Extra... Extra, Read All About It... or Not.
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner
I was downtown the other day, just to wander around a bit, and I ran into a bunch of folks at one of the restaurants hotly debating presidential politics. When I say "folks," I mean reporters. They had a corner of the place all to themselves. Nobody wanted to sit near them. I figured it was because they were, for lack of a better description, drinking their lunch. The more they drank, the louder they became. It was pretty clear they were all worked up about one particular candidate, who shall remain nameless, but I suspect you can guess who it might have been.
Now, normally, when a group gets as loud as they were getting in a restaurant, somebody on staff asks them to tone it down. Not with this bunch. I figured the management was worried that they might get bad press if they did. I decided not to order the enchiladas to which I had been so looking forward. You just can't enjoy enchiladas with a political sewer backed up next to you. I paid for my drink, got up and strolled out. Yes... we 'stroll' down here in San Antonio... that's so well known that Tanya Tucker even sang a song about it. Sometimes we saunter, occasionally we amble, and we've been known to promenade a time or two, but we don't sashay... that's a Texas no-no. But I digress.
Anyway, on my way out I ran into a San Antonio newspaper reporter I recognized, Noah Noteworthy. I'm a sociable guy, so I said, "Hi Noah." I guess I should have kept my mouth shut, it would have made my stroll along the Riverwalk less eventful.
"Unh," Noah grunted.
"What's the matter?" Again, I should have kept my mouth shut. One of these days I'll learn.
"It's that..." I won't quote Noah directly here, but loosely translated, he referred to the target party as a doomed orifice of a particular part of the human anatomy and continued to rant about his rise in the polls despite all the crap that was coming out of the opposite end orifice.
"Well," I returned, "y'all do tend to keep him in the headlines."
"It's because of all the outrageous things he says," Noah said. "You can't not report that."
"Sure you can," said I. "Just because somebody spouts garbage, you don't have to point it out. People can see it for what it is." Okay, maybe I'm giving folks more credit than they deserve. "Besides, you love the clown."
"What?!" Noah demanded. "I hate that bigoted..." He used a compound epithet that referred to the guy's questionable parentage, paternal and maternal.
"Geez, that's not terribly PC, now is it?"
"Did you read my last piece on that..." I'm not even going to try to explain the expletive he used this time. It's not nice.
"No, I don't take the paper and I don't read it on line. When I did take it, I only read the comics and did the crosswords, Jumble and Cryptoquip... and when the rates went up, even they weren't worth it."
Off he went on a rant about what he had written and concluded with, "It just takes away from what serious candidates say on real issues."
Now, I have written speeches, press releases, and coached politicians on interview techniques. I know a bit about it. I've had Risk Communications. I probably know more weasel words and ways to sound sincere without actually saying anything than you can shake a stick at. I'm not proud of it, but it's the way of politics. If you say what you're really thinking in that business, the press will skewer you. It makes for high recognition, but usually low approval ratings, although not always. I can guarantee you, though, the press loves a candidate that actually says what he's thinking without consulting a press secretary or communications director first. Oh, the headlines! Oh, the ratings! It's a good thing elections occur no less than every two years, with the intervening two dedicated to running for office or there would be a lot of newsmen (and women - I'm not sexist) out of work.
"So, why don't you report on them? I mean, if you're really concerned about real issues? Seems to me the press is sort of ignoring them. The only mentions they get is when they trash this guy. Besides, politicians don't talk about real issues... they just dance around them with fancy rhetoric. You can't pin 'em down when it comes to brass tacks."
"Sure you can, you just have to know how. And they DO too talk about real issues."
"Really? I asked. "Name one."
"Well there's... ummm... No, not him... ummm. Let me think about it... there's what? Fifteen candidates on that slate? I'll have to research it a little more. At least there's someone of substance on the other ticket."
I was tempted to ask who of the two candidates on that ticket was discussing substantive issues, but I didn't Shoot, they don't have to, the press doesn't use ambush interviews, personal attacks, or aggressive reporting methods on them. Why would they? They want to see them elected... at least one of them. But even they aren't getting a lot of press. The golden boy with the massive mouth is stealing the whole show. Every time he gets hoisted on his own petard, he goes out and finds a new petard. He seems to have an endless supply of them.
Noah had been quiet for a while, staring at his smart phone, and I had reached the stairs that led up to where I had parked. "Well, I have to go, Noah."
"Huh? Oh, okay... I have to go write an op-ed piece for my editor.. that bleep bleep bleeping bleep is trending on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus... I can't stand it!" he yelled, but I saw that evil grin on his face... the anticipation in his eyes... I could almost read the headline on his op-ed. And trust me, if golden boy did keep his yap shut for one day, the press would trump something up. It's just good business.