campaign desk

So You Want to Talk to the Governor?

The word "promise" comes up
December 1, 2010

It’s February, maybe March, of 2010. You’re a political reporter frantically seeking face or phone time with Governor David Paterson of New York. You get in line.

And while you’re waiting (pick me! pick me!), you ponder this: what would you do (or agree not to do) for the “get?”

You could, as WABC-TV political producer Seung Suh did three days after the January 12th earthquake in Haiti, tell the governor’s press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, what your first question for her boss will be (psst, it will be “Please tell us about your new web site!”).

Make that, “the first thing,” the second thing, and the third and final thing.

In late January, the New York Times‘s Jeremy W. Peters needed only Governor Paterson’s “voice” to complete his “biographical piece” about the governor’s “formative years,” and e-mailed Paterson’s press secretary to request “a little one-on-one-time with the gov.”

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Prior to Peters’s “one-on-one time,” Shorenstein “checked in” to confirm that Peters’s questions for Paterson wouldn’t, um, stray from that appealing “formative years” story line.

Peters replied that he wasn’t “planning” to digress.

Can I “get the governor,” inquired WABC’s Adam Stephan on February 4, if I pinkyswear that our questions will only be about the hospital (and not, presumably, the casino)?

Request denied.

On February 9, with rumors of scandal and resignation swirling, the LA Times‘s Geraldine Baum wrote a piece headlined: “Governor of New York faces an avalanche of woes.” Baum picked the very next day to ask Shorenstein to “talk” (about talking to the Patterson).

Watch Shorenstein briskly manage Baum’s expectations.

One week later, Baum is back in Shorenstein’s in-box, bristling that Paterson gave an interview to The Daily BeastThe Daily Beast!—and wondering what a girl from the LA Times “has to do” to get a little attention around here already, particularly a girl who is politely refraining from “mentioning” what that other Times is saying about Paterson’s “closest confidant.”
Or, as Baum put it:

Shorenstein thanked Baum for her “interest” (twice), assured her that she is on the “request list,” and pointed out that someone from the LA Times who is not Geraldine Baum “did have an opportunity” to interview Paterson recently. (Ouch. Point, press secretary).

Wonder if Baum’s still on the “list.”

On the morning of February 19, ABC’s Dave Evans sent an e-mail to Shorenstein requesting to speak to Paterson that day about “the Times story” (“As Campaign Nears, Paterson is Seen as Increasingly Remote”) and asking for a copy of the official statement, from Paterson’s communications director, about said article.

It’s unclear if Shorenstein e-mailed back, but seventeen minutes later Evans sent another e-mail, this time from outside Paterson’s apartment (see the subject line below), with this “promise:”

Evans’s subsequent e-mail, sent six minutes later, bore the dejected subject line: “He didn’t say anything.”

On March 8, the New York Observer‘s Eliot Brown was at work on a profile of Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch (since, as Brown would write in the piece, published March 9, “as the state’s political classes consider [Ravitch’s] ascension in the event of Mr. Paterson’s resignation—the state’s current political obsession—Mr. Ravitch no longer has the luxury of operating behind the scenes.”)

Hoping to score a phone interview with the could-soon-be-governor Ravitch, Brown “promised” Shorenstein he would not to ask LG Ravitch about what the hypothetical Gov. Ravitch might do in Albany.

Pity, Brown never got his phone time with Ravitch. And Brown was such an agreeable guy, too (see last sentence, on the record, off the record, whatever!).

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.