Elizabeth Warren wants to talk to voters, not reporters – what’s the traditional media to do?

As everybody knows, Elizabeth Warren is on a “listening tour” around the state.  She’s visited numerous communities in eastern, central, and western MA – you can read first-hand reports of several of the visits right here at BMG.  In each of them, she is speaking to invited audiences to gauge the response of activists and voters to what her message would be, should she declare herself to be a candidate.

What she is not doing, so far, is talking to reporters – why, she didn’t even let them in on how seriously she was considering a Senate run before she posted here on BMG, to the apparent consternation of some of our traditional media friends.  And that has the traditional media seeing red.  Here’s the latest salvo, from New Bedford Standard-Times columnist Jack Spillane.

Elizabeth Warren another Coakley?

From Elizabeth Warren’s fragile performance in New Bedford Wednesday, I couldn’t help wondering if she’s going to be another Martha Coakley….

She was afraid to even make eye contact with a reporter wanting simply to ask her questions before and after her “listening tour” with area liberals. Rushing past like a typical politician to the safe haven of a friendly audience, Warren seemed like a frightened sparrow….

The progressive community can convince themselves from now until November 2012 that Elizabeth Warren is the perfect candidate, the little woman who stood up to the big banks for the consumers.

The problem is they have to convince independent voters and the delicate woman who appeared at the United Way building in downtown New Bedford on Wednesday won’t be able to do that….

Warren performed like a hot house flower on Wednesday. If she can’t even deal with the New Bedford press, it’s hard to imagine how she’s going to deal with the Boston, and even national media, that a Brown-Warren race will attract.

The Democrats, it seems to this writer, need a candidate far less fragile, and far more able to deal successfully with the unexpected.

Well well well.  Somebody’s knickers are all in a twist, aren’t they now?  Spillane isn’t much worried about what Warren actually said (nor could he be, since apparently he couldn’t get himself invited inside).  What seems to upset him the most is that, whatever she said, she didn’t say it to him; rather, she said it to the people who attended the event.

This seems to me a classic case of Spurned Gatekeeper Syndrome.  

It used to be that when a candidate, or a potential candidate, had something to say, he or she would say it to a bunch of professional reporters, and the reporters would then trundle off to the newsroom and write up a story.  That was great for reporters, who got access to “important” people, and who controlled how to present them to the public.  They were the gatekeepers, the chosen few who got to decide what the rest of us “needed to know.”

That model is dead, or at least dying.  And Elizabeth Warren seems to realize that, hence her decisions to signal a Senate run on a site like BMG rather than via the traditional media, and also to hold a series of events to which traditional media are not invited, while not yet addressing the reporters.  It’s unfortunate, but I suppose to be expected, that in some cases the traditional media will not react well to this.

Obviously, should Warren declare that she’s in, she will have to talk to reporters.  She knows that – she is no stranger to dealing with the media (see below).  For now, though, she’s apparently much more interested in what actual voters, rather than reporters, think of what she would have to say on the campaign trail.  For someone gauging a Senate run, that doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

One more thing: check out the language that Spillane uses.  ”Fragile … afraid … frightened sparrow … the little woman … the delicate woman … a hot house flower … fragile.”  If I didn’t know better, I might think that there’s some evidence of gender stereotyping going on there.  Fortunately, though, we know that never happens in the traditional media.

In any event, the notions that Elizabeth Warren is (a) afraid to talk to the media, including potentially hostile media, and (b) some sort of “fragile,” “delicate” “hot house flower,” are patently ridiculous, as a cursory examination of her recent media appearances confirms.  Here are two I found from appearances on Fox News, not generally considered a big fan of what she was trying to do while in DC.  I’m sure there are dozens more out there.

Recommended by bean, Bob_Neer, leo, kbusch, RyansTake.


64 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I have to wonder...

    …would Mr. Spillane hold our junior senator up to that same “hot house flower” threshold? When was his last press conference? Are his “invite-only” fundraisers open to the press?

