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What the Devil won't tell you

Words not bombs: Local GOP can get further playing on media's soft spot for answers

Even Donald Trump knows the worst publicity is no publicity

Tragic events curtailed U.S. Rep. Martha McSally’s time in the barrel after her "ask-me-about-the-caravans" gaffe went global.

The Republican running for U.S. Senate was a little too obvious in her demand that a phalanx of reporters ask her about what she wanted to talk about and not query her about heath care votes she'd rather not discuss.

Then two Trauma One news stories broke and she escaped the frenzy.

A man who lived in a van practically wrapped up in Trump Steaks was arrested in connection with the mass delivery of explosive devices to the president’s critics and CNN. Right after that, a gunman shot and killed 11 people in a synagogue. The suspect in custody allegedly told police “the Jews are slaughtering my people.” “The Jews”, you see, are helping refugees resettle in America — refugees like those in the Caravan of Terror looming nearly a thousand miles from our borders.

And it’s worth pointing out that President Trump continues to declare news critical of him is “fake” and that members of the “fake news media” are the enemies of the American people even after a Washington Post columnist was murdered and dismembered by Saudis. Trump warned the media to “clean up its act” rather than clarify his “enemy” talk to his supporters.

A bomb was sent to CNN and Trump wants to double down on press-bashing. Seriously, dude? C'mon.

There are other, better ways to deal with the media. Try just answering questions so reporters can help you explain stuff to readers, viewers and voters. It might be old-school, but it works.

The media may not just buy whatever talking point that every government program that takes money from these folks over here to give to those over there is a terrible thing. But those of us in the press are always open to seeing how our money is spent. The media will not start with your assumptions and work backwards to help prove your predetermined points. The media will not obey. But reporters will for damn sure always follow a good news tip, no matter where it leads.

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So long as the right gets that straight, conservatives should cash in on the biases that reporters have that are deeper and stronger than the supposed "liberal" reactions we harbor.

McSally and Republican congressional candidate Lea Marquez Peterson seem to need a refresher in that. McSally skipped an Arizona Daily Star editorial board meeting and got snotty at the press for no good reason. She dodged a debate question to talk instead about her favorite topic: the military. Marquez Peterson has just gone silent, even quietly accepting that local reporters were booted out of primary debates she took part in.

The relationship between source and reporter is transactional, not ideological. Reporters are cooks. Conservatives are salt. A news story has to clear a series of traps meant to weed out unfounded opinions and ferret out facts. That’s the beast that journalists feed. So a journalist will protect their supply of salt; none of us are looking to actively screw our sources.

Reporters are trying out-match the cynicism of their bosses. We understand just about everything is more complicated than it looks. There aren't many simple answers out there. Moreover, journalists tend to look for ways to climb the ladder and for that they need a scrapbook of good "clips" full of solid sources and snappy writing. 

That can work for you, Republicans. So stop being snippy. Trying to change the subject doesn't end questions. Answering them does.

Nothing wrong with answering

Dennis Wagner, probably the best reporter in the state, asked McSally about her history with the provision of Obamacare protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Dennis, can we please talk about the things that matter to most voters, instead of repeating the Arizona Democrat Party press releases?" she said. Wagner is hardly a Democratic flack; he broke the Veterans Administration scandal under the Obama administration. Papa Bear being insulted, the rest of the press piled on.

"Do you have anything to talk about like the caravan or job opportunities?"

OK, that’s one way to pivot. It's just the wrong way. You don’t get to demand that the press pivots for you, congresswoman — you have to do the heavy lift.

Here’s another option. Explain your vote. I imagine you could make the case that you voted to repeal Obamacare when 44 was in office to send a message. When the rounds were live under Trump, you were on the record saying you would protect pre-existing provision coverage but made a tough choice to move legislation forward in a process best described by Schoolhouse Rock.

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Remember, the press didn’t screw you. The U.S. Senate did by failing to come up with any kind of legislation other than a disastrous “skinny repeal,” which was little more than a drunken Jenga move. John McCain nixed that monstrosity, perhaps saving the Republicans from utter devastation at the polls because if skinny repeal had become law, it would have capsized the entire insurance market.

Is there a reason you did what you did? Can you justify it? Then do so. Tell the truth. It's harder to screw up.

Don’t be defensive just because a journalist gets aggressive. A lot of that is just posturing for the cameras anyway. The best way for a reporter to get the information he or she craves is to let the source talk. If conservatives are trying to accomplish more than talking points, explain what your position is and the problem it is solving.

Go to an edit board meeting because even if they don’t endorse you, they might still say nice things about you. Voters likely don’t give two shakes whom the Star endorses but it’s best to keep the lines of communication open.

Talk to TucsonSentinel.com because our reporters care about the facts and not a whole lot else. I dropped the "F-(act) Bomb," so don't lie.

Make a connection

On to Lea, who said in a recent debate that she wasn’t avoiding the press. She was just being more strategic with her outreach. That’s the answer the fictional band Spinal Tap gave as to why they were playing to smaller venues. They weren’t less popular. Their audience was becoming more selective.

