Tips for Dealing with the Press

News reporters are human beings who have a difficult job. Public officials have a tough job, but don’t always appear to be human. The divide stems from a failure to communicate.

Here are a few rules for candidates and public officials in dealing with the press:

Return all legitimate press calls

News reporters are always on deadline, so a failure to call back will make you look like you are avoiding a situation. Second, do it yourself. Never have an aide or lackey call the reporter back, unless it is simply to schedule some time. Nothing infuriates a reporter more than to have to get information from the second bozo.

Always be honest

Let’s face it, some facts are not positive. If you find a line of questioning distasteful, go on background. The term “background” is used so that the reporter will not use the name of the person giving the information. But there are a few caveats.

When going on background, make sure the reporter agrees that you are on background. You must have a verbal commitment. Saying, “this is on background,” and then spilling your guts is “on the record.” It is your job to get an agreement.

If during a background conversation the reporter wants to put you on the record, they will ask and you can decide whether you want to be quoted. The advantage of background is that it allows a conversation to occur without a subject having to be careful about their words.

Be clear about what’s “off the record”

Off the record differs from background, in that a reporter cannot use the contents of your remarks in any way. The reporter can get the story from other places, but no information you give should be used.

Reporters hate “off the record” conversations. (Editor’s note: Nodding head.) Again, they must be agreed to in advance. Many reporters will not go off the record with public figures. Understand this concept. Many a client has complained to me that they were “off the record” when there was no agreement from the reporter. There must be an agreement, otherwise everything is on the record.

Some people will say reporters are never your friend. This is not true. But don’t confuse friendship with a reporter doing his or her job. If your best friend is a policeman, you shouldn’t tell them about all the laws you plan to break later that evening. So it is with a reporter.

If you socialize with reporters, go off the record for the duration. In those cases, they are usually happy to do it. They don’t want to work in their off-hours, either. But make sure you get the agreement. They will understand.

Understand that no matter what you say, or how convincing your story, the reporter has an obligation to get another view. Thus, read or look at the story in its entirety before you start worrying about a quote from your political enemy. Remember that the reporter’s job is not to report the “truth.” It is about being accurate and that is the standard by which their story must be judged.

In the final analysis, there will be good stories and bad ones. The worst story is one that appears without comment. In that case, the public will judge silence as an admission. So, unless advised by your attorney, return the call, be honest and appreciate that you live in a world where there is a free press—even when their accuracy jives with your truth.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

23 Comments

  1. > Remember that the reporter’s job is not to report the “truth.” It is about being accurate and that is the standard by which their story must be judged.

    Since at least the 1960’s and the emergence of the “New Left’s” advocacy journalism, a career in journalism became trendy because it offered the promise of “making a difference” or “changing the world”.

    Objective “truth” was viewed as an artificial constraint resulting from “oppressive bourgeoise values”.  “Truth” was regarded not as an end, but as a means.  “Truth” is pointless if it doesn’t advance “social justice”, which ought to be the real objective for an enlightened progressive hero-journalist.

    “Accuracy” is a nice window-dressing which should be incorporated in reporting if it doesn’t interfere with “social justice”.  And “accuracy” always adds to “verisimilitude” (the appearance of truth). But a cunning and creative reporter can easily cobble together an entirely inaccurate picture of reality through artfully selected, but “accurate” snippets of reportage.

    • The problem is not with the left—it is with the right and always has been.

      Corporate entities own newspapers.  Most are conservative.  FOX News, talk radio and the plethora of misinformation in the public is mind numbing.  But it is not the “liberal media” that is misinforming the public.

      There is a cadre of journalists still trying to report in an ethical manner.  We should support them, even when we disagree.

      • > Corporate entities own newspapers.  Most are conservative.  FOX News, talk radio and the plethora of misinformation in the public is mind numbing.  But it is not the “liberal media” that is misinforming the public.

        Rich:

        Are you supposing that this is, in some way, a thoughtful response to what I posted?

        Seems to be just free-floating, contentless, Fox News bashing.

        As near as I can discern, your basic complaint is that people you disagree with are guilty of accessing information from sources that you disapprove of.

        Is your idea of thoughtful discourse that we all agree on the same set of facts from a single news source and harmonize our opinions so we agree that we’re all very smart for having the same correct assessement?

