Starving the News Cycle

Editor’s note: For two days this week, Thomas Lang joined Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s traveling press corps as he made post-debate appearances in Florida and Washington, D.C.

Late Friday night, word spread at the bar of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin hotel that Kerry would be giving a “major” economic speech the next day. General consensus among the press corps was that, following the rush of the debate, Friday had been anti-climatic, and the prospects of a “major” event promised a more exciting Saturday on the trail.

The Kerry campaign was going out of its way to hype this event. At 11:20 PM Friday, Kerry spokesman David Wade sent out a preview email laying out the goods:

I know we don’t ordinarily do this, but since you all have early deadlines on Saturday, we wanted to give you a head-start writing on tomorrow’s major speech for Sunday’s papers.

Yet, by Saturday morning after taking a one look at the email Kerry’s traveling press corps knew this would only be, as Kerry himself might say, more of the same. And with this fact so obvious to the press corps, chances were slim that voters would awake Sunday morning to see the headline “Kerry delivers major economic speech.”

The Baltimore Sun’s Julie Davis told me that “Anyone that has been following [the Kerry campaign] has seen this before.” They just “tell you that it’s a major event,” says Lesley Clark of the Miami Herald. Added the Christian Science Monitor’s Liz Marlantes, they’re always “trying to tout a major speech.”

“Take a look at the fact sheet,” answered Finley Lewis of the Copley News Service. “It’s just repackaged” material the press has seen before. “Nothing new,” echoed the Dallas Morning News’ David Jackson.

Davis thinks the Kerry campaign “wants to see [reporters] treat this as a major domestic address,” because even though “they’ve said this before, [no voters were] listening.” Furthermore, as they indicated in the email “they know it’s a Sunday story,” but, she said, “It’s difficult to make a big deal out of it if its not news.”

Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times doesn’t buy into the hype. “I can’t imagine that anyone in the room is saying, ‘Wow we have a major economic speech - hold the front page.’” Smith continued, “I’m approaching this by not writing about it,” saying his paper will just run an Associated Press story.

As Lewis put it, “People always say we should do more substance over style, but we have to go with what they give us.” And with less than a month to go before Election Day, it’s going to take a lot more than a midnight email from David Wade to fool the campaign press into transforming “recycled” economic policies into front page news.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.