From Governor Shumlin’s public schedule, Feb. 23 to Mar. 1:
Wednesday, Feb. 27
8:30 a.m. Legislative Open Door, Ceremonial Office, State House
11:00 a.m. Press Conference, TBA (note: this will be held outside Montpelier)
1:00 p.m. Governor’s Tree Tapping, State House Lawn
The Governor usually holds his weekly “press conference” on Wednesday morning at 11. The customary location is a conference room next to his Pavilion Building office, two doors over from the State House.
Well, this week he’ll be at the State House at 8:30 and again at 1:00 — but he’s holding his weekly presser at a remote location, which will require zipping back and forth and forth and back between events, instead of simply holding the presser at one of his two Montpelier offices. In other words, he’s going literally out of his way to avoid a real “press conference.”
The remote location means one thing: there’s gonna be a dog-and-pony show. Some kind of announcement or groundbreaking or unveiling, with a nice picturesque backdrop designed to get him more time on the TV news. (The cameras don’t like his conference room.)
And also designed to minimize the amount of actual “press conference.”
Whenever the Guv holds his pressers out of town, it means a gaggle of distinguished guests and a bunch of short speeches eating up at least half of the available time. Then, the media feels bound to ask a few token questions about the announcement/groundbreaking/unveiling before getting to the actual issues.
All while the distinguished guests stand in a semicircle behind the Governor, hands awkwardly clasped, trying not to yawn, look bored, glance at their watches, or pick their noses while providing a high-powered and high-priced backdrop. (Really, it’s a bit of a dick-swinging move by the Governor to hold all those people hostage while he takes questions. If I were one of the human mannequins, I’d resent the hell out of it. And I’d never, ever tell anyone I felt that way.)
I’ve only been attending the Governor’s pressers for a couple of months, but apparently this is a longstanding pattern. Way, way back in July of 2011, six months into Shumlin’s first term, VTDigger’s Anne Galloway wrote a column on this very subject:
Week after week, Shumlin has held press conferences off campus and his staff has orchestrated events that are long on dog and pony show (show and tell time) and short on Q and A sessions with reporters.
…What has been consistent is the extremely limited amount of time reporters are allowed to pose questions (we’re lucky to get 10 to 15 minutes in), and most of the time, the short grilling is conducted in, say, an adult day care center, a mini mart or basement teen center, and the honored participants are treated to an inside baseball game they appear to care little about witnessing.
When “press conference” time is limited, reporters don’t get a chance to drill down beneath Shumlin’s pat answers. There are so many issues to bring up, that there’s seldom an extended exchange on a single issue.
Galloway’s column drew an angry response from Shumlin spokesflack Sue Allen, who’d apparently been timing all the pressers with the gubernatorial stopwatch, and asserted that Shumlin gave reporters plenty of time to grill him rare, medium, or well done. (And VTDigger honorably posted her response, in full and without rebuttal.)
Maybe Allen was accurate. I don’t know; I’ve never timed a Shumlin presser. I can tell you that whenever a presser is held at a remote location, the Q&A time feels limited, and I have a strong sense that it’s a deliberate strategy by the Governor’s people.
Especially when he has to zip in and out of Montpelier so he can hold his weekly presser somewhere else.
I’m not saying he should never double up like this. I am suggesting that he should hold a couple of pure press conferences per month, instead of trying to set the agenda virtually every single time. And somehow I think that if Sue Allen were still on this side of the scribe/flack divide, she’d feel the same way.