Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 20, 2010

CREATING INCENTIVES FOR EXTREME CANDIDATES TO IGNORE THE PRESS.... The traditional model was never especially controversial, and there was no real reason to question it. Politicians who wanted to garner public support would engage political reporters in the hopes of reaching voters and getting their message out, and would generally complain if the press ignored them.

The traditional model is quickly being replaced, and for the first time, we're finding multiple statewide candidates -- Kentucky's Rand Paul and Nevada's Sharron Angle, for the example -- who simply ignore reporters' questions and blow off interview opportunities. The fear, of course, is that reporters might ask them to explain their extreme policy positions. The politicians can try, but that only serves to remind voters of the inherent radicalism.

Eric Boehlert had a great item the other day explaining that a certain former half-term governor helped establish the new playbook, and some of the nuttier candidates are following it closely.

I've been writing about Palin's press boycott for months now, simply because we've never seen anything like this. We've never seen a high-profile politician categorically refuse to engage with serious, independent journalists. And we've certainly never seen a politician stiff the press and then have the press lay down in response. We've never seen the press so willingly get steam-rolled before. But with Palin and her news media boycott, that's exactly what's happened: Palin refuses to acknowledge their existence (except to ridicule it) and in return they fawn over her.

So why is anybody surprised that controversial senatorial candidates such as Angle and Paul, after having recently stepped in on the campaign trail, are now duplicating Palin's strategy and declining to talk to legitimate, non-partisan reporters? That's right, we now have two major party candidates running for state-wide office who pretty much won't answer questions from reporters.

This is beyond unprecedented. It's Bizarro World.

Quite right. Palin, Paul, and Angle will talk to outlets that agree in advance to help -- Fox News, Human Events, right-wing talk radio shows -- and blow off everyone else. It's simply a matter of cowardice, since it's easier to hide from journalists and avoid public scrutiny than it is to explain extreme positions that make the politicians appear ridiculous.

If political reporters at major outlets disapprove, as one might assume, news organizations are going to have to start adapting to the new model. As a practical matter, cowardly politicians like Palin know that outlets will run stories about her Facebook postings, for example, usually without scrutiny. It's a scam -- she doesn't have to endure questions she can't answer, but she can still get her message out by manipulating news organizations that treat Twitter messages and blog missives as qualitatively the same thing as interview quotes. For reporters, the goal should be to characterize the "silent treatment" from right-wing candidates as genuinely scandalous, not something media professionals will accomodate or encourage.

Unless the media resists these tactics more assertively, it's only a matter of time before Republican candidates boycott professional journalists in even larger numbers. It an incentive structure that's awful for the press, and considerably worse for democracy.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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The best way to highlight their cowardice is for their opponents like Reid and Conway to do as many media interviews as possible to contrast the difference. And every time they do they should call out the wingnuts for their obfuscations and secrecy. Don't let them pretend they're mainstream major party candidates when their positions represent a tiny whacked out fringe of the electorate.

Posted by: markg8 on June 20, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Remember, for many of the far-right it is a matter of their country v. the rest of us!

They're taking back their country, and from whom? Every other American who asks tough questions regarding basic constitutional guarantees, civil liberties, and how government should run!

Look to the audiences these far-right figures avoid, and then ask yourselves whether you want the country they are trying to take us back to!

It's time to vote the Republican party out of existence this coming November! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on June 20, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

The press will never call her on it because their corporate masters want to take over the country in this manner. When they do cover her and her ilk, the MSM soft peddles her responses. We all saw just how stupid she was in her "Katie" interviews and she'll never go there again, and the MSM will never ever push her to do so. My guess is that she isn't even responsible for her twitters. Corporate america is a short decade away from complete control.

Posted by: stevio on June 20, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Point of order:

We don't have two "major party candidates" doing this.

The word is "Republicans". Use it.

Are there any Democrats doing this? No. Have there ever been? No.

Posted by: Bud on June 20, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans get away with this stuff because the press correctly noted that the Republicans punish behavior they don't like (and so do the corporations that own the news media outlets).

The Democrats need to keep behaving rationally, as non-Blue Dog Democrats aren't cut this level of slack by the media (the news media's ownership doesn't mind liberal Democrats looking bad - but the Blue Dogs are useful). Besides, it reinforces the "story" / conventional wisdom that Democrats are "weak."

News as "entertainment" - thanks for getting rid of the fairness doctrine, Ronald Reagan! Without that, we're in a he-said-she-said world.

Posted by: RepubAnon on June 20, 2010 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

"corporate masters want to take over the country in this manner"- stevio

Hey, they's already done tooken it over- way back in the days of William Randolph Hearst. Today we are just seeing the sophistication of the scam. Who knew that Disney and General Electric were "news" organizations?

