When in Doubt, Blame the Journalist

If there is one very telling (and annoying) habit of candidates in an election season, it’s when they can’t credibly answer a reporter’s question, they or their people attack the reporter. Such was the case of Sunday’s edition of WFSB’s “Face the State.”

Host Dennis House doesn’t need me to defend him. He is a network quality journalist who, along with WNPR’s John Dankosy, sets the standard for TV reporters in the region. Sunday, House got a taste of a sort of “blame the messenger.” The guest was state Speaker of the House Chris Donovan who was appearing in the midst of an FBI investigation of his congressional campaign that has resulted in the arrest of his finance director and his stepping back from the Speaker’s role in this week’s special session.

House rightly and insightfully tried to get an understanding for his audience of Donovan’s connection to his own campaign. After all, Donovan claims he didn’t know anything about the alleged fraud in his own campaign. Isn’t it then appropriate that the Speaker explain how close he is to his campaign—or not?
As excerpted by CTNewsJunkie, House asked how many paid employees Donovan has on his campaign staff:

Donovan: I really don’t have that number right now, but it’s I don’t know…
House: 5, 10, 20?
Donovan: I’d say 5 to 10. Somewhere in there.
Dennis: So it’s a small group?
Donovan: We have some field staff right now and we have others as well.
House: How involved are you in the day-to-day management of the campaign?
Donovan: I have a campaign manager. My job is to go meet the people, talk to the people. That’s my job.

Later, Donovan’s campaign manager Tom Swan told CTNJ’s Christine Stuart that House’s question was “ridiculous.” Said Swan, “It’s a very fluid number…The mail vendor, pollster, and media guy are not staff per say and just this week we had two fellows and several interns join the campaign. I wouldn’t necessarily call them staff.” Fair enough. That’s a decent answer. It’s also one Donovan could have given. The fact that he couldn’t doesn’t make it a “ridiculous question.” Nor does it make it a “gotcha” question that Swan claims House engaged in.

Ironically, blaming the reporter for an inability or unwillingness to answer a question is straight out of Newt Gingrich’s playbook. It’s not generally an effective strategy. A national audience might tend to distrust the media. That’s not the case with House.

Donovan’s entire campaign now hinges on just what he knew—or didn’t know as I personally believe—about the alleged illegalities in the then-top level of his campaign staff. Donovan and Swan should get used to answering questions about it or fold up the tent and go home.