But the absence of words has its drawbacks:
- When a politician bans the press, the press has no alternative to dig deeper to find a story. As New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe recently noted, he is a proponent of “writing around”, in which a journalist, when denied access to his story, extracts oral histories, letters, memoirs, emails, testimonies in front of courts and previous interviews to obtain material, and speaks to those familiar with the subject.
- Not all negative press – and this is what politicians who avoid the press fear – is necessarily bad for a candidate. Trump, whose contentious relationship with the press has no rival, has traditionally spoken at length to reporters and continues to do so. The “bad” publicity seemed to work to his advantage with his base. Earlier this month, Trump spoke revealingly to New Yorkit is Olivia Nuzzi of his future, knowing that Nuzzi would not eat it. He escaped, as usual, unscathed. He arguably even grabbed new buzz for a potentially early presidential announcement.
- A candidate can maintain a cone of silence, but they cannot stop the flow of information. As Weigel wrote, journalists can interview participants in events from which they have been excluded or listen to recordings of events.
- The hyperglycemia that accompanies telling a New York Times journalist to get lost must be recognized. Whenever I feel down, I call a Time reporter just to tell him I won’t talk to him. But remaining silent also gives the impression that the candidate is weak. It’s part of their story. And that gives enemies of the taciturn Republicans a chance to land a punch. “My opponent is too chicken to face the New York Times. What is he going to do with Vladimir Putin?
- Foreign correspondents know all about the difficulties of not having their calls returned. But that doesn’t stop them from reporting. The same goes for mainstream journalists who find themselves sidelined by national officials and politicians.
- Politics has always been about fucking other party members. If the main Republican presidential candidates boycott the press, what will prevent a savvy media – a Republican version of Pete Buttigieg – from breaking the boycott to gain publicity? Nothing. Boycotts like these are inherently unstable.
- It’s one thing to shut out the press during primary season, but with the general election approaching, Republican candidates appreciate how useful mainstream media can be in reaching swing voters who don’t consume a lot of conservative media and not enough social media. Then they will talk to almost anyone.
As my POLITICO colleague Michael Kruse, the author of dozens of political profiles, puts it, “They don’t need us to get elected. And we don’t need them to write about them. The standoff between the Republican candidates and the press is likely to expand before contracting. But it’s short term. Making the media the enemy backfires on politicians. See the careers of George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew for historical examples.
As interest in the 2024 election grows and readers and viewers begin to pay more attention to the race (what sane person – other than politicians and the press – is paying much attention to 2024 now?), the candidates will soften their hard line and talk to the press again.
Again, there may be more wisdom to cutting the press than explained here. As former Vice President Hubert Humphrey once wrote: “It’s always a risk to talk to the press: they are likely to report what you say.
During the 1972 campaign, Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “Hubert Humphrey is a treacherous, gutless old hooker who should be put in a fucking bottle and sent with the Japanese current.” Send political invective to [email protected]. My email alerts are not accepting new subscriptions. My Twitter feed won’t talk to anyone. Sign up. My RSS feed believes that silence is the best policy.