Is Silence Golden?

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

Circumventing the press may pay.

Do political candidates still need the press? Based on what's going on in Kentucky, where I began my career, I'm no longer sure. After saying a few weeks ago that a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an overreach, Rand Paul is sticking to safe, controlled venues. A public meeting of Republicans in Louisville was not one of them--two top reporters showed up. Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal wanted to follow a story he'd broken about the doctor's unusual move to self-certify his ophthalmology practice; Ryan Alessi of CN2, an innovative news channel on the state's largest cable system, wanted to ask about federal funding for the state's beleaguered Medicaid program. Though Paul is the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, he opposes most federal aid as a libertarian. What, Alessi wanted to know, about that kind?

You can see the stakeout on YouTube. Paul exits the ballroom, walks past the reporters, and makes for the street. Alessi aims a mike. "We're not answering any hypotheticals," Paul says. "Submit your questions to us, and we will look at them." Then he's gone. Campaign manager Jesse Benton tells me there's no blanket questions-in-writing policy; it only applies to certain reporters and situations. Paul will make the rounds, Benton says. But if the going gets tough again--that is, if anyone other than a friendly talk-show host tosses anything other than a softball--you can expect the good doctor to perform another disappearing act.

Time was, no candidate in Kentucky, not even a libertarian Republican, would stiff the man from The C-J. But these are different times, especially for unorthodox candidates like Paul. In California, eBay's Meg Whitman is spending perhaps $200 million of her own money to get her message out in the governor's race with minimal dealings with nosy, unpredictable reporters. She invited them to an "open press" event--and then banished them when they were rude enough to ask questions. (A campaign spokesman says Whitman was running late, and that her hosts didn't want her to engage in a Q&A.) Sharron Angle, the Tea Partier who is the GOP Senate candidate in Nevada, has become so mediaphobic that a posse of reporters literally chased her through the corridors of the U.S. Capitol last week, to no avail. …