Govs, Media - A Love, Hate Relationship

 

This spring, Montana Gov. Judy Martz refused to give interviews to two reporters in Helena, saying that some journalists were writing misleading stories about her. In April, she demanded written questions in advance from the two alleged miscreants.

"When you just get personal attacks, I have to do something to change that," Martz told Stateline.org. "I will not continue to be part of the negativity."

Despite the selective restrictions, Martz said she always makes an effort to call back other reporters and give them access.

Controlling access is a common tactic in the give-and-take between governors and the media. Public officials believe they get good press from some reporters and see others as playing "gotcha." So many governors set ground rules for the media.

Gilbert Gallegos, political reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune, says, "New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican, is notoriously difficult with the press. Usually, the only access is at news conferences during the legislative sessions or at public events. The only time the governor is eager to talk to reporters is if you're asking about his efforts to ease drug laws. And even then, local print reporters play second-fiddle to TV and to national media."

New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey has decreed that every press request for information from state agencies be funneled through his office, says Herb Jackson, a Bergen Record reporter. McGreevey also told reporters the state treasurer could brief them on the budget this spring if quotes were attributed only to a "senior official." Reporters refused to go along.

Minnesota's Gov. Jesse Ventura, known for his outspokenness, has developed an extraordinarily adversarial relationship with the press--- at least when the cameras are rolling.

"He will say the first thing on the top of his mind. That is what's so refreshing about him. Unfortunately, the first thing (he often says) is how inept reporters are," said Tom Hauser, chief political reporter for KSTP, Minneapolis St. Paul's ABC-TV affiliate.

Hauser, whose book on the former pro wrestler's relations with the media, "Inside the Ropes With Jesse Ventura," is due out in September, says: "While he doesn't tip many beers with us, he does treat us better behind closed doors."

Other reporters haven't found Ventura's attitude toward them amusing.

Bill McAllister, a reporter for the Juneau (Alaska) Empire and formerly managing editor of the St. Paul Legal Ledger , a daily for political insiders, said Ventura "is narcissistic, defensive, abusive, and just plain mean at times."

Ventura's spokesman Paul Moore concedes that the governor can be defensive and yes, "narcissistic, I could see." But Moore said, "I have never seen him be mean or abusive."

In past years, Ventura declined local interviews when he'd get mad at a negative editorial, a mistake, or misleading headline, Moore said.

"He was a bad guy when he was a wrestler, so he kind of likes having an opponent," Moore said. "So sometimes he plays up the media as his opponent.'"

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating has had to apologize for getting physical with a journalist. In 2000, Keating said he was sorry for grabbing Daily Oklahoman reporter Paul English's arm and poking his chest.

"He reached with his left hand and grabbed my right arm that was holding the recorder," said English, now a writer for the Oklahoma Gazette . "I was looking in his eyes, I was trying to figure out, is he joking? Or has he really gone over the edge? Then he also started poking me with his right hand, with his index finger, poking me in the chest. And he says, I'll tell you what's accurate.' Then it seemed to come to him that, oops, he had gone too far, and he let go of my arm and turned around, end of news conference."

Some governors at least give the appearance of being chummy with the press corps.

"Over the past three-plus years, I have become convinced that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush truly loves to banter with us," said Nancy Cook Lauer, capitol bureau chief for the Tallahassee Democrat . "It seems he'd go on forever, but his staff is always dragging him away before he says something he'd regret."

Peter Hancock, reporter for Kansas Public Radio, said, "For eight years, [Gov. Bill Graves'] office has been remarkably fair and even-handed with the media. They don't play favorites, and they don't leak information to favorite' reporters."

Vermont Gov. Howard Dean rose to the challenge to prove his reputation for being press-friendly of late. Dean, flirting with a run for the presidency, returned Stateline.org's call within the time it takes to get a pizza delivered.

"Hi, this Gov. Howard Dean returning your call from Vermont. Let me give you my home phone number: ..." 

 
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