted with an officious staffer telling him to get back where he belonged. (This happened to me in Lebanon, Ohio, though I eventually managed to elude the staff and do some reporting despite them.)

Obama’s campaign was run by David Axelrod, who spent 8 years as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and has a thick Rolodex of press contacts. The success of the Obama campaign had a lot to do with the amazing ability of Team Hope to get the press to frame its coverage to reflect exactly the spin the Obama campaign wanted. And a big part of that was Axelrod working the phones with reporters and editors in a collegial manner.

The poisoned relationship between the media and the Republican Party is not entirely the fault of the media. There must be some secret school somewhere that trains Republican operatives to treat reporters like crap. But it’s infinitely easier for GOP officials to whine about “media bias” than to admit the fact that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to press relations.

Just in case any campaign operative happens to be reading this, let me explain something to you: When a news organization spends money to send a reporter to cover your event, they’re doing you a favor. It’s free publicity, and you need to show some evidence that you appreciate it. Self-important staffers are apt to get confused about the nature of this nexus between themselves and reporters, and to imagine that they’re the ones doing reporters a favor simply by allowing reporters to cover the campaign.

Now if I, a conservative journalist, perceived that kind of condescending attitude coming from the McCain campaign staff, don’t you think the liberal reporters caught it? And don’t you think it rankled?

Flacks and hacks
Since I’m on this rant, how about I give you miserable little staff punks some insight into the journalistic mind, OK? You have no idea how infinitely inferior you are to an experienced reporter, in that reporter’s mind. You’re just another P.R. flack, another publicist trying to promote a product, no different than the insignificant people who flood the mailboxes of every newrsoom in America with press releases. If there is one attitude more prevalent in the newsroom than liberal bias, it is a profound contempt for publicity-seekers, a category that most emphatically includes politicians.

Some of my best friends are P.R. people and over the years, I’ve come to appreciate what it is they do, and how they do it. I’ve been schmoozed by the best in the business, and recognize the symbiotic relationship between reporters and publicists. But I’m a rarity in that regard, and the reporter’s natural resentment of P.R. flacks is aggravated by our knowledge that the flacks are getting paid more by their clients than we hacks in the press corps are getting paid to cover whatever it is you’re trying to promote.

This flacks-and-hacks dynamic exists at every level of journalism down to the tiniest weekly paper. Reporters everywhere learn from Day One on the job to be unimpressed by politicians and other publicity-seekers, to think themselves superior to, say, a county commissioner or a city manager. This innate arrogance of the press may seem objectionable, but the only possibility for objective news is a reporter who is not overawed or intimidated by the people he’s reporting about. (Something the Obamaphiliacs in the press corps ought to consider.)

Political reporters are self-consciously the elite of the journalistic profession. They have a deep disdain for the “lifestyle” feature writers, the slobs on the sports desk, etc. The guy who covers political news for a daily in Pittsburgh or St. Louis is going to see his byline on the front page almost daily. He’s the Big Dog in the newsroom, the ace, and everybody knows it. And if he somehow manages to work his way up to the major leagues of journalism — the Associated Press, the Washington Post, Reuters, U.S. News & World Report — well, it doesn’t exactly encourage humility.

The arrogance of TV reporters is far, far worse, in part because TV reporters make so much more money than print reporters, and in part because the TV guys are genuinely famous. Some guy who began his career covering brush fires in Kansas was a local TV star — a bona fide celebrity — from the time his first story aired in whatever piss-ant town he started in. By the time he makes it to the status of network political correspondent covering a presidential campaign, by God, he thinks he’s the next Cronkite. (Except more hip and sexy.)

The campaign to nowhere
Now, try to put yourself in the shoes of these reporters, out on the road covering a presidential campaign, their news organizations being billed thousands of dollars for travel expenses, their editors expecting big scoops and hard news and — nothing.

A hotel, a bus, an airplane, a bus, and their reward is to be herded into a pen with all the other reporters so that they can do stenography about a speech at a rally that’s no different than the speech at yesterday’s rally. Never a press conference, never a chance to get five minutes of one-on-one time with the candidate. And the whole time, they’re being fed a bland diet of press releases, conference calls and — if they’re lucky — some not-for-attribution bullshit from a “senior campaign official.”