    Amazing what people will write less than 7 days into a listening tour.

  2. Elizabeth Warren is a Frail Lady Because She Avoids Me Like Scott Brown Does


    Outrageous! I wonder how man-of-the-people Scott Brown handles the press? I’ll check this column from Thursday, by some guy named Jack Spillane.

    Warren came to talk to the hard-core liberals and Brown to the hard-core conservatives. Brown’s been doing a lot of these invitation-only events the past couple weeks; in fact, his whole statewide jobs tour is evidently by invitation only.

    Scott Brown — the next Martha Coakley?

    • Excellent catch

      by Weigel. I love the end of Spillane’s Thursday column in which he pretty much makes my point for me:

      But unless there’s no chance of the pols saying anything remotely true about what they really feel, the press and, as a result, the public, are kept at bay.

      The press, and by extension, the public, are only invited when the dog and pony show is on.

      You see, “the public” – that’s you and me – obviously can only find anything out if “the press” is invited. Except that we know that’s not true. Because we’ve got at least half a dozen reports on this very website from people who were at Warren’s events and who talked about what happened there (I linked to some of them in the first paragraph of the post).

      • And other websites too -

        check out Lynne’s report of a Warren event in Andover. It’s actually pretty easy to find out what’s happening at these events. You just have to know where to look – hint: it’s not the traditional media. :D

        • Also...

          …email newsletters such as Kate, Amberpaw and myself circulate among activists.

          • Also...

            a number of other people on this site [including myself] were at a Warren event and didn’t write a diary — but read the other diaries. If something sounded not-quite-write, you can bet any one of us would have jumped in. When was the last time you saw two reporters hash out what actually happened publicly? Around here, we check each others work and each others reporting. It helps us remain reality based.

  3. "Professional journalist for 28 years" is irked

    Spillane, a “professional journalist for 28 years”, in a similar piece published at SouthCoastToday.com, directed some of his fiercest invective at “one of those presidential-year 20-something types — you know, the ones who desperately want to be a big Washington player when they grow up” who he later identified as “Nick Block, the 20-something guy” working for Warren. His apoplexy was evidently due to Block’s dewey-eyed insistence on doing his job properly and limiting access by traditional media.

    Here we see the toll 28 years of professional journalistic experience can take.

    Spillane returned to this inter-generational theme in a follow-up article published today in his “All Politics Is Local” column — “The Weigel guy makes ‘All Politics is Local” — in which he criticized Slate columnist David Wiegel for commentary on Spillane’s work: “Elizabeth Warren is a Frail Lady Because She Avoids Me Like Scott Brown Does” (the title says it all). Spillane begins, “Ahm … re the “libertarian” 20-something who makes a living trolling Republican web sites …” His rebuttal goes downhill from there. (Wiegel, just for the record, will be 30 on 26 September.)

    Dyspeptic vituperation and tedious sexism aside, I think Spillane’s key error is his final sentence in the SouthCoastToday.com piece: “The press, and by extension, the public, are only invited when the dog and pony show is on.” The corporate media is a business, with no greater, or lesser, connection to the public than dollars and cents dictate. At times it informs, at other times it deceives, as suits its purposes, for better and for worse. Journalism has a vital role in a democracy, and its finest practitioners deserve honor and respect, but it should not be conflated, by extension or otherwise, with the public.

  4. Elizabeth Warren and the Seven Sexist Adjectives

    Thanks to the prodigious Mr. Spillane, the press is well on its way to using all of the Seven Sexist Adjectives to describe Elizabeth Warren. He has covered “afraid,” ”delicate,” and “fragile.” A shout-out to the Globe editorial board for chipping in last week with the classic “coy.” Now only “demure,” “prim” and “timid” are missing. Anyone? Anyone?

    • Just one that I can think of

      It’s old-fashioned and its meaning has changed, but in the right context could still be used. “Hysterical.”

