A few years back, Darrell Issa decided it would be a good idea to let The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza have complete access to him for the purposes of a portrait for The New Yorker. A young press aide, Kurt Bardella, made this call and sold Issa on the strategy. At the same time Bardella was sitting down often with the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich, helping him with what would become Leibovich’s big best-seller This Town.
Chairman Issa didn’t fair well in either portrait, and I thought perhaps a lesson would have been learned by GOP press aides everywhere: The Manhattan-Beltway media elite are not your friends.
I was wrong.
McKay Coppins works for Buzzfeed. Someone on Paul Ryan’s team thought it was a grand idea to give Coppins an all-access pass to Paul Ryan’s joinery to inner city Indianapolis. I interviewed Coppins about the piece that resulted on yesterday’s show and the transcript of the interview is below. The piece wasn’t as bad for Ryan as Lizza’s was for Issa, but neither did it do much or even any good for the Chairman of the Budget Committee while it did plant the seed that Ryan is actually on a fairly cynical mission to position himself vis-a-vis the poor as opposed to actually working on new approaches to enduring issues of urban poverty.
Here’s the takeaway. Young press aides love young reporters and live for the glowing portrait of their boss in a “mainstream” –new or old media category– outlet. They resist having their bosses sit down with their natural allies in the center-right press, not realizing that the core constituency is the one constituency you absolutely must have to make progress in D.C. The approval of Buzzfeed or the New Yorker is not only never going to materialize, it isn’t going to help even if it does materialize, because in the end, they are going to rake the GOP’s rising stars over the coals. That’s just who they are and what they do. Lizza, Leibovich, Coppins –all good guys, talented reporters and guests on the show– but they are not in the business of reporting about GOP electeds in ways that present their strengths and not their weaknesses. The opposite in fact.
Someday the Union of Young Press Aides and Communications Specialists Local 1 in D.C. will get together and figure this out. Until then, keep expecting to see more “profiles” that dent rather than build, tarnish rather than burnish. There are plenty of journo-folks to take on the road with Paul Ryan –folks like Matt Lewis and Jamie Weinstein at The Daily Caller, Guy Benson or Katie Pavlich from Townhall.com, Michael Warren or John McCormack from the Weekly Standard, a host of folks from The Washington Free Beacon. There are a dozen more I could name. Don’t ask me why they were not invited along with Ryan but McKay was. Part of the ongoing epic fail of Beltway GOP communications strategy. Hopefully it will change before 2016 arrives.