        • Lou, did you know that Fox viewers are statistically more misinformed than viewers of any other major news channel? Did you know that they’re statistically more misinformed than people who don’t even watch the news?

          And that’s not based on just one single survey, but repeated surveys. A 2003 study by the Program on International Policy Articles found sixty-seven percent of Fox news viewers believed Sadddam Hussein worked with Al Qaeda, thirty-three percent believed the US had located WMD’s in Iraq. Fox viewers were more likely than any other group to posses misconceptions about Iraq.

          In a late 2010 survey, Stanford University’s Jon Krosnick found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.” A Kaiser Family Foundation study released earlier this year showed that Fox news viewers were mostly likely to posses misconceptions regarding healthcare, as well.

          Of course, you’re probably going to ignore all of these facts and continue watching Fox. Knowing you, you’d probably rather argue that Saddam really WAS linked to Al Qaeda.

        • > In a late 2010 survey, Stanford University’s Jon Krosnick found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.”

          Dakota:

          Jon Krosnick wasted his time. This really proves NOTHING about Fox News.

          As a person with a degree in Science (Chemistry), I recognized that “many mainstream scientist’s claims about global warming” were pure hokum and were not based on “science” at all, but only on lust for government grant money from Al Gore stooge Carol Browner and her EPA; AND this recognition occurred LONG, LONG before Fox News had anything to say about it.

          I am always amused by the fact that snotty little leftists with AA degrees in ethnic studies or history of popular culture think they can fake the science of global warming and that real scientists are so dumb that they won’t question anything.

        • I considered leaving out the bit about global warming, because I knew you’d ignore every other point I made to focus on that. Oh well, a lesson learned for me. You and I have had this debate on global warming before, and as I recall I won it. If you want to have it again, that’s fine by me.

          “I am always amused by the fact that snotty little leftists with AA degrees in ethnic studies or history of popular culture think they can fake the science of global warming and that real scientists are so dumb that they won’t question anything.”
          Real scientists do question global warming, but ninety-seven percent of scientists have decided that they believe man-made global warming is real. If your argument is that I don’t believe scientists are critical about the ‘theory’ of global warming, you’re absolutely wrong. I KNOW they are highly critical of it- the fact that ninety-seven percent walked away saying that man-made global warming is real is the reason why I believe it myself, for Pete’s sake! The fact that you’ve argued in the past that “a majority of scientists believing in global warming doesn’t make it true” demonstrates that it is YOU who is distrustful of the scientific community’s understanding of global warming, not me. I really have no idea how you can twist it in your mind so that I’m the one who thinks scientists are “dumb” and “won’t question anything”. That couldn’t be more backwards!

          But then again, in your mind it’s easier to see ninety-seven percent of scientists as blinded by EPA money than it is to see three percent as blinded by Big Oil money.

          That ninety-seven percent figure, by the way, I shared with you in our previous debate. However, you called its validity into question last time, and I’d like to remind you that it’s taken directly from a report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

          To quote one Koch-funded scientist on his own personal conversion from skepticism to belief in global warming:
          “Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

        • > You and I have had this debate on global warming before, and as I recall I won it.

          Really?!!!!

          I had no idea!!

          Let me check with myself to see if I’ve been converted.

          Checking…

          Checking…

          Checking…

          NOPE!

          Still a troglodyte, flat-earther, fearful, NIMBY declinist.

          > “. . . I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

          Hmmmmm.

          It seems that the solution would be for humans to go away.  Since, as a global warming true believer you already accept the fact that YOU have to go away to save the planet, I propose an actual scientific experiment:

          YOU go away, I’ll stay behind and monitor the planet.  If you are correct, I will suffocate in green house gases and roast to death, and you will be proven correct!

          If I am correct, you will be gone and I’ll have the entire planet to myself.

          Sounds like a WIN-WIN to me.

        • When confronted with an argument you cannot respond to, you instead reply with comments like “why don’t you just leave the planet”. Destroying the planet is certainly something serious, and if you can’t think of an actual response to my points then you should consider the possibility that you might be wrong. THAT’S the mature thing to do, not saying “Boo hoo, why don’t you leave the planet”.

  2. Rich,

    have a question, sould reporters state the truth or be basis based on their or papers political side.  I find this courius why this has not made major headlines.  Since your are Obama pro.