      You know, because anyone with a womb is crazy and dismissible.

    • Great point

      I think I’d defend coy, but the others, especially delicate, would never be applied to a man. With the possible and quite unfair exception of Jay Cutler.

    • Mr. Spillane...

      …at least did prove the truth of his complaint that he did not get the chance to directly engage her. If he had it would have been quite obvious that she is NOT frail, fragile, delicate, etc.

  5. partially true -- but heartily disagree 2 of your points, david

    David, I agree with you there is Spurned Media Syndrome.

    However, I have 2 observations.

    1. You quoted heavily from Mr. Spillane, but omitted the beginning of the column:

    Neither Elizabeth Warren nor Scott Brown told anyone without an invitation that they were coming to New Bedford and Dartmouth on Wednesday. And once they got here, they weren’t interested in talking to anyone either, that is except their true believers. You see, Warren came to talk to the hard-core liberals and Brown to the hard-core conservatives.

    The omission, combined with your headline, may have confused readers besides me. (See first commenter ThinkingLiberally, who after reading your blog, evidently didn’t realize Spillane’s critique also applied to Brown, even led with it).

    2. You write:

    She’s apparently much more interested in what actual voters, rather than reporters, think of what she would have to say on the campaign trail.

    Hmm. Are her audiences, or Senator Brown’s, selected because they gauge “actual voter” reaction?

    If so, I suppose my question to you — why would either candidate target only “friendly audiences”? It doesn’t seem like a particularly good way of finding out what the typical average voter believes.

    I thought the Globe had it right a few days ago:

    Allows candidates to test-market talking points and familiarize themselves with retail politics before submitting to the full glare of the campaign spotlight…At the same time, Warren can build enthusiasm among the most passionate members of her party.

    • Two different columns

      David’s post is in re: this Spillane column.

      The first line you say he omitted is from this earlier Spillane column, which makes it clear that Spillane knew that Brown is also avoiding reporters, raising the question of why that does not also make him fragile.

    • Re your two points:

      On the first, kirth is exactly right. I wasn’t even aware of the column that mentions both Brown and Warren when I wrote the post – I learned of that via johnk’s comment that linked to Weigel’s post.

      On the second, you erroneously, though understandably, refer to Warren as a “candidate.” But she hasn’t quite crossed that bridge just yet, and until she does, it seems entirely reasonable to me for her to test-market her message in whatever fashion she chooses. Apparently, what she wants to do is see if the activist crowd (who will of course be key to success in the primary) are interested. Of course, once she declares, the rules change. That hasn’t happened yet, and until it does, it seems to me inappropriate to hold her and Brown to identical standards.

      • I suppose I'm unclear on the rules

        Where are the rules posted — the part that explains when the rules change.

      • Not since Mario Cuomo

        … have I seen such breathless coverage of a non-candidate.

        In other words, I think you’re splitting the hair too finely here. I’m comfortable (at this point) calling her an undeclared candidate. She’s running. If she were a play, she’d be in previews in New Haven.

        • "She's running" because

          people seem excited. If she were doing this and the house parties were empty, I’m guessing we’d be coming to a different conclusion. Right?

          The thing is, though, she has to have these kinds of events over this time period so we and she can figure that out.

          RyansTake   @   Sun 21 Aug 8:48 PM
      • Wrong, wrong wrong

        She does not have to talk with the voters or reporters when she becomes a candidate.
        Although we’ve already seen how that plays out.
        Once you are elected there is some real obligation to engage the people you represent.

        • No there isn't

          Because once elected the voters can just watch and learn from how he votes and acts and decide whether or not to reelect. We don’t need him to genuflect to us, he’s the senator.

          • Even Edmund Burke...

            …saw the value of at least hearing out one’s constituents.

          • Wow

            Denial much?

            Aren’t WE the PEOPLE in charge?

            Wait, you’re for Brown, right? No, really, just keep thinking that way, it’ll work, go with it.

