Friday, August 10, 2012
Donna Campbell's Media Rule | Casey's Last Word
Donna Campbell, the woman who is very likely to be one of San Antonio’s powerful state senators come January has instituted a new rule for dealing with the media.
In response to a request from Express-News metro columnist Brian Chasnoff for a brief telephone interview, her campaign spokesman e-mailed Chasnoff that “it is the campaign's policy not to accept interview requests with opinion columnists.”
As such a columnist for more than a quarter of a century, I find myself reacting emotionally to this policy and this candidate.
If I could get an interview with her, here is the first question I would ask:
Where have you been all my life?”
I love the idea of politicians refusing to talk to columnists. Why? For one, let me tell you about Lila Cockrell.
When she was San Antonio’s mayor, any time I wrote a column that was anything less than enthusiastic about her performance I could count on getting a late morning phone call that began:
“Rick, this is Lila. I’d like to visit with you about your column this morning.”
She would never raise her voice and her criticisms were muted. But she had an ability to make you feel you had somehow wronged her – even when you were right.
I much preferred it when Nelson Wolff reacted to a column with language I wouldn’t want my mother to hear.
Then there were occasions when I knew I had a politician or other powerful person dead to rights in some scandal.
There was no logical explanation that would exonerate them.
On more than one occasion the subject of those sorts of columns would, with malice, wait until about 10 minutes before my deadline to return my phone calls.
And they would have a perfectly legitimate explanation for why their actions had not amounted to a gross violation of the public trust.
I hate it when that happens.
I so wished those people had employed the Campbell rule.
When public figures refuse to talk to columnists it gives us that most cherished of American values: freedom.
To be able to write that so-and-so declined a request for an interview is to be given a license to unlock our imaginations.
Unable to obtain their explanations, we are at liberty to speculate.
For example, in his e-mail to Chasnoff, Campbell’s spokesman Jon Oliver wrote of the policy not to talk to opinion columnists:
“I am sure you can understand and appreciate the value in this distinction.”
I sent an e-mail to Oliver confessing to not having seen such a policy in 40 years of reporting on politics and asking for help.
I was not able to comprehend the value – at least to the politician.
I have rarely met a successful politician who couldn’t schmooze a columnist well enough to at least take some edge off a negative column.
Oliver wrote back that Dr. Campbell is so swamped with interview requests that they have to make a cut.
“Thus, we decided to give priority to those who provide the fairest coverage,” he wrote. “In most cases, this would eliminate opinion columnists who editorialize the interview with their personal comments.”
He added that they might answer some questions posed by columnists by e-mail, such as mine.
I can’t help but to note two things: One is that his response says opinion columnists are excluded only “in most cases.” So the policy allows her to be interviewed by columnists her campaign deems to be fair.
The other is that this procedure enables Campbell to get help from staff before responding, possibly avoiding the sort of gaffes that she committed during the campaign. Sending questions to the staff is hardly the same as quizzing the candidate.
I appreciate that Mr. Oliver responded, but it appears to me the policy is just a dressed-up version of saying their policy is to protect the candidate from anyone they think might not be their version of fair.
Forget the e-mail interviews Doc. That’s not a game I’m willing to play.