And, reporters have learned they need not bother with the legwork, when they can just mail it in. As long as their editor accepts cut and paste journalism, why work up a sweat?

-The good news is the MSM is in its death throes as more and more people get their news from the internet, be it the Good, the Bad, or the Ugly.

Posted by: DAY on June 20, 2010 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

The tactics they're using are typical of tyrants who only want to disseminate propaganda.

Posted by: Gandalf on June 20, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

If the msm don't stand up for themselves they deserve to be consigned to the ash bin of history.

Posted by: hornblower on June 20, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Seems to me this says more about the cowardice of the MSM than the cowardice of Sarah Palin. EVERY politician tries to manipulate the press, and the press is far too willing to let itself be used. Palin is just better at it than most.

Posted by: fradiavolo on June 20, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives are well aware of the MSM's penchant for gotcha journalism. It's a sad commentary on the MSM that conservatives have to be so cautious.

Posted by: Al on June 20, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

This past week, I had an opportunity to see the results of this. I was calling for a progressive organization, and got a little old lady on, and she started in on every rightwing nutbag talking point on the Gulf (it's just an accident! The company is working hard to help! The environmentalists want to see humans die so the earth can be pure!) and when I tried to engage her with the actual facts, she was shocked into silence for a moment, and then said "everybody knows this is true, because they all say it. You're just a liberal." And hung up.

I am sure she's no Nazi, she probably doesn't know right from left, she's a member of an environmental organization after all, but she's been fed the big lie, big enough and often enough, that she now believes it.

She's not the only one, folks.

Posted by: TCinLA on June 20, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

TCinLA - I had a similar experience yesterday in conversation with an elderly gentlemen. The discussion became about health care (his heart surgery, his wife's colon surgery) and how he paid almost nothing for either one. They are on Medicare and also have supplemental policies. I said "Medicare is a pretty good program, huh?" And he said, "Yes, but I hope Obama doesn't screw it up. You know he wants to socialize it." I then pointed out to him that Medicare is a government-run program and is already largely socialized. He was momentarily nonplussed, then responded by saying "Well, Obama wants to force people to see the doctors HE says we should." At which point, I lowered the rhetorical gun, telling him that was simply not true in any way. Again, he was momentarily quiet. I then asked him if he got most of his "news" from Fox and/or listened to Rush, Beck, etc. Yes indeedy. So I suggested he widen his base for information, and perhaps he would see what was real and what was not. And, to his credit, he agreed that would probably be a good idea. He really did look genuinely bewildered. It would have been funny if it weren't so sad.

Posted by: Winddancer on June 20, 2010 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

This will persist, because this will work. The mainstream media need the material -- column inches, and their electronic equivalents don't fill themselves, but the right-wing politicians don't need the media -- they have their network of talk radio, narrowcasted cable outlets and neighborhood shoppers & weeklies.

It's not a symmetrical situation.

The regular media will cave, and guarantee coverage on good-press-in-advance terms, if it's the only way to get access.

The regular media could make the extortion the story, but a generation of the right jumping up and down and shouting 'Liberal media! Liberal media' has cut that avenue off from the get-go. Working the refs, as Alterman puts it.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on June 20, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

If the "mainstream media" are unable/unwilling/unallowed to cover these people, that makes them fringe candidates, does it not?

Posted by: Ajax on June 20, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

This is merely the latest slip down a long slippery slope. We can look to three decades of sorry history with dismissing Reagan's gaffes and inanities, rolling over for Pentagon war coverage, and not objecting enough to "free speech zones", and micromanaged and scripted "press conferences" under Bush.

Posted by: N.Wells on June 20, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

democracy? long gone in the USA. what remains is a ritual ceremony where people go to polls and cast a vote that may or may not be based on anything other than whimsy and which vote may or may not be counted or recorded correctly.

ultimately the plutocrats are in charge, they are writing the legislation and in total control of the nation.

democracy? don't make me laugh, it hurts too much.

Posted by: getaclue on June 20, 2010 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

>> I've been writing about Palin's press boycott
>> for months now, simply because we've never
>> seen anything like this. We've never seen a
>> high-profile politician categorically refuse
>> to engage with serious, independent
>> journalists. And we've certainly never seen a
>> politician stiff the press and then have the
>> press lay down in response. We've never seen
>> the press so willingly get steam-rolled
>> before. But with Palin and her news media
>> boycott, that's exactly what's happened: Palin
>> refuses to acknowledge their existence (except
>> to ridicule it) and in return they fawn over
>> her.

