The [Tuesday] Papers
I was planning on writing about Elizabeth Brackett's interview of David Axelrod on Chicago Tonight last night - she did a fine job in the portion I saw - but I really don't feel like being a buzzkill this morning.
Yeah, I don't know what's gotten into me, either.
Maybe it's the Easy Listening station I'm listening to on Comcast. You know, the Hollyridge Strings doing the Beatles songbook and the Golden Dream Orchestra doing "Try to Remember" from Easy Compilation Vol. 1.
It will pass. I'll be on to the Metal channel soon, I promise.
A Chicago Christmas
Being Blago's Brother
The Moment Passed
One problem with political reporters is that they never ask about what goes on behind the scenes; instead they essentially ask candidates, officeholders and their aides and strategists to rehearse their talking points. Interviews tend to go like this:
REPORTER: Even though we've heard it a million times, what is your talking point on Issue A?
TOOL: [Talking point on Issue A]
And so on.
Or there is the classic deflection that reporters allow because they are so lame.
REPORTER: How do you explain the fact that just a day after receiving a campaign contribution from Montgomery Burns, you switched your vote against allowing an expansion of his nuclear plant to a vote favoring it?
TOOL: This expansion is going to provide jobs, and that's what the American people are really concerned about. In fact, I've got a 10-point plan for job creation, let me just take you through it . . .
REPORTER [five minutes later]: Thank you for joining us.
When it comes to someone like David Axelrod, whose main job is to craft messages that are then disseminated through the media, reporters never ask how those messages were crafted and disseminated. For example, you never see this:
REPORTER: David, tells us about the discussions that took place between you and your candidate about what kind of image you would create for public consumption. How much market research did you do? What was your strategy for selling it to the media? Which reporters did you decide to give early access to and why? How did you negotiate all those cover stories with outlets like GQ and Men's Health?
The media act like they aren't a part of political strategy at all. In campaign post-mortems, you never read that the winning candidate was successful in part by persuading the media to buy into this narrative or that, or quashing damaging news stories by releasing a barrage of irresistible soft stories about, say, the fashion tastes of the candidate's spouse, at just the right time to make the other stories go away.
In the case of Axelrod, if you were interviewing him now you might want to ask if he still believes in patronage, as he wrote in a Tribune Op-Ed three years ago. And if Barack Obama agrees with him. No one, to my knowledge, has asked Axelrod about his side business creating fake citizen groups for corporations, and how that squares with his image as a "true believer" in progressive causes. (And it's still not clear if he was the one who leaked Blair Hull's divorce issues to a friendly local columnist and/or other reporters at the end of Obama's Senate campaign.)
Perhaps most importantly, a reporter ought to ask: What strategy did you plan - because he did plan one - for dealing with Tony Rezko during the campaign?
And the most timely question would be this: How easy was it to leak in advance that Obama's internal report about contacts with the Blagojevich administration over his Senate replacement would show no wrongdoing in order to establish the narrative ahead of time and get a couple days' head of steam?
Brackett didn't exactly ask these questions last night, but she was aggressive. Her first question, indeed, was about the Blago report.
"There's been some extravagantly bad reporting on this," Axelrod said.
To Brackett's credit, she replied, "Like what?"
To which Axelrod punted.
Brackett then asked about Axelrod's statement to Fox News on November 23 that Obama had actually sat down with Blagojevich to talk about his Senate replacement. Which, by the way, wouldn't have been wrong in any way in my view. The AP also reported the same thing, citing sources.
"I was mistaken," Axelrod said. "I knew he had communicated a list of names . . . it was not personally, but at the staff level."
So Obama did communicate a list of names. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but at various points the Obama team has said the president-elect was staying out of it.
Huh. I wonder where that "extravagantly bad reporting" comes from.
Axelrod did make an excellent point: With all the government's wiretaps, all the contacts made between the Obama and Blagojevich people will presumably come out. Over time, of course. No reason not to start spinning now.
Axelrod then offered up a couple laughers, first acting as if the whole affair was only being covered intensely in Chicago. "It's being covered some elsewhere."
The media, he said, should be focused instead on "the best Cabinet ever assembled in my lifetime."
The best because it combines Clinton retreads with Bush holdovers and Barack's basketball buds?
"This is a sideshow."
Show a little more respect, David. After all, the national media smarties are just discovering Operation Board Games, even though Barack's buddy Tony is at the heart of it.
Brackett moved on to Rick Warren.
"We need to find a way to have a dialogue with each other," Axelrod said.
My first thought was, why not invite Jeremiah Wright then? You know, make it a time of healing.
But Brackett's reply was better: "But does this decision bring the country together?"
Then Brackett asked, "When did you think Barack Obama could win this election?"
And that's when I bailed.
Chicago's Bizarro Sister City
Pete Fountain performed 59 times on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. He also once bought a piece of real estate from my dad, family legend has it.
Given our economic status, it must have been a very small plot.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Both easy and hard.
Posted on December 23, 2008
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