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GOP Convention Succeeds In Catching Media's Eye


Republicans in St. Paul found something they agree on this week. They denounced the media, a tactic that has guided them through many elections since the 1970s. Some of the strongest attacks came from vice presidential choice Sarah Palin. She claimed that her qualifications for high office were questioned solely because the media didn't know her.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska, Vice Presidential Candidate): Here's a little news flash for those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this great country.

(Soundbite of cheering)

INSKEEP: The attacks on the media came during a convention that was meticulously planned to use the media for all it was worth. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now.

David, good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And let's emphasize both parties work for the best coverage at the convention and everywhere else. But the question, I guess, is: did anything about this Republican effort go beyond the normal?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, don't think so much about the visuals. Think about this as more of a guerilla marketing campaign. You know, there was tactical planning throughout the convention by the Republicans. Even as it started, the pick of Governor Palin was meant to sort of cut off the momentum of Obama's speech. And then when you go back to Monday, there were worries about Hurricane Gustav reviving these images of the Bush administration kind of falling down on the job for Hurricane Katrina several years ago. They all but canceled the first night. So what that does is it keeps President Bush and Vice President Cheney away from the stage.

INSKEEP: Because they were supposed to be there Monday night, right.

FOLKENFLIK: Exactly. And then in the infelicitous phrase of a McCain campaign aide, Tucker Eskew, they then flushed the toilet, which was to say they got rid of all these little minor but embarrassing things about the Palin record - her husband's two-decades-old DUI, the pregnancy of her unwed teenage daughter, a number of other details; they just got it all out in the press, angrily, but they said let's take care of it here while the nation's looking at the hurricane.

INSKEEP: Were they basically taking advantage of the truism that the media can only pay attention to one story at a time? They were paying attention to Obama, we'll drop this Palin thing on them, they'll forget about Obama. And then you're saying they're paying attention to the hurricane, we'll drop all these other things that we don't want to get that much attention.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, I guess, you know, they can't chew gum and file by remote at the same time.

INSKEEP: That would be us, actually, being unable to chew gum.

FOLKENFLIK: They, being us (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: What about after the storm went away? Did Bush and Cheney come back?

FOLKENFLIK: No. I mean, fascinating to see. You saw President Bush appearing only by a satellite hookup Tuesday evening. And doing so - wrapping up several minutes before primetime television began. So you know, he wasn't going to embarrass or taint the McCain notion. You know, Vice President Cheney apparently, you know, was mysteriously rendered away from the country. Never showed up at all. He goes to Georgia. He's never mentioned onstage. You know, when Senator McCain speaks on Thursday, Laura Bush was mentioned onstage quite reverentially, but President George W. Bush was not directly mentioned by name.

INSKEEP: One other thing, David Folkenflik, does it work when you're a politician and you denounce the media? I mean, after all, journalists normally have a popularity rating that - well, I guess we're a little better than Congress but not much.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, it's been a time-honored trope, you know, Spiro Agnew, President George H. W. Bush - annoy the media, reelect Bush was his cry in '92. Didn't happen for him in '92. But you know, it seems to have helped shape Governor Palin as something of a Joan of Arc. She's emerged from this onslaught, as described by the McCain people, in a way that makes her seem crisp and willing to take on a good fight.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.


INSKEEP: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

United States & World Morning Edition
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.