May 2, 2014
By: Jim Manley
Earlier this week, Roll Call’s Shira T. Center and Rebecca Gale gave us their “9 Kinds of Capitol Hill Flacks,” and while many of the stereotypes ring true, there are even more personality types on the other side of the desk.
Here’s my list of the different kinds of reporters who I had to deal with during my 21 years working in the Senate. It is not meant to be inclusive; there are plenty of permutations of journalists. To identify any of these people by name would probably involve swearing on my part and a possible lawsuit, both of which I want to avoid.
1. The “Do you know who I am?” reporter. This could be a top shelf, grade-A reporter, columnist or editorial writer, who may or may not have an air of superiority. It could be a reporter who’s still riding the high of a front-page expose that ran 20 years ago, or it could be the preeminent reporter from a particular state who expects to have his, or her, ass kissed by flacks from everywhere else.
2. The “I’m with the press and I don’t care who you are, so answer my questions now” reporter. These are sanctimonious folks that believe they are on a mission from God to uncover the truth – reason and facts be dammed.
3. Reporters from New York. Self explanatory. For better or worse they have a certain je ne sais quoi. Not everyone from the big Apple fits this bill but plenty do. Will say this, they bring a nose for news, passion and energy to the reporting corp.
4. Page Six Wannabes. When I worked for Senator Kennedy, I had to deal with lots of gossip-mongers. Protip 1: Never believe them when they say, ‘Let’s go off the record,’ or if they say they’re unsure they are going to write a story -- but ask for an opinion anyway. Despite the occasional similarity, they’re different from the Hard News New Yorkers mentioned above.
5. Anyone from a trade publication. God bless them, but damnit these people ask questions that very few staffers, much less the members they work for, know the answer to. I was the kind of flack who used to really study my briefing books but sometimes I didn’t have had any idea what the hell they were asking about. You send us on endless missions to explain minutiae but you make us better for it.
6. The Hildy Johnson. You’ll find them filing from the Capitol for The Hill, Roll Call, and Politico – and occasionally Buzzfeed, when they are not busy trying to take over the media world. Some of these journos will hate to be lumped in with the others, but too damn bad… this is my list not yours. These reporters live for the game and know the players inside and out. If a Congressional office has an aggressive press office, then a lot of time will be spent on the care and feeding of these guys. Plus, they move: why wait for tomorrow’s editions when you can blog about it today?
7. Anyone With an Agenda. Spotted in the wild bearing creds from Huffington Post, TPM and NRO. You get the idea. These are usually good reporters with solid chops, but you need to know that they have an agenda, which you should use to your advantage. Protip 2: A good strategy is to give stuff to a conservative publication if you are a Democrat, especially if you are dropping dimes on a fellow Democrat (not that I ever did that).
Even though I was a Democratic staffer, it didn’t mean that I didn’t get mad at lefty reporters. (Jen Bendery at the Huffington Post claims that I once yelled at her to her face on her first day on the job, which is hard to imagine because she is so nice.)
8. The Assassins. If you’re looking to place an unadulterated hit piece, these are your guys. You know who you are and so does everyone else.
9. “I’m a blogger, but I won’t work for ‘The Man.’” See: Daily Kos and Red State journos who wouldn’t be caught dead at AOL’s Huffington Post. My relations with them, especially those to the left, were always a bit frayed, and at one point I banned myself from talking them because I didn’t like to be repeatedly lectured about the need for the public option. (The votes were never there for it.)
10. #OMGyouguys. I mean, seriously, don’t you have something better to do than to tweet that Senator Reid is walking down the hall to see Senator McConnell? It’s #notnews.
11. Straight Shooters. You’ve got a job to do, and I understand that, whether you’re calling me from the MSM, or from any of the publications unabashedly right, left, or non-partisan. You’ve got a story, and that’s fine. I may or may not like it, but you’ve given me the time and space I need to give a decent response. The good news is that, in this rapidly changing media environment, plenty of them do exist. There are a plethora of people with whom you can have a frank and honest discussion, built on trust, and not expect the whole thing to be on Twitter in five minutes.