The Silly Season Never Ends

The Silly Season Never Ends
April 26, 2015 Robert Dillon

Washington, D.C. goes into withdrawal in non-campaign years. The “politariti” don’t know what to talk about at lobbyist-hosted cocktail parties when there’s not election gossip to spread.

Solution – the permanent presidential campaign. The modern run for the presidency never really ends. As soon as one four-year cycle reaches its climax, talk begins of who will challenge the winner. This is the permanent extension of what Washington calls the “silly season.”

Eighteen months out from election day 2016 and the campaign should just be starting, but the D.C. press corps have been fixated for months on every Republican who could possibly run in 2016. And, of course, on Hillary – no last name needed at this point.

Politico writer Jack Shafer even offered Clinton some unsolicited advice on improving her relationship with the media in the latest edition of Politico Magazine.

So, stop thinking you’re special because reporters are out to get you. They’re out to get everybody—and that’s a good thing. The only thing in your control is how incendiary these inevitable clashes will be. – Jack Shafer, Politico.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 12.25.47 PMShafer’s advice runs from the obvious (talk to reporters) to the inebriating (craft beer brewing as a humanizing hobby choice). But his top two suggestions may just be: “If you don’t feed the press, the press will feed on you” and “Ask yourself what Richard Nixon would do. And do the opposite.”

Things don’t improve much for the candidate after the election either. The White House press corps has complained for years about their access to President Obama. Politico’s second annual survey of the White House press corps shows that there’s been little improvement on that front.

Fully 80 percent of the White House press corps has never had a one-on-one interview with the president, and 63 percent have never even had the chance to ask him a direct question.

As part of their annual survey of the White House press corps, Politico asked reporters to go on the record about what they like least about covering the president. Overwhelmingly the most popular response was “access.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 12.50.15 PM

“Attending a press conference with the president. Most of the time the same four to five reporters get to ask questions while the rest of us sit there.” Cheryl Bolen, Bloomberg BNA

“Access that doesn’t exist!” Chris Jansing, NBC

“The whole thing. It isn’t so much a beat as it is the most high-profile general assignment reporting position around. I’m not saying it isn’t an awesome high-stakes job. It’s just not as glamorous as fans of The West Wing imagine.”Tamara Keith, NPR.

“The alleged glamour. The vast majority of my days are spent either a) at my desk in a dingy basement, b) standing and waiting for an event to start or end or c) being told as little as possible by people the taxpayers are paying to explain to me what their government is doing.” Mark S. Smith, Associated Press.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 7.24.52 PMFinally, a tribute to the man who started the crave of reporters demanding greater and greater access to the private lives of candidates and the kind of behind-the-scenes details that add color but, really, make most readers yawn. Theodore White changed the way politics is covered, with his groundbreaking book – The Making of the President 1960. Yet, White didn’t necessarily provide voters with greater insight into the potential leadership abilities or positions of the candidates.

White won a Pulitzer Prize for his behind-the-scenes look at the Kennedy-Nixon campaigns, but he came to regret the appetite he sparked in his fellow reporters for the trivial and constant hounding of candidates.

White then recalled being in George McGovern’s hotel suite when he won the 1972 Democratic nomination in Miami Beach. “It’s appalling what we’ve done to these guys,” White told Crouse. “McGovern was like a fish in a fishbowl. There were three different network crews at different times. The still photographers kept coming in in groups of five. And there were at least six writers sitting in the corner—I don’t even know their names. We’re all sitting there watching him work on his acceptance speech, poor bastard. He tries to go into the bedroom with Fred Dutton to go over the list of vice presidents, which would later turn out to be the fuck-up of the century, of course, and all of us are observing him, taking notes like mad, getting all the little details. Which I think I invented as a method of reporting and which I now sincerely regret. If you write about this, say that I sincerely regret it. Who gives a fuck if the guy had milk and Total for breakfast?” – Timothy Crouse, The Boys on the Bus.


Robert Dillon
Robert Dillon is former communications director of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He’s worked as a photographer and reporter for newspapers, magazines, and radio in Alaska, Washington, D.C., Russia, China, and across Europe.


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