            • Senate is not House of Representaives

              The same is true of Kerry. He shouldn’t be genuflecting to moron dining room tables either. That’s for Reps to suffer with. No we aren’t in charge, we institute a government and that government is in charge. We the people are idiots that make selfish myopic short-term decisions all the time, based on emotion and appitie

              • that posted on its own

                i was trying to correct “appetite” when whoosh – I was on the front page and my comment was posted. oh well.

              • For someone with your nickname

                You are awfully adorable. I can’t wait to see you put this plan in action, I hope all your fellow Brown supporters think this way too!

              • BTW

                Ted Kennedy, in his last reelection campaign, with NO opposition WHAT so ever, in his fairly fragile elderly state, showed up at a local diner (just about unannounced, with plenty of shocked patrons) in Chelmsford JUST to meet “the people.”

                But like I said, I am eager for you to put this attitude about campaigning to action. It’s AWEsome!

                • Kennedy relied on celebrity

                  Yeah, having everyone talk about how they met Senator Kennedy or how his office did them this favor, that was how Kennedy campaigned. I wouldn’t be surprised if he told his crony placements at all the government agencies not to help people if they hadn’t gone through his staff to get a favor done, so that they’d then tell everybody how great Senator Kennedy was. And it was a disgrace how people voted for him because he showed up at a diner in Chelmsford. OMG! I’m ashamed to be from this stupid state full of celebrity obsessed sports morons.

  6. New Bedford Stanford Times

    Good catch, but I hope we continue to pay some attention to the regional papers, which are more important than they used to be.

  7. Mom, she's looking

    at me funny!

  8. What Possible Reason . . .

    does the Warren campaign have for pissing off a columnist?
    The immaturity and self indulgence displayed in this post and on this thread are just mind-boggling.
    A first time candidate running for the Senate owes it to her supporters to have something to say to any journalist who wants to talk with her. Any time she can.
    Pretending that her campaign didn’t make a mistake but was bravely trying to reach voters is just silly.

    • And I trust

      that your criticism extends equally to the Brown campaign, not just last week but for the entire time he’s been in the Senate refusing to meet with the public, or to answer questions from reporters on important issues.

      Just checking.

      • IOKIYAR

      • I'm not interested in getting Scott Brown elected. . .

        . . so if he does stupid things in his campaign it doesn’t bother me a bit.
        It does bother me if a progressive does something stupid and unnecessary. It decreases the chance that we will defest Scott Brown.
        However, my main criticism was directed at your post, and the commenters who respond to Warren’s miscalculation by going after the columnist and the media.
        Is that really one of the goals of the Warren campaign–to break through the media and communicate directly with the voters? Really?

        • I think this is a fair point

          Put aside the strategic considerations for a moment (I suspect a “Build to a big rollout” method), and just look at the actions. If she’s actually looking to go past the media, at this early stage, that’s troubling and problematic. There’s no reason she can’t reach out to voters AND be available to the press.

          I’ll admit I might be jumping the gun on that. Heavy-handed press management seems to be a trend, and I have serious problems with it.

        • Meh.

          First of all, I trust you at least find something wrong with Spillane’s highly questionable collection of adjectives. Or maybe you think that was OK too?

          Second, the principal goal of the Warren “campaign” at this moment is to figure out whether it’s viable. The press doesn’t have much to do with that, IMHO. She needs to determine whether she can get the base excited. If she can, the press will still be there after she declares.

          • No inconsistency

            One can think Spillane has indulged his sexism. One can agree that now is a good time for Warren to gauge whether she wants to run and to decide what message to put across without much press involvement. And one can still think that avoiding the press in this manner is politically imprudent. No contradiction.

            And yes, yes, yes, one can carefully explain to high information voters, sympathetic Democrats, and random wonks that it makes sense not to talk to reporters now. That doesn’t help much with the optics which unfairly may not be favorable.

        • Might as well avoid the media

          With their bias and their “gotcha” questions

    • Agreed.

