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Last Night

By Erica C. Barnett April 25, 2010

Yesterday evening, Josh and I biked over to the Service Employees International Union Local 925 for a media-training session with the Institute for a Democratic Future (IDF, not to be confused with this), which trains young people who want to work in Democratic politics in Washington State.

The group of about 30 young men and women broke into four smaller groups and each was given a different scenario that might happen during a campaign. In my group, a weekly newspaper had broken the story that our candidate had a history of unpaid parking tickets, a bad credit rating, and was mired in a dispute about property she co-owned with her brother-in-law. The goal: To come up with a media strategy that minimized the political damage to the candidate.

Our scenario was far from the worst (one group, for example, had to deal with allegations that the candidate had had an affair with a union chief who subsequently got her a job), and here's how we decided to deal with it: Instead of holding a press conference (giving credence to what we wanted to play off as a non-story), we issued the most boring press release imaginable, explaining that our candidate had worked out a payment plan with her creditors, that she'd paid her parking tickets as soon as she became aware of him, and that she and her brother-in-law were now on good terms. The goal was to convince the media that the "scandal" wasn't worth their time and effort. Additionally, we did background ("oppo") research on our opponent's credit history and parking tickets, just in case.

As someone whose job it is to ask prying questions at press conferences, it was interesting to sit on the other side of the media table, albeit only in theory. It didn't give me a new sympathy for candidates, exactly—run for office, and your life's an open book—but it did give me a rare glimpse into the minds of the candidate consultants, campaign aides, and political advisors who have to make the best of bad (and good) news for candidates.
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