    I hope everyone is aware that as part of the Presidents Health Care Bill you will pay a 3.8% Medicare tax if you decide to sell your home or any other personal property.  Beginning in 2013 (after the elections of course) all real estate transactions will be subject to a 3.8% sales taxes.  Why this is in the health care plan is still to be explained.  So for example, if you sell your home for 400K be prepared to pay the goverment $15,200.00. I find it amazing how things like this seemed to show up in Senate bills that are passed without our representatives not even knowing what they are voting on, or hiding it from those that elected these officals.  Are they exempt again from the very bills they approve?

    Please explain, I am all ears,  I also here our mortgage yearly tax deduction will be eliminated as well under Obama,

    • Let me take this one Rich.  The information you provide Rick is dishonest at best.  the tax will only apply to high earners that sell their house for a substantial profit and does not apply to all home sales.  It is an investment tax which could result in a very small percentage of home sellers paying additional taxes on home sales profits over a designated threshold amount.  Don’t believe me, here are a couple of sources so you can judge for yourself: http://www.snopes.com/politics/taxes/realestate.asp
      http://www.forbes.com/sites/beltway/2012/04/02/there-is-no-obamacare-tax-on-most-home-sales-really/
      http://southfloridalawblog.com/2012/07/03/the-truth-about-obamacares-real-estate-sales-tax-it-doesnt-exist/

      Please stop spreading right wing talking points it only makes you look stupid

    • That is bogus and you can go to factcheck.org.  It is that type of misinformation that is hurting the process.  You can put anything on the internet.

      If you make $250,000 a year; the 3.8% real estate tax kicks in after the first $250,000 if you are single and after $500,000 if you are married.  The first $$ are not taxed.

      Thus your example of a 400K home does not apply.  It would be 3.8% on a $150,000, if the person was single, made more than $250,000.  If it was a married couple selling the home the tax would be 0, even if they made more than $250,000 in other income.

      The Mortgage deduction has not and will not be eliminated.

      Really—don’t believe everything you read or comes to you in an email on the internet.

      • Really Rich,

        In other words this applies to almost everyone in”Silicon Valley”.  Because the cost to live here pretty much gets you the tax.  Should I state this is a Rich Tax, hiding under Obama Health Care and yet the President is coming here once a month to raise money from the very people, go figure!

        Is the Congress exempt from this bill, answer the question!

        Mortgage tax elimination is before congress now.  So don’t act so angry, (but you are a polical consultant) nothing will happen until AFTER the election.  So do not pretend this is not on the agenda!  It is!  I love how you phrase your words, just like BO.

        This is the road the president is going down.  Realtors are fighting this but who will get the swing vote come after November elections.

        We need to brace for a country going under.

        • Yes, wealthy people in Silicon Valley will be taxed a little more when they make over $250,000 a year and their house is over $250,000.  So what? 

          Most of us, who have lived in this Valley for more than 20 years have seen appreciation—even after the housing market crash—at 200-400%. 

          A 3.8% tax on anything over $500,000 for a married couple is mice-nuts.

        • Really?

          “So what”, “mice-nuts”.  Wow, well stated.  A true consultant.  Keep up the great work.  Wish I was a multi-millionare like you.

          Go Romney!

        • Rick, the majority of people in Silicon Valley do not make over $250,000 a year, and the reality is that people who DO make over $250,000 a year are paying less taxes now than they did under Ronald Reagan.

      • Rich,

        one last comment, which was yours:

        Really—don’t believe everything you read or comes to you in an email on the internet.

        Then why should we believe a political consultant who posts a political blog on the INTERNET each week who posts his own agenda.

        you hit it on the head – DON’T BELEIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ!

        GOGGLE YOU AND WE SEE WHO YOU REPRESENT

        • Please feel free to verify any fact, opinion etc. I post.  I encourage you to do it.  Because, it’s rare, but it does happen.  Sometimes I’ve been wrong.

    • > Lou, is it possible for you to say ANYTHING without it being annoying? Give it a rest.

      Dear SJFF:

      Why should anyone as smug and full of themselves as you be allowed to rest?

      If you can’t think of a rational and cogent counterpoint to something posted on this forum,then:

      A.) you’re probably not thinking, AND
      B.) you lost the argument.