John Edwards’s campaign staffers blew it when they blew up over a UNC journalism student’s video story.
No more than few thousand people would have seen the original post on YouTube. After the campaign went nuclear, hundreds of thousands saw it.
It’s a double whammy for Edwards. First a minor story gets more attention. Then the media jumps you for strong-arming the J-School to kill the video.
Plus, the campaign bruised its relationships with the J-School and its well-placed alumni and friends around the country.
Blame stress. Perspective is the first thing to go among overworked, over-caffeinated, 20 – and 30 – something campaign staffers.
By this point in a campaign, they are tightly wound anyway. Then add their frustration over the Hillary-Obama monopoly on media coverage.
Plus, the video touched a nerve. The reporter suggested that the campaign is being hypocritical by talking about poverty and then having its headquarters in a toney Chapel Hill neighborhood. The story feeds the expensive haircut-big house-hedge fund attack on Edwards.
So the overreaction is perfectly human. But it’s no excuse.
You never win by going postal. Believe me. I learned the hard way as a (sometimes) hot-headed press secretary.
The best thing to do now is apologize. And laugh at yourself.
But not this statement from the campaign: “This is silly. We love all reporters; the problem is the feeling isn’t always mutual.”
Wrong. Reporters aren’t supposed to love you. They’re supposed to report on you.
Therein lies the eternal tension between politicians and the press. In politics, the world is divided between people who are for you and people who are against you. But reporters – for the most part – are neither. They just want a story. Preferably one that gets them on the front page or at the top of the broadcast.
Campaigns want to serve hamburger every day. To stay on message all the time. But the media doesn’t want to eat hamburger all the time. It wants steak today, lobster tomorrow, lasagna Wednesday, then maybe a club sandwich, then dessert Friday.
Every day, the two sides fight over the menu. Some days your campaign wins the fight, and some days it loses.
But it never pays to lose your cool. The media smells fear when you do. And remember: There will always be another paper and another broadcast tomorrow.
Sometimes, the best reaction is to underreact. Then serve up more hamburger.
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