I taught a “how to deal with reporters” class over the weekend, to students attending a Texas Democratic Party campaign training camp (great bunch of folks, by the way – if they’re who will be working in Democratic campaigns next year, I’m guessing we’re in pretty good shape). Part of the curriculum is explaining the rules of engagement when dealing journalists. It’s not very exciting stuff, but it’s pretty important, if you’re a campaign staffer, candidate, or reporter.
Personally, I’m used to this stuff and still get tripped up from time to time. And it certainly doesn’t come naturally, so it’s important material to learn. I’m also constantly amazed at the mistakes people make. This weekend was an interesting time to go over that material too, since there are a couple of things in the news right now in which people who should know better attempted to engage, and didn’t fare well because they were off-track on the basic rules of engagement.
The first is an example here in Texas, in which following up on a Texas Tribune poll, a spokesperson for one of the candidates in the poll objected on several grounds (some of which may well be valid grounds for objection). He apparently called Tribune boss Evan Smith and, let’s just say, a frank and earnest exchange of ideas was shared. It is unclear whether Evan was playing the part of Frank or Ernest.
Evan wrote a blog piece on the Trib site about the exchange, about which the campaign spokesperson promptly commented, both repeating his earlier complaints, and adding one more: that Evan wrote at all about their phone call, “…in a conversation which was never specified as being on the record.”
Spokespeople of the world: seriously, if you’re going to call yourself a “spokesperson,” you might want to start out that big career by understanding that all conversations with journalists are automatically deemed to be on the record, unless otherwise agreed to by both people in the conversation. In this case, a small mistake of little lasting consequence to the campaign, the Trib, or Earthlings in general, but anybody can see how that little misunderstanding might get dicey in other contexts.
But here’s the whopper in this week’s news on the “clueless on the rules of engagement” front: Sarah Palin. Palin, as a former statewide officeholder and Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States, damn well should know better.
The former Governor of Alaska, professional quitter, and current wackadoodle of Earth, came out with her new book, and is now doing the usual book tour thing, in order to stuff her bank account. Turns out there’s a teensy weensy little problem with the book: some of the stuff in it apparently isn’t true.
The Associated Press wrote about some of the misrepresentations in the book. Why would they do such a dastardly thing? Well, I would gently suggest to Palin defenders that this is what the Associated Press does for a living. That hasn’t really changed much for the last 164 years.
Despite this fundamental truth, Palin has gone on the attack, accusing the AP of engaging in “opposition research.” Says Palin:
We’ve heard 11 writers are engaged in this opposition research, er, ‘fact checking’ research! Imagine that – 11 AP reporters dedicating time and resources to tearing up the book….”
With all due respect, Ms. Palin – WTF did you think the Associated Press’ job is, if not to research claims and report the truth? I understand that your sworn duty as a person who stands to make a lot of money with your book is to create controversy, thus boosting book sales, but sheesh – you sure make yourself look dumb.
Meanwhile, I was asked to weigh in on the Palin book on Dallas radio station KRLD late last week. Not having 11 researchers at my disposal, I opted to merely call Palin an ass. That was kind of fun.