22 January 2017 | A Survival Primer for the Media
Based on the absolutely poor first "presser" from White House spokesman Sean Spicer, I am going to refrain from my usual scorn of the media and provide some useful understandings of how to deal with what they helped put in place.
Stop Trying to Get the Fox Audience
These people hate you. They have been instructed over and over for the last 20 years (at least) to believe that you are the "mainstream liberal media" and cannot be trusted. They consider everything you say to be lies, including the carbon dioxide you exhale when breathing. And there is nothing you can do about it. It is like a being a well-known debunker of UFO abduction stories attending a MUFON conference and telling them all you're really interested in hearing their viewpoint. It will never work.
If Their Spokespeople Tell You Lies, Don't Cover Them
This should have been something that you learned in journalism school: if you have a source that tells you something you know (or can learn) is false, you don't use that source. But the media continues to return to the same people over and over again, almost as if in a desperate attempt to create a come-to-Jesus moment and admit the truth about something. This is not how it works. It's not your job to publish or repeat what you know to be a lie, unless you know you are a propaganda outfit. I will go even further and suggest you refute those lies, which is today considered a novel thing but has always been a cornerstone of your profession. True story bros, look it up.
If They Lock You Out, Use Pools
Even the most devoted liar still needs more than one news outlet and here is your wiggle room. It reminds me of an old story about music journalist Kurt Loder, when after being shut out at some Prince function, threatened to spend air time interviewing other dismissed reporters. The singer's PR team quickly relented. Lesson: the newsmakers need you more than you need them. And this goes back to the first point: stop trying to get the Fox News audience. Those folks get their news from extremely limited sources and like other religious fanatics, are not going to start looking at new avenues for their own edification. They know what they believe and that does it. So when a pathetically unprepared and unprofessional White House spokesman like Sean Spicer is telling you lies at a press conference, start using a pool. It will be very unnerving to have official pressers sparsely attended and the optics, as they like to say, will be damaging.
Stop Falling for the Obvious Distraction
I shouldn't have to write this, but when the White House points one way with the right hand, be sure to have at least two people checking out what the left hand is up to. In all the noise about inauguration crowd size, hardly anyone made comparable noise about FHA mortgage premium cuts being cancelled by executive order; that action will raise mortgage payments and cost new homebuyers about $500 additional a year. The media has fallen for this ruse time and again; it's now time to remember that you know how to walk and chew gum at the same time. Send interns if you have to.
You Need to Have a Heart to Heart with Your Parent Company
I have to laugh at CNN for doing all the opposite things I mentioned, especially with the main point, in trying to be like Fox News or go after their audience. That organization has compromised itself so badly trying to imitate Fox that it's comical (yes, I'm looking at you, Don Lemon). What drives news organizations are ad dollars, and low ratings hurt no matter who you are. But if any news editors actually value reporting the news, they need to speak directly to their parent company and tell them that it will be a fiscally bumpy ride. Why? People can get their news from other sources and a more centrist and center-left audience isn't going to pay the bills in the same manner as a Fox News audience who remain glued to everything. This has been a recipe for failure, yet CNN keeps trying at the expense of being a respectable news organization. And again, all of this goes back to my main point: stop trying to be like Fox News. (See a theme here?) You're desperate for ratings and ad revenue: I get it. But you're failing miserably not only doing that, but at the whole journalistic endeavor. And this why you allow yourselves to be berated by the unqualified, unprofessional White House spokesman and his capo at every turn.
It is not the function of the Executive Branch to dictate what the media does (in banana republics that's true, but...) and it is not your job to attempt to conform yourself to an audience that already despises you to chase ad dollars down that they will not give you.