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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Curiouser and curiouser

What if you gave a budget briefing and no one came?

It's really hard to fathom the media strategy of the Patrick administration these days -- if they even have one. The awful response to the CaddyGate and DrapeGate -- allowing the stories to fester and grow for days before the governor came out to meet the cameras -- is just the most obvious sign of not having a game plan. An emergency response effort? Fugedaboudit!

Adam Bernstein at the Phoenix notices a disturbing trend of using late Friday afternoons to hold briefings. The time is usually derisively referred to as "taking out the trash," dumping bad news before the weekend.

One of my favorite memories of that tactic was the decision by a 1986 Republican gubernatorial candidate to call at a late Friday afternoon gathering a week or so before the GOP convention in June. Royall Switzler had a reputation as a lovable blowhard -- and he was in the race because of PR nightmares like the discovery that front-runner Gregg Hyatt liked to be au naturel while in his office.

The Statehouse pressroom was almost empty. Big mistake. Switzler announced he was dropping out because he had embellished his resume.

Fast forward back to 2007. It appears only the Statehouse News Service (subscription required) was around when Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan offered a sneak preview of the FY2008 budget. A 4 percent increase, no use of the rainy day fund and the likelihood of a "fair amount of cutting."

My much maligned friends at the Herald deserve some props here. They took note, spinning the story to the views of those who were actually working on Friday afternoon. The Globe? Nope. Not even a web-based news update.

Ultimately, the blame lies with the Patrick media team. When announced, it struck me the members were largely lacking in major daily LOCAL news gathering experience. A former network news correspondent, a spokesman with strong public sector PR experience and a campaign aide who labored at Statehouse News. Don't get me wrong, SHNS is invaluable. The Globe or Channel 5 it is not.

Ironically, the most-experience public sector PR person on board right now is "interim" A&F spokesman Joe Landolfi, which makes it even harder to understand a Friday afternoon briefing.

Say what you will (and I have said quite a lot), Eric Fehrnstrom spent a lot of years at the Herald before moving to a combination of Joe Malone and private sector spinning. Ray Howell, Bob Bliss, Jason Kauppi, to name three, also had significant daily Statehouse reporting experience before serving their respective governors.

The team Patrick put together are no doubt good, honest, hard-working people. Right now they are not serving their boss well (although I can also imagine the boss can be a bit head strong in this area).

It's still early, the damage is minor and easily undone. But there is definitely work needed to restore the message Patrick carried during the primary and general elections -- a sharp, caring and committed person who puts the people first.

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