When I work with candidates, the media as a subject always comes up rather quickly. Generally, candidates, particularly new candidates, start running their mouths to reporters before actually speaking with a consultant to plan a race. Bad idea.
Every candidate wants to know how to deal with the media. My advice is always simple. Answer your question, not the media’s question. “Huh,” is usually the candidate’s response.
It is a simple concept. John Kerry’s campaign is the latest example on how this works. The media asks the question, “Senator, were you in Cambodia?” John Kerry’s response should be, “What happened 30 years ago is not the issue, the issue is whether George Bush lied about going to war.”
Instead, Kerry has answered the media’s question and has tried to answer his own question as well, which has given mixed signals. Yes, he was there. No, he wasn’t there. Well, he was close. Well, actually close was fifty miles a way. It depends on what the meaning of is is. Damn Bush for doing this.
Bill Clinton was a natural at answering his own question. I am reminded of when Bill Clinton first ran for President and how he always answered his question. To paraphrase: “Governor, did you have an extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers?” “You know, I knew Ms. Flowers. I knew she struggled in her job and under the Bush economy she has been hurt. That’s why I’m running for President. This economy needs new leadership.” He stayed on message and he answered his question. He never lied about a relationship. In fact, Clinton admitted he knew Flowers.
Another reason answering your own question helps is that sometimes you get the reporters to ask other questions they are too dumb or lazy to think of. While Kerry has a media all too willing to be a co-conspirator with him in changing the subject, the principle is the same. Question: “Senator, did you lie about your record as a sailor in Vietnam?” Response: “It is sad that these Republican attack dogs, linked through a web of connections to the President, are trying to attack me with thirty year old lies.”
The media hears “web of connections” and immediately begins firing on all cylinders to connect Bush to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Kerry admits he lied, but casts the statement as if he means the Swifties lied. Again, I grant that the media is a willing assistant to the Kerry campaign. Hell, there is a web of connections there. Oliphant’s daughter works for Kerry-Edwards. Therefore, the whole media is connected to the Kerry campaign.
One final point: Remember that the media loves process stories. While Republicans attack the media as partisan hacks, they should rightly attack the media as lazy. Reporters do not really report, they only regurgitate information given to them by others. That information is usually process information – most gossip is process information, e.g. who is sleeping with whom and how did they first hook up.
The lazy asses in the media do not want to get to the bottom of what happened thirty years ago. That takes work. It is much easier to investigate the process and discover that X gave money to Y and Z; therefore, Y and Z are connected. Feed the media a process story and they will follow the bread crumbs. Feed the media a facts and figures story and they will ignore it until someone very publically makes an issue of it.
Based on the above, let’s make one specific conclusion that others have already made. John Kerry screwed up at the start. The media was more than willing to ignore the story until Kerry went postal. Kerry has tried to move the story to a process story, but that only hurts him too. Now the story is out and Kerry has so many spokesmen, half are answering their own questions and the other have are answering the media’s questions. The divergent answering is only further fueling the story.