Dealing with Reporters
Thursday April 9, 2015
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Rand Paul's official campaign began with a speech on Tuesday. By yesterday he had been in arguments with two reporters.
First he went at it with the Today show's Savannah Guthrie. Guthrie, according to National Journal.
"You once said Iran was not a threat," Guthrie said to Paul. "Now you say it is. You once proposed ending foreign aid to Israel. You now support it, at least for the time being. And you once offered to drastically cut defense spending but now you want to increase it by 60 percent."
At that time Paul tried to interrupt and said,
"Before we go through a litany of things you say I've changed on, why don't you ask me a question: 'Have I changed my opinion?'"
After Guthrie tried again, Paul said:
"Listen, you've editorialized. Let me answer a question. You ask a question, and you say, 'Have your views changed?' instead of editorializing and saying my views have changed."
That is a difference without a distinction, if you ask me, which Rand Paul did not.
Later in the day, he got cranky again, this time with an AP reporter who asked him about his position(s) on abortion.
According to The Hill newspaper, "AP reporter Philip Elliott's interview with Paul became heated after Elliott pressed the presidential candidate to say whether victims of rape should be able to get abortions."
Paul told Elliott:
"I gave you about a five-minute answer. Put in my five-minute answer … The thing is about abortion - and about a lot of things - is that I think people get tied up in all these details of, sort of, you're this or this or that, or you're hard and fast (on) one thing or the other."
Not bad for the first 24 hours of the campaign.
Some Republicans have made a living arguing with reporters. During the 2012 cycle, Newt Gingrich would wait for a moderator to ask a "gotcha" question so he could launch into a tirade.
The GOP audiences stomped and cheered but Rand Paul is no Newt Gingrich when it comes to baiting reporters.
There used to be a saying in politics, "Never argue with the guy who buys his ink by the barrel."
Given the number of on-line outlets, former Governor Tom Ridge has updated that to:
"Never argue with the guy who buys his bandwidth by the gigabyte."
My background is as a press secretary. When I was doing that I wasn't the "Communications Director" with a staff of thousands. When I was Dan Quayle's Senate press secretary I was it. Same thing when I was press secretary to Newt with he was Republican Whip. My successors were also one-man shows.
Having been press secretary to Quayle and Gingrich and having run GOPAC you might think that reporters would have crossed the street rather than have to say "hello" to me in Washington.
That has never been the case because I have lived by three rules:
First, "Don't sell out your boss to curry favor with the press." They will treat you like cops treat a stool pigeon. They'll use you until you have nothing for them, then they'll lose your number.
Second, "You don't have to know everything about everything." Some of the smartest responses I've ever given to reporters have been the ones where I said "I don't know," rather than trying to pretend I was on the inside of everything.
Third, "Don't lie." You don't have to tell a reporter everything you know; and you can be slippery with an answer, but if you lie you will, sooner or later, get caught and your credibility will be shot.
Part of being a good press secretary is to brief your boss on what questions might be asked, and how you recommend they be answered.
Even the best press secretary won't catch them all, but by having your boss prepared, over time, reporters will come to appreciate the effort.
To battle reporters all day every day is exhausting for the candidate and for the staff and, because they buy their bandwidth by the gigabyte, if they can't make your boss look bad in an article, they can do it in a blog. If not in a blog then in a Tweet.
Dealing with reporters is just another skill candidates have to develop.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the reports about Paul on the Today show and with the AP. Also a link to a powerful video of Newt during the South Carolina debate.
The Mullfoto is a screenshot of me yukking it up on CNN Monday morning.
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