This was what the McCain campaign gave the press corps day after day. And except for a few weeks of doubt in September, these reporters were quite aware they were covering a losing campaign that — by all normal logic of public relations — should have been only too eager to curry favor with the press. But as Newsweek reported:

McCain would want to head back to the reporters’ section of the plane, and Davis would pull him back. “No, no, no, I want them around me,” McCain would say, referring to the reporters. “No, no, no, they’re screwing you,” Davis would retort. At McCain’s insistence, his new campaign plane this past summer had been fitted with a large bench-style couch, to re-create the space on the Straight Talk Express bus, where the candidate had spent hours jawing on the record with reporters, half a dozen or so at a time. But reporters were never asked to sit there. McCain did not look happy about being kept on a tight leash, as least as far as reporters could tell from a distance.

Common sense, and even the slightest consideration of the reporter’s point of view, tells you why any strategy of secluding candidates from the press contributes to bad coverage for Republicans. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” — this is good advice for dealing with hostile reporters. The guy who files an unfair, inaccurate story needs to be confronted directly by the candidate. Not with an angry rant, but with a calm, cheerful appeal to the reporter’s conscience. (Yes, even reporters have consciences.) “C’mon, Jim — gimme a break here. That was wrong, and you ought to be honest and fair.”

The crutch of ‘bias’
As ridiculously liberal as most reporters are, they usually pride themselves on being factual and fair. And as arrogant as they (we) are, journalists are human beings who respond better if treated like human beings than treated like cattle.

I love Rush Limbaugh, but when I hear him talking about the “drive-by media,” and then see otherwise intelligent conservatives proclaim that the Old Media are irrelevant, I fear that we are surrendering to an attitude of defeatism. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that Republicans can do nothing to improve their media relations operation, and you act on that belief by treating reporters like crap, I can guarantee that GOP media relations will not improve.

At some point, whining about media bias becomes an all-purpose excuse for Republican Party failures. It’s a crutch that weakens the party by allowing incompetent campaign operatives to externalize blame for their own screwups. And it violates one of Ronald Reagan’s most basic principles:

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.

Suppose that, by intelligent and patient hard work, the GOP could reduce media bias by 5 percent or 10 percent. The playing field would still be tilted against Republicans, but it would be more like walking up a steep hill, rather than trying to scale a sheer cliff.

Grassroots conservatives need to stop blaming everything on the media, and start taking a more critical look at the hired help on these campaigns, the clueless political cronies — e.g., Tucker Bounds — who have done so much to poison the GOP’s relationship with the press corps. Being Jill Hazelbaker’s ex-boyfriend is no substitute for competence.

November 8, 2008

They really are desperate

John McCormack calls it the most implausible Palin smear yet, and it is rather odd:

The day of the third debate, Palin refused to go onstage with New Hampshire GOP Sen. John Sununu and Jeb Bradley, a New Hampshire congressman running for the Senate, because they were pro-choice and because Bradley opposed drilling in Alaska. The McCain campaign ordered her onstage at the next campaign stop, but she refused to acknowledge the two Republican candidates standing behind her.

As McCormack points out, Bradley’s opposition to ANWR drilling is the same is Joh McCain’s opposition to ANWR drilling, and Sununu has a 100% right-to-life voting record, so that doesn’t make sense at all.

On the other hand, now that I think about it, I don’t remember Palin putting in plugs for local Republican officials when I saw her in Ohio and Pennsylvania. This routine of name-checking local officials at the beginning of a speech is essential to the presidential campaign business. (You remember Joe Biden’s infamous “stand up, Chuck” moment with Missouri state Sen. Chuck Graham.) And if Palin were indeed averse to that sort of political routine, it might lend credibility to this tidbit in the Newsweek story:

“McCain’s advisers had been frustrated when Palin refused to talk to donors because she found it corrupting . . .”

Here, now, is a charge that would be gravely serious, if true. Political campaigns and political parties live or die by fundraising, and schmoozing donors is a basic function of what candidates do.

The candidate is handed a list of names and numbers with a bit of biographical information about each, and the amount of their previous donations, and he picks up the phone and starts “dialing for dollars” as it is called. And then, out on the trail, at each rally, there is a private VIP reception where the top local donors are rewarded with face-time and a chance for a grip-and-grin photo with the candidate.

This is the inescapable reality of politics, and the best politicians tend to excel at this kind of stuff. Over the course of time, these kind of personal contacts add up to a solid base of support. Bill Clinton famously built his political career in Arkansas by compiling a file of 5″x7″ cards with donor/supporter information.

