How Not to do Media Relations
Governor’s media man gives lesson in how not to conduct media relations while simultaneously shedding light on the vindictive behind-the-scenes operations of the Martinez political machine.
Like the petulant child who can’t take criticism without crying, Gov. Martinez and the people comprising her administration let pettiness and hurt feelings dictate many of their day-to-day actions.
It’s no secret that Martinez doesn’t take criticism well – just look at the vehemence with which she came after whistleblowers within her own ranks or how her lawyers attempted to stifle our free speech or how her machine basically bought the recent APS school board race by backing outspoken Martinez critic Kathy Korte’s opponent.
When your entire governing strategy is just a ladder rung on your climb to the national stage, every imagined slight is cause for concern.
But another fascinating insight into how the Martinez political machine operates was laid bare yesterday in the Santa Fe New Mexican. The governor’s communications director – who is currently running communications for the NM House Republicans – thought he’d tell two of New Mexico’s most seasoned, respected reporters how to do their jobs. It didn’t go well for him.
Chris Sanchez wasn’t happy that Milan Simonich and Steve Terrell ran a story that basically did nothing but outline the policy priorities Gov. Martinez (and House Republicans) have emphasized during this (and the past three) legislative sessions: failing third-graders who don’t read proficiently, repealing the driver’s licenses of undocumented immigrants, and so-called “right-to-work.”
Sanchez’s main complaint to the reporters was that these bills aren’t really “controversial” because the ABQ Journal’s polling shows public support for some cleverly worded questions. (Sanchez apparently didn’t attend the two 6+ hour right-to-work hearings that saw hundreds of workers voice their discontent with the proposed policy. Or the similarly heated public debates around failing third-graders and repealing driver’s licenses.)
If anything, Simonich and Terrell’s article gave more column space to the Republican priorities than it did to the criticisms against those policies.
What does this tell us, though, about how the Martinez machine functions?
First, as mentioned above, it shows how fearful they are of even the tiniest of criticisms. Sanchez took time out of his day to berate two respected reporters on one article they wrote that simply labels these issues “controversial” and then lays out both side’s arguments for and against them. Micromanaging the media on this level, and in this particular way, is unheard of.
Second, it shows how facts simply get in the way of their ambitions. Simonich drops this revelation about the misinformation campaign Martinez waged against Gary King during last year’s election:
[Sanchez] was a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez’s re-election campaign last year. In that capacity, he often tried to plant information, provided that it would not be attributed to him.
Sanchez sent me a statement that he said was off the record, urging me to write a story about a campus newspaper making shrill criticisms of Martinez and calling her unintelligent. I told him then that mutual agreement was necessary for something to be off the record. I also passed on the story he pitched because of his poor record for accuracy.
Sanchez once publicly distributed what he said were quotes from a small businessman criticizing Martinez’s opponent, Gary King. Sanchez hoped news organizations would run these quotes because they made King look bad.
I called the businessman Sanchez had quoted, a young baker. He said the quotes Sanchez attributed to him were fabricated. The baker said he had never mentioned King, much less criticized him.
More media micromanaging, planted information, and the use of fabricated quotes to smear the opposition. Classy.
This episode also simply highlights what Martinez & Co. think of an adversarial media. Instead of trusting the public to engage with policy ideas on their merits alone, Martinez & Co. use proxies to smear reporters whose coverage they don’t like.
For example, past and present members of Martinez’s inner circle – Rod Adair, Adam Feldman, and Darren White, among others – freely re-post bile from a Twitter troll who regularly compares Mr. Simonich to a genocidal war criminal. Seriously.
Many words are also spent online and in print (from this same group of Martinez groupies) attacking Joe Monahan for being a Democratic shill, or Joey Peters for being a Democratic shill, or Matt Reichbach for being a Democratic shill…you get the point. (You’ll notice that the ABQ Journal never seems to align in their crosshairs.)
Like petulant children who can’t take criticism without crying, Martinez & Co. are now going directly after journalists through a coordinated series of personal and professional attacks. Here’s a piece of friendly, well-worn advice for their team: Never start a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. It’s just not a great plan.