I despise Sarah Palin as much as any reality-based liberal, but I have to point out the obvious: the traditional press earned this payback with its behavior during the Clinton (non-)scandal era and then the Bush/Cheney Administration. The press acted as useless, weak, lapdog stenographers then and Palin's behavior is a direct (and, IMHO, correct from the political strategy perspective) reaction to their weakness and uselessness. And in fact the Obama Administration engages in some of the same tactics vs. the press, as will every major candidate from here on out.

The traditional press earned this.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 20, 2010 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Here is another example of product placement and unaware voters:
http://www.unctv.org/election/candidates/court_of_appeals/appeals_walker.html.
This guy has NEVER tried a case, but his name was at the top of the list of choices for the NC Court of Appeals. He will face the classically conservative incumbent in November, but has the support of NC's Tea Party crowd.

Posted by: withay on June 20, 2010 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

but she can still get her message out by manipulating news organizations that treat Twitter messages and blog missives as qualitatively the same thing as interview quotes.

Eric is exactly right; the press brought this situation on themselves by treating Palin's Facebook postings (which it's doubtful she even writes) as "news." I've been disgusted by this for months now; no serious news organization should treat any posting on Facebook, by anyone, as anything more than scribbles on a bathroom wall. Yet, there was the MSM, treating every "posting" by Palin as worthy of reprinting, often in full with no rebuttal or context given. It's absolutely ridiculous; no city, corporation, or company could get away with this; all have to issue formal press releases when they want to get their message out.

The media have brought this situation on themselves, much to the delight of their corporate owners, for whom a delegitimized and neutered press is beneficial. I realize there are a lot of good, professional reporters and journalists out there, but if the companies they work for won't take their responsibilities seriously, no one else should take them seriously either. Newspapers are indeed struggling from a loss of ad revenue, online outlets, etc., but that's one of the main reasons. Like Paul and Angle, Palin is an amateur and a clown, and her comments should be treated as such. If the press can't realize that, then they'll just keep digging deeper into their own graves.

Posted by: electrolite on June 20, 2010 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Ultimately, this will lead to the long-term effect of the MSM shifting its narratives to become more like Faux News.

I don't believe there is a way to stop it; as several have pointed out, the "independent" news media are cowards. At the very least, its owners/advertisers are probably giggling themselves to sleep every night.

Posted by: Monty on June 20, 2010 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

My take on this is very simple. The MSM still treats Palin like big news because the country still wants to sleep with her.

Be honest, now. You know you do.

And why not? She's undeniably still the hottest babe on the political scene. I'd do her myself if I thought I could get away with it. So others are trying to copy her style but they won't be able to pull it off because they're just not physically desirable.

Nobody's going to worry about cheesing off Rand Paul, for example, because nobody's worried that they might lose their chance with him if they go after him for his weird blather and lack of availability. But with Palin, they just can't take that risk. So on they go, along with the knuckleheads who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to hear a few minutes of her pathetic drivel at venues around the country.

Just imagine for a moment how far Palin would get if she looked like, say, Helen Thomas. How much attention would she be getting? I rest my case.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on June 20, 2010 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Do not fear batshit Sarah. She's not running for anything, and isn't likely to.

Have you noticed what happens to her negative/positive polling every time she opens her mouth?

Let the crazies have their little starbursts.

Just let the Dems pound and pound and pound on local issues (Yucca Flats, anyone? Mountaintop mining?) alternating on a 60/40 basis with "what are they afraid of? Why won't they talk to your local paper and Teevee station that represent YOU?, mixed with a soupcon of BP. Ta-daa. The formula.

Posted by: efgoldman on June 20, 2010 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Why in the world would Palin interact with the media when she can simply send a tweet and have it treated as a pronouncement from on high?

Posted by: Ted on June 21, 2010 at 5:50 AM | PERMALINK

"Are there any Democrats doing this? No. Have there ever been? No."
Posted by: Bud on June 20, 2010 at 10:36 AM

And though it's tempting to treat this as Dem's taking the high road, respecting the citizenry and the bedrock institutions of democracy and all that (and some of that might just be true), you also know that at least part of it is that too many of our Dem "leaders" really are the punks that the BPublicans portray them as, and another, and clearly the most important, part of it is that the corporate media would never let a Dem get away with the BS on which they routinely let BPublicans slide (see: Sptitzer, Eliot, cf Vitter, David; Massa, Eric, cf Ensign, John; Condit, Gary + Levy, Chandra, cf Scarborough, Joe + Klausutis, Lori; etcetc ad nauseam).
It really would be nice if we could believe that whole "arc of the universe bends toward justice" thing of which MLK spoke so beautifully, but if it does, it takes more patience that I can muster at this point. As another eloquent thinker, JM Keynes, so helpfully pointed out, "in the long run, we're all dead."

Posted by: smartalek on June 21, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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