That would be like a liberal saying "I'm not going to drive because cops are Republican." 

I've never dealt with Marquez Peterson but apparently she had been available when she led the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce before running for Congress. She was all over town. So, I'm sensing consultants have been working their black magic on her: "Ward them off."

Reporters are trying to craft good news stories with multiple sources explaining things, rather than advocating specific positions about the events of the day. It’s how their work is judged by their bosses, so they depend on access to conservatives and, yes, even nationalists. People tend not to screw over the folks they depend on to do their jobs.

It’s accuracy on deadline that they are seeking and not the revelation of a universal truth. Coverage over time will reveal a bigger picture as the journalist learns more, or at least it should.

If you feel screwed, call the reporter and then their editor or producer.

When sources no longer provide access out of some sense of paranoia or failing to understand reporters’ jobs then that norm is lost and "the media" will simply cut the right out of the conversation because the right cut them out first. In that case, the public isn't as informed as it should be and politicos miss a chance to speak from a platform.

If you are going to serve a swing district in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ms. Marquez Peterson, the fastest way to reach the most voters is to talk to some reporters.

Jim Kolbe spent 22 years in Congress as a Republican from Tucson and the only time I remember him complaining about coverage was when a gay-rights publication outed him. That's a fair gripe. He kept answering questions and kept winning, without lying.

It's doable.

Follow the Leader

The GOP sure seems to have become a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Inc., (or MAGA Corp). If that’s not true, tell us how. If it is true. Do what Trump does. Talk to us and do what he used to do: Confess emphatically.

Did you get massive tax breaks unavailable to regular Americans? Damn straight I did. It was smart business.

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Did you donate to Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi? Of course. It’s a pay-to-play system and I ponied up.

Did you take your businesses into bankruptcy over and over and over? Again, smart business. I’m the king of debt.

I did it and would do it again.

The L-Bomb

In October 2018, all things lead back to Trump.

Trump’s relationship with the media has gone off the rails for compounding reasons but it stems from one big one.

It’s not the policy shifts or the demagoguery. That stuff happens. Journalists can slip and slide around any manner of policy. He doesn't want to be the head of state leading a nation through sober times if those times interrupt his rallies. Maybe he's colorful.

It’s the lying (if you can't tell) that blows our circuits. Trump lies on a scale journalists just haven’t seen before. He’s the Krakatoa of lies. Maybe you believe that all politicians do. Not like this. Politicians have never been like this.

I've had some sources routinely stretch the truth what seemed like an alarming number of times — maybe 20 — a year. Trump does that in half a week.

His lies because seem to be the plan. He’ll deny he sends tweets. He’ll deny what’s on video. He'll imagine congressional sessions that don't exist. He'll tout a deal for 100,000 jobs on day one and swear it's a million jobs on day five and then deny he ever said any of it.

The patter: Lie. Get called on it. Cry foul about being called on it. Then call the media liars and enemies of the people.

Trump's rhetoric aside, it just makes reporters' jobs virtually impossible. We can't publish lies because it ruins credibility with everyone who's not a supporter of the liar. But in this tribal environment, the liar's followers believe he's the victim of the people who call him on his prevarications.

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In Washington, that's the problem of the Ivy Leaguers and prep school kids who cover the White House and Washington. When the local party becomes the liar's party, then the problem comes to our doorstep.

Same old standard

Trump is the reason for McSally’s Red State anxieties and what's standing in Marquez's way. Both have said they are independent voices. Both are free to prove it. 

There isn't a plot laid against them. Nobody's engaged in a cover-up. We're happy to listen, if you trouble yourselves to answer a question or three.

Let's turn back the clock and read how the press covered Obama's very first gaffe during his transition. It was about the supernatural and Nancy Reagan, as explained by The Daily Telegraph.

This coverage was pretty much par for the course:

Mr. Obama called Mrs. Reagan after making an ill-judged joke during his first press conference since the election on Friday night.

Asked which presidents he had consulted about his transition to power, Mr Obama replied: "I have spoken to all of them who are living. I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any séances."

While Mrs Reagan, now 87, notoriously used an astrologer to draw up her husband's schedule after the assassination attempt against him in 1981, she never held séances.

Realising his mistake, Mr Obama called Mrs Reagan, who was recently released from hospital after fracturing her pelvis in a fall, to apologise for his "careless and off handed remark".

His spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said: "The President-elect expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs Reagan that so many Americans share and they had a warm conversation."

The incident was another reminder for Mr Obama of the pitfalls he faces as he switches from campaign to presidential mode, where everything he says will be closely scrutinised by people around the world, given the power of his words to move the economic markets.

That’s the standard Obama and the previous Media Age presidents lived by since forever ago. No, nationalists and conservatives aren’t getting treated with unprecedented unfairness, no matter how they huff and puff about being victims.

The bar hasn’t moved and McSally wasn’t a victim. She was just a volunteer who signed up for the scrutiny.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.


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