The Media's Favorite Governor

I just finished Craig Crawford's new book, Attack the Messenger , in which he claims that officeholders have increasingly turned to criticizing the media to deflect ...
by | October 26, 2005

I just finished Craig Crawford's new book, Attack the Messenger , in which he claims that officeholders have increasingly turned to criticizing the media to deflect unwanted scrutiny. Crawford argues that this trend is undermining the freedom of the press and weakening our democracy. To me, however, the tendency of elected officials to blame the press reflects something far more pernicious: a lack of creativity.

Schweitzer There are dozens of media strategies that don't involve crying bias or casting aspersions against reporters. A prototypical example is the way Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (pictured here, wearing a bola tie) has become a darling of the press.

Schweitzer has been portrayed favorably in publications ranging from Salon.com to the Wall Street Journal . His trick is little more than being interesting and providing access.

Both of these tactics were on full display in a New York Times article published last week on Montana's upcoming (and controversial) bison hunt. Rather than quote an environmental official or one of the governor's aides, the article quotes Schweitzer himself. It also includes the sort of colorful detail that reporters love about Schweitzer: The governor himself entered a lottery to participate in the bison hunt.

Similarly, this summer when the Washington Post ran an article about a Maryland high school student who was denied a diploma for wearing a bola tie to his graduation, Schweitzer sprang into action. He contacted the student to offer his support and sent him a Montana state bola tie. Then, unsolicited, he personally called the Post to complain about the student's treatment, winning a follow-up story for his efforts. (For the record, the bola tie is the official neckwear of Arizona, not Montana.)

Whether other officeholders could follow Schweitzer's lead is an open question. He is fascinating to Eastern media outlets because he is different from most national political figures. As a former rancher and agro-science major, Schweitzer really is the consummate Westerner. Still, with governors across the country falling into disfavor for scandals unearthed by the media, charming the press is a much smarter strategy than condemning them.

Then again, what Schweitzer gains from winning media fans 2,000 miles from his state isn't clear, unless the folks in the Draft Schweitzer movement know something the rest of us don't.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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