Public relations is about "relationships." Flacks develop "relationships" with reporters by calling them and yelling at them until the reporters start to realize, before they write something, that an unpleasant conversation might ensue. So they start to be...more careful. We recently came across an internal email written by Daniel Senor, the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, that summed up the dynamic in crystalline fashion.
In August 2003, Senor was in Baghdad and serving as the public face of the rapidly devolving occupation of Iraq under Paul Bremer. He wrote an email to Dorrance Smith, a former ABC News producer who was serving as a media adviser to the CPA, laying out the "issues" he was facing in getting positive TV coverage in Iraq (we obtained the email via the Freedom of Information Act). Senor's main problem? TV correspondents and producers weren't in Iraq long enough for Senor to get his hooks in them:
Some print reporters have made a long-term commitment to their Iraq bureaus (e.g. Rajiv Chandrasekeran of the Post & Alissa Rubin of the LA Times are each here for another year). They know they've got to deal with us for a while, and their reporting reflects it. The television correspondents/producers are the opposite. They come in and out on 3-week stints, and therefore find no need to invest in their relationships with Bremer & Co. They just do a bunch of hit-and-runs—2 weeks of 'Iraq has gone to hell —US bodybags piling up, blah blah blah.' How do we get longer commitments?
Blah blah blah. For the record, Rubin and Chandrasekeran are both good reporters (though Chandrasekeran's a bit of a prima donna). But when you're in it for the long haul—in any beat, really—you have to deal with certain realities. You realize that you're going to have to see Dan Senor's face every day, and he's reading every word, and next time you start to write about the body bags, you think about it. You start to invest in your relationship with Bremer and his staff. And your reporting reflects it.
[Image via AP]