I don’t have a press pass. I used to have a nice laminated one, but the baby borrowed it to use as a surf board in the BPI hot tub faculty lounge squirrel bath. Turns out it was not that laminated, and surfing on bubbles was harder than he thought. I got a new press pass, but I gave it to TheNewsHound and he wears it in his hat.
I’m still new at this roving reporter gig, and it’s only part time, so whenever I can I listen to more seasoned reporters. And I’ve learned that most reporters don’t like being told how to do their jobs, especially by public officials and other public figures. If you want to get reporters upset, tell them Don’t Cover That Story That Way. Reporters are trained to be suspicious. A common journalism school maxim is “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” So telling a reporter Don’t Cover That Story That Way is like tossing chum in shark-infested waters. Good reporters will look high and low for a reason to Cover That Story … That Way.
I thought about this while I was researching my 21st Century Political Nuttitude thesis and came across the story of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R), who had state police officers bar a local TV crew from a press event. Governor Deal was upset because the station aired an investigative report on his campaign’s financial dealings. The station reported that Gov. Deal’s campaign paid $90,000 to an obscure fundraising firm linked to Deal’s daughter-in-law. A spokesman for the governor’s office said they wouldn’t deal with the station again until they “correct the record and apologize to their viewers for the shoddy journalism seen in the amateur story they aired Thursday night.”
Maybe it’s something in the Georgia water, or at least the water Republicans drink. On Sunday, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich went on NBC’s Meet the Press – for the 35th time – and said the House GOP budget plan to privatize Medicare was “social engineering” and “radical.” That didn’t go over well in his party, so on Tuesday night Gingrich apologized to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and others who have been pushing the GOP plan.
All fine so far. Americans are used to Gingrich changing his mind, on issues ranging from health care to global warming to religion to marriage. Sometimes he takes years to change his mind. Sometimes only a few days, as he did on Libya. He flips enough to qualify for the Olympic judo team.
But then Gingrich went a step further, telling Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that Democrats and the press shouldn’t quote him:
Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate. When I make a mistake, and I’m going to on occasion, I’m going to share with the American people that was a mistake becuase that way we can have an honest conversation.
Apparently an “honest conversation,” in his mind, means one that only includes his most recent flips, and no flops. In short, he wants a press pass … that is: a free pass from the press.
The problem, you see, is not that Gingrich flops like a soccer player hoping for a foul call. The problem is that he wasn’t prepared for tough questions on Meet the Press. Maybe he has a point. For Republicans, Sunday morning talk show questions often range from “How is President Obama wrong this week?” to “What’s your favorite part about gazing in the mirror?” But after 30 years in public life and 35 appearances on Meet the Press alone, Gingrich was hardly a rookie. Surely someone asked him a tough question once or twice before, if only by accident.
So on behalf of reporters everywhere, I have a message for Gov. Deal and Newt Gingrich:
Good luck. Telling reporters Don’t Cover That Story That Way usually backfires, as it should. You just threw chum in the water, and you’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Good day and good nuts.