You know the story. The scorpion needs a ride across the river and asks the frog. The frog says, “No way, you’ll sting me.” The scorpion promises not to, pointing out that they’d both die if he did.
So the frog says OK. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. Before they both drown the frog asks, “Why?” The scorpion replies, “I couldn’t help it. It’s my nature.”
Which brings us to the media (scorpion) and your campaign (frog). The press needs stories. You have a story to tell. Mutual interests/mutual benefit, right?
But never forget the media’s nature – a lesson political veteran and White House presidential counselor Kelly Anne Conway was painfully reminded of last week. Here’s what happened…
Last Tuesday Caitlin Yilek, a reporter for the Washington Examiner – a conservative publication – wrote a story about Conway possibly being in line as the next White House chief of staff. In the story Yilek mentioned Conway’s husband, a frequent and vocal critic of the president.
Conway was not a happy camper about the reference.
So on Wednesday morning Conway’s assistant called Yilek. The assistant asked for the conversation to be off the record. The reporter agreed. Conway got on the phone and had a rather terse conversation, to say the least, with the reporter over her story.
Two days later, the entire recorded call was made public by the reporter.
They can’t help it. It’s their nature. But here are two things you need to know about how and why Conway got stung.
First, the generally understood rule for off-the-record conversations is that both the requester AND the requestee must agree to keep the conversation off the record.
The reporter excused her indiscretion by noting she agreed her conversation with Conway’s ASSISTANT was off the record, not with Conway herself. While arguably technically correct, the release was, at least, a violation of the spirit of the rule.
However, the truth is Conway did treat the reporter pretty shabbily in the conversation. So while she would usually get the benefit of the doubt and a little courtesy as a conservative by a conservative reporter and publication, they decided to sting her.
It’s another age-old rule in politics: Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.
The exception to the rule, of course, being Donald Trump. But unless you’re Donald Trump, be careful when dealing with media scorpions.
Dr. Chuck Muth, PsD
THE CAMPAIGN DOCTOR
Professor of Psephology*
* Psephology (see-follow-gee): The study of campaigns and elections