Creating incentives for extreme candidates to ignore the press

CREATING INCENTIVES FOR EXTREME CANDIDATES TO IGNORE THE PRESS…. The traditional model was never especially controversial, and there was no real reason to question it. Politicians who wanted to garner public support would engage political reporters in the hopes of reaching voters and getting their message out, and would generally complain if the press ignored them.

The traditional model is quickly being replaced, and for the first time, we’re finding multiple statewide candidates — Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Nevada’s Sharron Angle, for the example — who simply ignore reporters’ questions and blow off interview opportunities. The fear, of course, is that reporters might ask them to explain their extreme policy positions. The politicians can try, but that only serves to remind voters of the inherent radicalism.

Eric Boehlert had a great item the other day explaining that a certain former half-term governor helped establish the new playbook, and some of the nuttier candidates are following it closely.

I’ve been writing about Palin’s press boycott for months now, simply because we’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never seen a high-profile politician categorically refuse to engage with serious, independent journalists. And we’ve certainly never seen a politician stiff the press and then have the press lay down in response. We’ve never seen the press so willingly get steam-rolled before. But with Palin and her news media boycott, that’s exactly what’s happened: Palin refuses to acknowledge their existence (except to ridicule it) and in return they fawn over her.

So why is anybody surprised that controversial senatorial candidates such as Angle and Paul, after having recently stepped in on the campaign trail, are now duplicating Palin’s strategy and declining to talk to legitimate, non-partisan reporters? That’s right, we now have two major party candidates running for state-wide office who pretty much won’t answer questions from reporters.

This is beyond unprecedented. It’s Bizarro World.

Quite right. Palin, Paul, and Angle will talk to outlets that agree in advance to help — Fox News, Human Events, right-wing talk radio shows — and blow off everyone else. It’s simply a matter of cowardice, since it’s easier to hide from journalists and avoid public scrutiny than it is to explain extreme positions that make the politicians appear ridiculous.

If political reporters at major outlets disapprove, as one might assume, news organizations are going to have to start adapting to the new model. As a practical matter, cowardly politicians like Palin know that outlets will run stories about her Facebook postings, for example, usually without scrutiny. It’s a scam — she doesn’t have to endure questions she can’t answer, but she can still get her message out by manipulating news organizations that treat Twitter messages and blog missives as qualitatively the same thing as interview quotes. For reporters, the goal should be to characterize the “silent treatment” from right-wing candidates as genuinely scandalous, not something media professionals will accomodate or encourage.

Unless the media resists these tactics more assertively, it’s only a matter of time before Republican candidates boycott professional journalists in even larger numbers. It an incentive structure that’s awful for the press, and considerably worse for democracy.