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Up-and-coming conservative candidates shy away from media analysis

Sharron Angle talks of
Sharron Angle talks of "earned media." (Ethan Miller - Getty Images)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2010

Some of the most conservative and combative Republicans running for Congress are convinced that the media have it in for them.

But these candidates seem to regard it as an affront when reporters challenge them on their past statements and inconsistencies, which is a basic function of journalism. They are avoiding or limiting interviews with all but the friendliest faces as a way of circumventing the press. And some of them delight in skewering the mainstream media, a tactic that plays well with their base.

Since her primary victory in Nevada, Senate candidate Sharron Angle has spoken mainly with Fox News, sympathetic radio hosts, columnist George Will, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and, in an online video, Christian activist Ralph Reed. Angle told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody last week that she's not "running from the media" but that "the whole point of an interview is to use it, like they say, 'earned media,' to earn something with it, and I'm not going to earn anything from people who are there to badger me and use my words to batter me with. . . . Will they let me say I need $25 from a million people, go to SharronAngle.com, send money?"

Another Republican, Senate candidate Rand Paul in Kentucky, told "tea party" activists they have to "control the message" -- through advertising -- to combat efforts "to paint us as something we're not," because "we're not going to get a lot of help from the newspapers." Both seem to think the media's primary role should be to help them -- raise money, carry a message -- rather than hold them accountable.

Nicolle Wallace, who served as communications director in the Bush White House, says candidates such as Angle and Paul have no need "to have a relationship with the national media. . . . They're probably right in feeling the media haven't figured out how to cover the tea party movement with objectivity and fairness." But she said candidates must be "confident enough in the substance of their platform" to speak to local reporters.

Phil Singer, a spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, says that "demonizing the mainstream press limits the candidate's ability to take the next step" and appeal to moderate voters. "In some cases they're making a bet they'll be able to speak exclusively to their base and ride the anger in the broader electorate to victory. That's a gamble."

The candidates, some of them political neophytes, may be facing some "gotcha" questions, but that is part of the obstacle course of national politics. More experienced politicians anticipate such queries and find ways to brush them off.

In Angle's one television interview with a local journalist, Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun, she began backtracking on some of her positions.

Rather than talking about the need to "phase . . . out" Social Security in favor of privatization, she said funds for current obligations should be placed in a "lockbox" while some form of personal accounts is established for future recipients. Angle, who opposes an extension of unemployment benefits, also denied calling the jobless "spoiled," saying instead that the program "has spoiled our citizenry."

"I am not sure who that was I interviewed on 'Face to Face' Tuesday evening, but it was not Sharron Angle," Ralston wrote. "At least not the Sharron Angle who existed before she was catapulted from relatively unknown former assemblywoman to perhaps the most famous Republican Senate nominee in the country."

Paul canceled an appearance on "Meet the Press" after he sparked a furor by telling MSNBC's Rachel Maddow he had concerns about the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act dealing with private business. National Review's Kevin Williamson wrote after an interview last week that "Rand Paul knows he blew that Rachel Maddow interview, big time. He totally owns up to it. . . . He is understandably a little media-shy now." That sounds like an understatement.

The media have become a big, fat target for many Republicans in the midterm elections. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota complained to conservative radio host Bill Bennett about the "treason media." But no one has the reach of Sarah Palin, whose Facebook swipes at the "lamestream media" are widely broadcast by a journalistic establishment that has no access to her.


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