If you’ve been paying attention, there’s been a bit of a running debate going on regarding how Scott Walker and other potential 2016 candidates should respond to the gotcha oriented media who seek to hold every Republican responsible for anything and everything said by any other party member or person who could conceivably be tied to the conservative movement. We’ve not only written about this here, but Ed began a bit of a one on one sparring match with our friend Matt Lewis in a column Ed published at The Week. In it, Ed made what I felt were some very good points, and further reinforced those today, explaining the futility of trying to go along to get along with the narrative journalism movement. But I believe this requires a bit more iron fist and a tad less velvet glove, so I’ll stick my beak into the ring.
For his part, Matt chose to respond at the Daily Caller to justify – or at least clarify – his position.
More to the point, I take issue with his suggestion that I think “Republicans had better work with the media.” It is true that I don’t believe the media are inherently evil or “out to get you.” But I also think — and this is important for candidates to know — that the press are not your friends. Ed’s framing, I think, implies I support what might be thought of as collaboration or appeasement. But what Walker did was (inadvertently) work with the media — in the sense that he played right into their hands. He made this an irresistible story — so irresistible that we’re still talking about it today.
Conversely, what I am suggesting is that conservative candidates should learn how to communicate their message despite media bias. In other words, to overcome them. And part of that requires depriving their adversaries of the very types of stories that Walker has now generated. To paraphrase Nixon, Walker gave them a knife, and they twisted it with glee.
What I’m suggesting is that effective candidates shouldn’t give them the knife.
I’ll join Ed in saying that I really have not only a great deal of professional respect for Matt’s work, but I consider him a friend and an all around great guy. But on this one subject, I must revert to the Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Weekend Update school of debate management and just say, Matt, you ignorant slut. (Not really…)
While I appreciate Matt’s effort to provide clarification, I don’t think either Ed or I were missing the point the first time around. There’s just a disagreement as to how candidates should resolve it. He writes, It is true that I don’t believe the media are inherently evil or “out to get you.” Well, Matt, there’s one of the first places where we need to come to a meeting of the minds and recognize that we disagree. For many members of the press corps who cover these races, they absolutely are out to get you if the you in question happens to be a Republican. I shall leave the proper definition of evil to the biblical scholars in the crowd.
I wrote about this at great length after one liberal wag decided to call Scott Walker “a coward” recently, and nothing has taken place to change my mind since then. The Democrats’ trained lions in the liberal press are not just “biased” as some choose to say. They are openly hostile and playing dirty pool. They will keep lining up willing surrogates like Howard Dean to flatly insult any Republican who dares raise their head and run for office and they don’t care how offensive or baldly mendacious they have to be in order to try to drive them from the field of battle. Frankly, we should be more than tired of it by now and stop playing their game entirely.
Matt goes on to say that our candidates need to learn how to communicate their message despite media bias. He finishes up by arguing that Scott Walker gave them a knife and they twisted it with glee. With all due respect to Matt, that comparison is completely incorrect. Walker didn’t give them a knife. They showed up with a kitchen’s worth of cutlery ready to go. And if we already know how these “reporters” are going to be armed and what their intentions are, the answer isn’t found in a manifesto on clever negotiating skills, but rather in the movie Casino.
When they show up with a knife, you show up with a gun.
I do agree that Walker and the rest of the Republicans need a better answer, but it’s not to meekly preface every answer to each gotcha question with some mealy mouthed caveat of what a wonderful person so and so is and how you totally disagree with what Random Republican Number 73 said about them. When that reporter begins reciting whatever it was that some other person said and demands the candidate either agree with them or disown them, the candidate needs to answer firmly, in an even tone.
“You want my opinion? My opinion is that you’re not very good at your job and your boss should send someone else to do this. If you want to know about what they said, go ask them. If you’d like to talk to me about the issues or anything I said, feel free. Next question.”
And if they keep it up, the candidate shouldn’t feel at all hesitant about just walking away. Remember, the election is the only game in town. They’ll be back and you can eventually train them to do their jobs properly or they will lose their access. (And that’s death to a campaign reporter.) When you see the ambush reporters waiting, just ignore them.
That’s the way we need to roll. And we should absolutely not be rolling over for them.