24 May 2007

Shaping the news

It should come as no surprise to anyone that politicians frequently try to "game" the news media to produce the best possible coverage for them. Even so, when there's a particularly blatant example of it, it's fun to break it down.

Let's take a look at the events surrounding yesterday's announcement that the Palin administration is putting money into Senior Care on an emergency basis. And since press releases are now sent by e-mail and e-mails are time-stamped, we can get a really good picture of the timeline.

  • Tuesday, 4:48PM - House Democrats issue a press release announcing a press conference on Wednesday in which they say they will call on the governor to add Senior Care to the special session call.
  • Wednesday, 11AM - House Democrats begin their press conference and call on the governor to add Senior Care to the special session call. There's numerous media here - AP, KTUU, APRN, ADN, etc. No doubt, they are already writing the lead in their head, "House Democrats today called on Governor Sarah Palin to add..."
  • Wednesday, 11:50AM - While the press conference is still going on, the governor's press office releases an announcement that says the governor is continuing senior benefits on a short-term basis. The announcement is long on the history of the administration's attempt to add Senior Care funding but short on where exactly the money for this extension is going to come from. There's no mention of the Democrats.
  • Wednesday, 12:52PM - The governor's press office lets reporters know the governor will be available at 2PM (just one hour away), at a senior center, to discuss benefit programs for seniors. This is a blatant and obvious attempt to comment on the story that will no doubt be the story that political reporters in the state write about today. Even though Democrats aren't mentioned, the timing of the announcements makes it clear that it is in response to the Democrats' press conference.
  • Thursday - Media coverage of Senior Care almost exclusively begins with reference to the governor's action: ADN, KTUU, News-Miner, APRN, and so on. Democrats are mentioned secondarily, if at all. Governor Palin - depending on the version - looks more or less like the seniors' savior.
As I said, that politicians try to make themselves look good isn't exactly an earth-shattering revelation but it's neat to see how it unfolds step-by-step over time.

Interestingly, something similar happened with the original Senior Care legislation. Nome Senator Don Olson introduced Senate Bill 4 to extend the sunset date, the bill was heard in committee, the Palin administration said, "Of course we support this idea. In fact we're working on a version of our own," a day or two later a press release comes out trumpeting the new plan (similar to Olson's), and media coverage focuses on the Palin plan. You might recall I got up in arms about this some time ago.

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