Likely 2016 GOP presidential contender Scott Walker is on the figurative warpath against the “gotcha” mainstream media. So is the Republican National Committee, which on Tuesday issued a press release that was pretty thoroughly anti-press.
What’s got them upset? The journalistic response to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s comment that he doesn’t think President Obama “loves” America, that’s what.
Governor Walker’s angry that reporters at the National Governors Association over the weekend kept asking him what he thought of Mr. Giuliani’s statement, since he had attended the fundraiser where it was made. When a couple of Washington Post reporters asked him whether he thinks Mr. Obama is a Christian, he got a little snippy.
He said he didn’t know. “I’ve never asked him about that,” he said.
Then he went further. “To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press. The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about,” he told the Post.
Now he’s using this dispute to raise cash. His reelection committee, Friends of Scott Walker, has sent out an e-mail asking for donations, saying the Wisconsin governor “refuses to be distracted by the small, petty, and pale ideas that the ‘gotcha’ headline writers for the Liberal Media want to talk about."
The RNC piled on Tuesday with a release charging that media outlets are softer on Democrats. It listed a series of news items, from allegations that the Democratic National Committee chief, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida, was ready to charge the White House with anti-Semitism and sexist behavior if she lost her DNC post, to Vice President Joe Biden’s remark that he has “great relationships” with Delaware’s Somali cabdrivers.
Lots of Republicans have been asked what they think about Giuliani’s statements, but few Democrats have been forced to say whether they think that Representative Wasserman Schultz should be fired or whether Mr. Biden’s words were appropriate, says the RNC.
“This is all just par for the course,” the release says. “A Republican former office holder says something, and they think every Republican must answer for it. A current Democrat party leader does and says something, and it’s no one else’s problem.”
We’ve got some things to say about this, of course. First, well played. Attacking the media is often a good short-term political strategy. As an institution, the press is pretty much despised, down there with used-car salesmen and loan sharks. Blaming them for something can elicit knowing nods and a news cycle or two of peace.
After all, who else will actually publicize attacks on themselves?
But, second, notice we said “short-term." There’s a fine line between blaming the press and whining. Use that approach too often, and you're beginning to look like a candidate or a party that just can’t answer questions. And the press is generally not that difficult to deal with. They’re not attack dogs, they’re hounds. Given them a nice meaty answer of any kind, and they’ll happily trot off to their kennels.
Look at Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida as an example of skilled press management. When he was asked about Giuliani, he said, in essence, that he thought it was a stupid question, that the reporter wouldn’t ask it of a Democrat, that he was sure Obama loves his country, but his ideas are bad.
Boom. Done. Senator Rubio’s response was “near-perfect," said Washington Post political reporter Aaron Blake.
Finally, maybe we should have done more stories on Wasserman Schultz. Maybe the press should have followed the Biden story more aggressively. But the Giuliani story pretty clearly struck a nerve among a wide array of Americans. The media know this because they’re not guessing. In the era of Internet metrics, editors know how many people read every story, for how long, and on what kind of device.
Giuliani was, and is, big. Stories no longer just “break," they also build over time. That means their traffic can increase over hours and days as more readers and viewers learn about them and discuss and share them over social media, whether there have been new developments or not.
That’s pretty clearly happened with Giuliani’s question of whether Obama loves America, and it’s probably frustrating to politicians who just wish it would go away.