I would bet there isn’t a reporter in the state who doesn’t like Governor Rell, but I would also bet there isn’t a reporter in the state who likes the way she deals with the media. After talking with several reporters, we all agree Governor Rell has been the least media accessible governor in at least a quarter of a century. All agreed Governors O’Neill, Weicker and Rowland granted more interviews and were more accessible than the current Governor. Channel 3’s Al Terzi, our only staffer who covered Governor Grasso in the 1970s, said he even recalls she, too being more media friendly than Governor Rell.
Case in point: Wednesday, November 25th, the day Governor Rell released a statement calling for massive cuts as part of a budget mitigation effort. Serious stuff. Channel 3’s Susan Raff asked to interview the Governor. She was told no, even though we were also told the governor was in her office, steps from where Susan was waiting with a photographer. Instead Susan was given Robert Genuario, the Governor’s budget chief.
As of the writing of this blog, that was 9 days ago, and still the Governor has not granted Susan’s request for an on camera interview, or held a news conference so reporters can ask her about these cuts. Journal Inquirer reporter Keith Phaneuf called Governor Rell the most tightly managed governor he’s covered, and says her staff’s practice of communicating through press releases leads to confusion and lack of information.
It’s been difficult to cover Governor Rell and to bring information to the viewers about their government. Two years ago, we asked to interview the Governor on the night of a big winter storm that created gridlock across Metro Hartford. Earlier in the day the only way we could hear from the Governor was by phone because the car she was in was stuck in traffic. Later, when the Governor had arrived at the State Capitol we fully expected to be able to interview the Governor in person. We were told the Governor would only talk to us on the phone even though she was in her office and our crew was on the Capitol grounds. It seemed silly. This is 21st century television. There was no good reason the Governor couldn’t talk to us on camera, but could talk to us on the telephone. We declined the phone offer because how could we possibly explain this method of communication to our viewers?
I wrote about this issue in December of 2007. Here is an excerpt from my blog:
On Friday, Channel 3’s Len Besthoff filed a report about the state’s handing of Winter Storm Alexander. We received many e-mails and calls from disgrunted viewers who sat in traffic for hours on Thursday. Many blamed the state government and Governor Rell. As the state’s top elected official we wanted to interview the Governor about the storm traffic and the state’s planning for it. On Friday, Len was offered a “media availability” with the Governor, but was then asked what he would ask the Governor. He was told he could ask about Saturday’s impending storm. Len said he wanted to ask about Thursday. He was told “no” and the availability was cancelled. With that restriction, we would have cancelled the interview anyway, and told you why we did that. Many who don’t understand journalism might have said “so what, just ask about Saturday, she is after all the governor.” That’s not what we do. When we agree to conditions and limitations of an interview, we compromise our integrity. We fail you, the viewer. Conditions of time, locations and details like that are understandable, but to have someone else, particularly an official elected by you: the public citizen, define our line of questioning, is unacceptable.
During tonight’s taping of Face the State Phanuef and I asked the governor’s right hand man, Lt. Governor Michael Fedele if he will continue the Rell administration’s avoidance of the media. In respect to why the Governor hasn’t had a news conference to ask reporters’ questions about last week’s budget cuts, I asked Fedele this: Should the citizens be seeing their governor in these trying times? Fedele’s response: “ I can tell you if Mike Fedele is elected they will be hearing from me even in non-trying times.”
You can watch the entire interview with Lt. Governor Fedele this Sunday at 11AM on Channel 3.