Surely, Palin has not succeeded in politics without knowing how important it is to do all this, but if — as the implausible Newsweek story asserts — she didn’t know it, somebody had better wise her up in a hurry. She will be (or at least, ought to be) the No. 1 attraction at Republican fundraising events in 2009, an eviable opportunity to build her base of support among GOP bigwigs, and she needs to make the most of it.

November 8, 2008

Comparison test

All along, I’ve said that the best strategy for the McCain campaign in the Sarah Palin rollout would have been to put Palin into a press conference, rather than to hide her from reporters for weeks while sending “campaign spokesmen” out to defend her. Let’s put that idea to the test, shall we?

Here is Sarah Palin in a Friday press conference:

And here is McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds at the GOP convention in September:

You can make up your own mind, but as for me, I don’t ever want to see the name “Tucker Bounds” associated with the Republican Party again. That boy just needs to find himself a new line of work.

November 8, 2008

Palin & Romney, Tessio & Barzini

There was a time when the worst thing one Republican could say about another was that he was aligned with “the Eastern Establishment,” a “Rockefeller Republican.” A few years later, accusing your GOP rival of favoring detente with the Soviets was the favorite submarine tactic.

Now? If you really want to undercut a Republican antagonist’s conservative credibility, accuse him of spreading dirt about Sarah Palin, as Marc Ambinder notes:

Rumor: Aides and advisers to Mitt Romney are responsible for spreading most of the anti-Palin stories that have been going around; during the campaign, they pressured reporters to look into reports of tension between McCain and Palin factions. . . .
Palin is the most popular figure in the Republican Party right now, and if you want a future in that party, you can’t be seen as spreading gossip about her.

The rumors are mostly false, Ambinder says, but this raises the question, Who’s spreading this smear? My guess: The McCain aides who bashed Palin are now the ones trying to hang the blame on the Romneyites.

So it’s like Tessio proposing a meeting with Barzini: Any McCain aide blaming Romney thereby becomes identified as an anti-Palin traitor.

Applying to this situation the logic of Sherlock Holmes and the dog who did not bark, therefore, I observe that Nicolle Wallace has reportedly denied being the anti-Palin leaker and ask: Did Nicolle Wallace ever say anything nice about Mitt? (Let the folks at Operation Leper take note.)

(Cross-posted at AmSpecBlog.)

UPDATE: Via Hot Air, this video:

November 8, 2008

The Anarchy of Hope

Laws? We don’t need no stinkin’ laws!

At least five people were arrested across the city after Barack Obama’s rally in Grant Park, including a woman who slapped a Chicago police officer, saying police couldn’t arrest her anymore, prosecutors said today.
Most of the others celebrated the historic occasion with gunfire.
Celita Hart, 19, stood silently in court today when she appeared for a bond hearing.
Prosecutors said Hart, who is black, yelled ” ‘White [expletive], [expletive] McCain–you white police can’t do nothing anymore.'” With that, she reached through the window of a squad car and slapped a white male officer in the face, according to Assistant State’s Atty. Lorraine Scaduto.

In the mind of his most ardent supporters, that is indeed what the election of Obama means: “You white police can’t do nothing anymore.”

November 8, 2008

Who says Libertarians don’t count?

Libertarian Party candidate Allen Buckley got 127,723 votes (3%) in the Georgia Senate race, enough to throw Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss into a runoff with Democrat Jim Martin.

Chambliss voted for the $700 billion bailout. Should have listened to me, senator!

UPDATE: Ace wants his readers to donate to save Chambliss’s seat. I’m having a hard time working up any real enthusiasm for that. His constituents were bombarding his offices with phone calls and e-mails begging him to oppose the bailout. He didn’t listen. He pays the price. And if part of the price is a veto-proof Senate majority for Obama, well . . . whose fault is that?

These out-of-touch big-government Republicans commit political suicide and then come running to the conservative base expecting help. Screw ’em. Sen. Richard Shelby provided a solid argument for his vote against the bailout. Why didn’t Saxby Chambliss listen?

UPDATE II: I’ve been watching this YouTube video of the last debate with Chambliss, Martin and Buckley, and you can see how Buckley (an attorney and CPA) slams Chambliss from the right. Martin — he’s just feeble. Should have been a Buckley-Chambliss runoff. And if I still lived in Georgia I’d have voted for Buckley, who at least tells the truth about entitlements bankrupting the country.