Raul Labrador has figured out the secret of getting better media coverage.
Make yourself available.
The 1st Congressional District representative’s “Conversations With Conservatives” provides a forum for some of Labrador’s fellow first-term Republicans — lawmakers who feel like they’ve been overlooked or done wrong by the media. Labrador’s idea is to give the freshmen a forum where they’ll field whatever questions reporters want to throw their way.
I’d call the Labrador plan a stroke of genius, if it was. But it’s not. It’s just smart common sense, something politicians and their staffs don’t always bring to their dealings with the news media.
Not to spoil anyone’s conspiracy theory, but I get skeptical when people say reporters are out to “get” politicians. Reporters are out to get stories, and those sometimes reflect poorly on politicians. That’s going to happen, and I know for a fact that Labrador and his staff haven’t been thrilled with everything that’s been said about him on news and editorial pages.
The question, then, is what a politician does in response. Hunker down, and tell the staff to put up the stone wall? Or get out there, make your points and trust your message?
There’s a point of overexposure and diminishing return, of course, but there is generally a direct correlation between effort and result. The more a politician cultivates a dialogue with the media, the better the politician’s chances of getting a message out to voters.
This same rule of thumb goes for staffs. Staffers invariably take their cue from the person in charge, but the best ones respond to inquiries quickly, make the case on behalf of the boss and make the effort to build working relationships. Like the best journalists, the best staffers recognize that, in a professional yet adversarial relationship, it’s not smart to take things personally.
Once again, I’m going to shoot down a conspiracy theory. It’s not that reporters conspire to give cotton-candy coverage to politicos and staffers who have the gift of schmoozing. But when reporters have better information and better access, that does come through in the coverage.
Labrador didn’t just come upon this knowledge overnight. Last August, for example, he knew he would need to explain his vote on raising the debt ceiling, so he asked to come to the Statesman to discuss it with the editorial board. As I said then, I disagreed with Labrador’s decision, but I understood it better, and could at least explain his side to readers.
It’s a pretty simple concept. It’s amazing how many politicians fail to get it.