Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Words That Hurt . . . Reporters, then Candidates

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Sen. Barbara Boxer

Facing the toughest campaign of her career, California Sen. Barbara Boxer spent the day before Good Friday working the Northern California media and making her case for a fourth sixth-year hitch in Washington.

btw: if she wins this November and completes her term through January 2017, Boxer would tie the man she replaced, the late Alan Cranston, as California’s second longest-serving senator with 24 years in the deliberative body (Cranston holding the seat from 1969-1993). One more victory after that, and she’d be closing in on Hiram Johnson’s record of 27 years (1917-1945). 

a second btw: to give you an idea of Washington longevity, 24 years in the U.S. Senate doesn’t get you anywhere near the top of the list. Here’s a rundown of the top 35, three of whom now are in office.

a third btw: a near-quarter-of-a-century in the same job barely gets you in the top-50 of California long-timers (Boxer would have to hang around until 2037, to equal the 43 years on the State Board of Equalization amassed by Democrat George Reilly).

Anyway, getting back to Boxer .  . .

If the goal was a clean story about being ready for the fight of her political life, then it wasn’t a very good Thursday for the senator. Twice, in a press conference in West Sacramento and a one-on-one sit-down with a Bay Area tv reporter, Boxer referred to her media questioner as a “pundit” — as in what she told her Sacramento audience: “A lot of the pundits like you were predicting my losses, every single time I’ve run.”

That might seem trivial, but to reporters it isn’t. The last thing an earnest journalist wants to be confused with is a wind-bag, chattering-class bloviator (present company included, I suppose).

And if you doubt reporters resent the blurring of the lines, check out these video reports, which are hardly puff pieces.

The first, by KCRA political reporter Kevin Riggs, points out Boxer’s grumpiness, describes her as “thin-skinned”, notes she rarely visits the Sacramento area and, at the end, takes a swipe at the senator by noting her self-professed “hectic day” included time for a fundraiser later that day — a fundraiser, Riggs noted, she left via a restaurant’s back door.

In the second piece, KTVU political editor Randy Shandobil  makes the pundit/journalist distinction himself. Following a Boxer utterance about “pundits like you . . .”, Shandobil noted in his narrative: “aside from labeling this reporter something he is not . . .”

The bottom line: combativeness has always been Boxer’s m.o. — that, and the impression of being a populist underdog in a state that’s anything but an uphill climb for Democrats in statewide contests.

But in a wary and weary political climate, Boxer needs to choose her words more carefully — beginning with the words she uses to describe her press pool. Otherwise, by stepping on reporters’ toes, she’ll risk stepping on her own message.

And that’s how incumbents end up being asked by voters to step down from office.


Written by Bill Whalen

April 2, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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