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Voters and Media Denied Access to Governor by Rell’s Handlers?

 Governor Rell’s last appearance on Face the State, Feb ’09

Last week when WNPR’s John Dankosky asked Governor Rell why she was the only public official never to appear for a full hour on his program “Where We Live,”  the governor told him she was “unaware of the slight.”    When she said that, she inadvertently opened a can of worms.   How could the most powerful woman in the state not be told of that? 

My experiences with Governor Rell have given and reinforced the impression that the governor is a honest person.  I believe she  told Dankosky the truth.    That raises the question, why was she unaware of the slight?    Surely her handlers would not have withheld an interview request from her, in this case, repeated invitations?  I wonder what the governor said to her handlers after the Dankosky interview.    Did it go something like this?     “Alright, who didn’t tell me about John Dankosky’s repeated invitations to appear on Where We Live? ”    Was the governor angry, or relieved?

Much has been made of the way this governor is tightly managed and handled.   Channel 3’s Susan Raff approached the governor outside the capitol once and an aide cut her off, and said the ” governor isn’t taking questions.”   Susan extended her microphone in the governor’s direction and asked the question anyway.   Eyewitness News was once refused an on camera interview with the governor, but offered a telephone interview even though the governor was in her Capitol office and our crew was on the grounds.   What was the reason?   Was the Governor in her bathrobe or something?    On principle, we wisely declined the telephone interview.     Had the governor been out of state a phone interview would have been appropriate, but not when the elected official can peer out the window and see the camera.  

In Dankosky’s case, he told me since Governor Rell came into office he has routinely invited her on his program for the complete hour and to take listener questions.   Dankosky was sometimes  given a definite “no,” sometimes no response, and after weeks without a response he would have to book other guests.    Dankosky says the Governor came on his program once, but not for the hour, only 20 minutes and absolutely no listener questions.

Our quest to have a long form interview with the governor is similar to WNPR’s  in terms of frustration.   Only once has the governor appeared on Face the State, and her handlers made it clear to me  before hand that she would not stay the whole half hour, only 10 minutes.    I pushed it to 13 minutes.  That was February of 2009.        More on that here:  http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/governor-rell-continues-to-freeze-out-reporters/

In early October, I sent an e-mail to the governor’s chief of staff Lisa Moody, inviting the governor to come on before the end of her term.   Here is her response:

“I will certainly ask her directly – someone will be back to you shortly. Thank you”

No one ever got back to me.

To be fair,  Channel 3’s Susan Raff was offered the standard 20 minutes in the governor’s office last week as part of a round of sendoff interviews, and it was heavily condensed into a 2 minute report for our newscast.

It is our policy to conduct all Face the State interviews in our studio, with few exceptions.     Recently, we interviewed Senator Chris Dodd in his Washington office, but that was to mark the end of a 30 year senate career.   In the past, the senator has come to our studios for Face the State, even during the height of Countrywide mortgage scandal.  

As a rule we also don’t do satellite interviews for Face the State.  The reason?  If we do it for one person, we have to do it for everyone.   During the2008  campaign, then Congressman Chris Shays declined our numerous invitations to appear on Face the State.   His staff offered us interviews via satellite or at his home in Bridgeport.    His challenger Jim Himes accepted every invitation with nary a complaint about the ride from Greenwich to the WFSB studios.  

It is clear the Malloy administration will be much more media-friendly that the Rell adminstration.   The governor-elect has appeared in the studios of all the local programs, and has indicated he wants to come in to tape Face the State as often as possible.   To their credit, former gubernatorial candidates Tom Foley, Ned Lamont, Michael Fedele and Oz Griebel also promised a more open administration. 

I’m personally disappointed the governor’s managers wouldn’t let her come on Face the State.    I think it would a fair, comprehensive interview and I feel badly for our loyal Face the State viewers who are being denied the opportunity to see their governor in that forum.

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6 replies »

  1. Thank you, Dennis, for this thoughtful look at what I agree is a serious problem. I’ve wondered whether I should have agreed to our final 20 minute interview last week, or held out for longer – knowing full well it wouldn’t have happened. In the end, I’m glad I got the chance to ask the Governor about her office’s repeated refusal to come on Where We Live – and I think your take on her answers is very interesting. Was she ever told about your requests? I’m pretty sure that only one person knows… All the best to you, Dennis – keep up the good work! jd

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  2. It’s a fair question to ask but clearly the answer is that she didn’t feel that it would be beneficial to her agenda to do either show. On one level — from the media perspective — it’s outrageous. On another level, from Rell’s point of view, she’s only responsible to her constituents. What we’re seeing now are candidates and institutions opting to provide their own messaging through online video or the social networks, under their terms. I don’t think there’s any question that both Dennis House and John Dankosky conduct interviews fairly. The record is there and it’s clear. But the governor can put herself on camera and provide a message that most news organizations will carry for her or which people will see online, and without the option to be interviewed by a journalist or callers to a radio show.

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  3. My comment above comes from a cynical school of Realpolitik applied to modern media. I should have added as well that it’s totally disingenuous for an elected official not to make his or herself available to journalists. Being unprepared to answer direct questions in a clear manner is not an excuse.

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  4. Wait a minute! Holy Cow! Do you mean to say that M. Jodi Rell is still the governor? That’s undoubtedly news to the the people of the state. Why hasn’t it been more fully reported?

    M. Jodi Rell has been invisible for most of this year, particularly during the recent elections. That she refuses to spend a full hour on Where we Live or the full thirty minutes on Face the State is not a surprise. In the first place, M. Lisa Moody would never allow M. Jodi Rell to be out on a limb that long by herself; there are too many opportunities to deviate from the script. Secondly, M. Lisa Moody’s total disdain for the media and the people of Connecticut would never allow M. Jodi Rell the chance to demonstrate to the people of the state how totally disengaged from reality she really is. Finally, if M. Jodi Rell offered an opinion or idea that wasn’t given to her by M. Lisa Moody, the people would realize what an empty suit she really is and her numbers would crash through the floor.

    M. Jodi Rell is the perfect LT Governor, and has been since 1995. She shows up for openings, makes everyone feel important by her engaging personality, says a few kind words, cuts the ribbon and then goes back to Hartford. Once M. Jodi Rell is out of office, she will be remembered as a kindly woman who came in and let her assistant run the state.

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  5. As a freelance writer and former radio man, I see both sides.

    From the Administration’s Point of View it’s the old-Shoot thyself in the Foot trick, always scared of the tragic slip-up. What are you scared of Mrs. Rell??

    From the media Freedom of Speech side I was always taught the reason why we have a FREE media is as an advocate for the public to seek the truth- where has that gone?? Have we all lost focus??

    Mr Malloy,we welcome openness may it last your whole term.. Credibility isn’t that a unique statement in this political climate..

    Happy Holiday’s All!!!

    JW

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