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Do candidates have to talk to reporters?

Slate’s media man Jack Shafer goes against the grain in a column published yesterday, arguing that it isn’t necessarily bad news when candidates don’t speak to the press. It comes at the homestretch of a midterm season in which Tea Party candidates like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron Angle, and Democrats including Angle’s opponent Harry Reid, have been avoiding interviews and encounters with the news media. Conventional wisdom—and we demonstrated it here—is that this is bad for Democracy. Shafer does not agree.

He argues that in avoiding the press, candidates can get tangled in unfiltered media like Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and friendly TV venues like The View, the late night talkies, and, for some, Fox News. Unfiltered messages are dissected and ridiculed in the news press, preach only to the already converted, and can be just as gaffe-filled as a Palin/Couric sit-down. On top of that, candidates who deny us new material compel us to hunt for material from their pasts. See: Christine O’Donnell and Rand Paul.

“Perhaps the reluctance of Tea Party Republicans and even Democratic incumbents to sidestep the journalistic scrutiny is a sign of a robust, questioning, and skeptical press,” writes Shafer. Then adds:

I get the dry heaves every time I think of the “press-friendly” 2000 presidential primaries of John McCain, whose basic phoniness Jacob Weisberg decoded at the time. Politicians who appear too helpful and too open to reporters are always manipulating them. This doesn’t make them bad people. It’s just what politicians do.

He concludes that politicians “have no ‘duty’ to speak to reporters, a truth that more reporters should understand.”

What do you think? Do candidates have a responsibility to talk to the press? And in light of arguments swirling around AWOL candidates this election, should they?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.