      It is a little silly to say that Warren shouldn’t talk to the press because she has to focus on voters. The “other Warren” talks to the press all the time. No word of famished voters yet. I spend half my year in Massachusetts and divide up the remainder among three states. I’ve never heard of this hide-from-the-press strategy. Maybe it’s genius but I think it shows arrogance, a Warren trait that seems to be rubbing people the wrong way.

      Once she announces, there’s going to be a long time to keep up her narrative of “I’m smart, I almost ran a big agency (but the president had someone else in mind), vote for me.” That will get flat very fast. Ticking off the media at the outset is, frankly, stupid. They created her and they can destroy her. See: McCain.

      Walsh & Co would be wise to hold their horses before jumping on the HMS Elizabeth. I predict that her furnace will run out of steam and a month or two from now she will be fighting to remain a viable contender. The confetti will be swept off the announcement stage and the press will move onto other things. The smartest move for Setti, Khazei, etc is to hang in there until her honeymoon runs out.

      Another thing: how does she keep up the “this economy sucks and the system sucks for the middle class” when the president is campaigning on a message that he’s made the economy better and the system is more fair than three years ago? Sure, you can massage her message around helping him but they still conflict at a basic level. Honestly, she’s a major downer when she speaks and the Audacity of Despair doesn’t win elections.

      For all these reasons, I think Spillane is right. Warren will be another Coakley and maybe worse.

      • I'm not buying that this is a "hide from the media" strategy

        I just don’t. We have Jack telling us she ‘rushed by him.’ I doubt that’s so much a media avoidance than a standard overbooked don’t-have-time-right-now happenstance, knowing how these things work as I do. It KINDA sounds like he ambushed her outside the event, having heard about it through the grapevine (I’d love to see this confirmed or denied). And I have to wonder how annoying Spillane made himself (nuisance can only get you so far) given his crass, disgusting sexist language and tone of his whine-fest.

        Anyone know this guy at all? His past writing, his general outlook (professional crybaby or serious reporter) etc? It’d be a lot harder to dismiss him if this was an aberrance from his usual pattern, and lot easier to dismiss him if he has a history of histrionics.

        BTW his line, “ultimate inside politicos like Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan” cracks me up. How quickly one becomes the “ultimate insider” when one is successful…

    • She's not a first time candidate.

      She’s considering becoming a first time candidate. That detail matters. In fact, she takes the law seriously, and may be holding back with talking with the press precisely because she isn’t a candidate.

    • Unless her supporters are journalists,

      then no. These days, politicians are more and better able to speak with voters directly than they can through the prism of media coverage, not knowing just what kind of ‘light’ from that openness is going to come out of it. That’s not to say the media isn’t important at all, anymore, but it doesn’t make sense to jump right out to them until you’ve got your message firmly planted in the ground with the base of people who are going to support and propel a campaign – and who are capable of keeping the media honest.

      Believe it or not, the media doesn’t give a crap about ANY candidate running, they’re just in the business of selling papers and hits on their website. For a potential candidate to speak to the press before they’re ready — especially before they’ve even officially declared — would be insane.

      RyansTake   @   Sun 21 Aug 8:55 PM
      • Hits on a website

        As evidenced by BMG’s when Warren’s announcement went live.

        Boston.com could only WISH for that sort of spike, proportionately, on their web pages. Ha.

      • Going directly to the voters means what?

        Do you expect anyone to run for the Senate by going door to door?
        I expect Warren, and everyone else running for Senate, to raise funds from wealthy people and then use tbe money to buy TV ads. It’s unavoidable but obscene. It’s better to talk to a columnist.
        My beef isn’t with Warren, or her campaign, which made a comparatively minor misstep at a very early stage–but with the people on this blog, who want to write off the entire mainstream media because one columnist didn’t get access and wrote something uncomplimentary.
        People, don’t be so fragile and delicate! Wipe the spittle off the screen. Do we really have to invent a bunch of unwritten rules to prevent this from happening again?
        How about if the campaign makes sure that everyone who wants to interview the candidate gets access, unless there is a very good reason not to provide it? It seems more productive IMHO, than keeping an enemies list.

