It's one of the oldest media-management strategies in the book: Release all controversial or bad news late Friday, when it's more likely to get lost in the weekend shuffle. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) seems to have added that strategy to his public-relations playbook lately.
On June 20, a Friday, the mayor was out of town. But that didn't stop his public-relations staff from issuing two bulletins after the traditional workday had ended. At 5:23 p.m., an e-mail was sent to reporters about plans for reusing seven school buildings that are being closed this summer. About 20 minutes later, at 5:42 p.m., an e-mail was sent about the mayor's new regulations governing the consolidation of the city's hundreds of closed-circuit surveillance cameras.
Both issues have drawn criticism and scrutiny from the public and watchdog groups.
The following Friday, on June 27, the mayor's office sent a bulletin at 3:10 p.m. about plans for reusing eight additional schools scheduled to be closed. Then, last Thursday, the day before the July Fourth holiday, with Fenty on vacation at the beach, the school system sent a news release at 5:43 p.m. announcing that 250 teachers and 500 aides are losing their jobs.
For an administration whose goal is to hold at least one news conference daily, the late news dumps seemed suspicious to several reporters.
But mayoral spokeswoman Carrie Brooks said there was no strategy to avert the media, noting that reporters followed up on each story even though the news broke late.
"Not a single occasion has the press not called us. If we're trying to avoid something, this is not doing it," Brooks said.
She said that in each case, there was a different reason for the late announcements. With the first two, she said, the administration was under a time crunch to put out the announcements about the cameras and the school reuse strategy by that Friday. The camera regulations were published in the D.C. Register, and the school reuse plans, which included two charter schools, had paperwork that needed to be filed with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
So why were the news releases not issued earlier in the day? Brooks blamed it on her office being short-staffed. By the time all the releases were fact-checked by relevant agencies, it was late in the day, she said.
"Sometimes, you just run out of time," Brooks said.
And when asked why the administration chose not to hold a news conference with the mayor to make each announcement, Brooks said none of the news seemed important enough to do so.
For the cameras, the administration had already had a news conference to announce the consolidation of the camera network. The process by which the administration would reuse the schools had been talked about previously, as well, Brooks said.
(Besides, Fenty was in Miami on June 20 to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors and would not have been available for a news conference. The administration does not schedule public announcements without him.)
"Some may say these things were press-conference-worthy, or that we have had press conferences for less," Brooks said. "But there are times we are not able to do press conferences."