        • I just want to ask you

          Are you for any candidate yet?

          And we wrote off the mainstream media ages ago, where’ve you been??

          Also, as I said, it sounds to me (reading Spillane’s whine – and it was a whine, make no mistake) that he ambushed her outside the house party. That changes things considerably. He never comes out and says, “I asked for access and was denied.” He was snubbed on her way out the door. Seems to me that could be for many reasons, which he decided he didn’t need to find out about in order to whine about it. You see, finding out more would actually mean doing some reporting.

          • I don't have a particular candidate.

            I’m for defeating Scott Brown. I’m against making excuses for progressive candidates when they make tactical errors. Specifically, I’m against treating candidates as victims of the sexist corporate media. The original post was a distraction from the idea of economic justice which is (or should be) the reason progressives are running.
            Treating our candidates as victims is self defeating. It won’t help to defeat Scott Brown.

        • BTW

          Enemies list?? Seriously???

          At this point I do have to wonder what other campaign you are shilling for. You seem adamantly stubborn to accuse Warren of a misstep, strangely so.

        • Slow down there, son!

          Nobody’s talking about “writing off the entire mainstream media”! (Or, at least, I’m not.) My only point is that a reporter had a little temper tantrum because somebody wouldn’t give him exactly what he wanted when he wanted it, and I think there’s a defensible explanation for why things went the way they did. Perhaps you missed my bottom-line summation:

          Obviously, should Warren declare that she’s in, she will have to talk to reporters. She knows that – she is no stranger to dealing with the media (see below). For now, though, she’s apparently much more interested in what actual voters, rather than reporters, think of what she would have to say on the campaign trail. For someone gauging a Senate run, that doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

          Maybe you should wipe the spittle off your own screen. Mine remains blessedly spittle-free. :D

        • "Do you expect anyone to run for the Senate by going door to door?"


          Not exclusively and not by herself, but even at a state level that’s a key component of how campaigns are won, and how Governor Patrick got elected twice.

        • Door to door, maybe not

          but house party to house party? You betcha. And that’s exactly what she’s doing.

          Also, NO ONE is talking about “writing off the entire mainstream media.” The only thing people have said that I’ve read — and that I agree with — is that there’s a process. You build up a base first and you practice talking the issues with them and learning more about what concerns people, getting the message down, then you can do the media tour.

          The only “fragile” person I see here is you, who doesn’t want to hurt those poor, poor overpaid columnists’ feelings, who don’t want to wait their turn.

          RyansTake   @   Thu 25 Aug 1:35 AM
  9. She's Not Ready for Broadway Yet

    Doug Rubin has to take the show to Philly, Baltimore, and Boston and work through all the kinks before she can have an opening night.
    Tell me how many candidates challenging an incumbent avoid reporters?

    She is a candidate now, not a bureaucrat. Very different from the packaging point of view. Right now Doug is taking her around to these small, friendly, and private groups where she practices saying, “The rain in spain stays mainly on the plain.”

    eb3-fka-ernie-boch-iii   @   Sun 21 Aug 12:28 PM
    • She is NOT a candidate now.

      At the Andover event it definitely still sounded like she was making up her mind whether she wants to be a candidate. Think of it this way. Most potential candidates only talk to their own families and a few trusted confidants and friends at this stage, which the public never hears about at all. Seen from that angle Elizabeth Warren is casting a MUCH BROADER net at this point in the conversation.

  10. Anyone think a new hair-doo would be good?

    What do you guys think? We must face facts. A woman candidate has many more factors to consider than a man. It looks like she’s been wearing her hair that since seventh grade.

    Whose for subtle make-over?

    eb3-fka-ernie-boch-iii   @   Sun 21 Aug 12:33 PM


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