by JD -
Chris Murphy is in a tie with Linda McMahon, and trailing her in “favorability” rating. Now his campaign staff has backed out of a promise to come on Where We Live.
I expected McMahon to dodge our request for an hour-long call-in show - she’s been disciplined about avoiding the press and given her continued success in the polls, she has no reason to change course now.
Murphy’s another matter. He doesn’t have the funds to buy media attention whenever he wants, and he’s very good at “free” appearances on shows like Where We Live. In fact, along with fellow Congressman Joe Courtney, Murphy has appeared on our show more than just about anyone. When he’s on the show, Murphy is happy to answer tough questions and talk about policy, politics, whatever. He is, by all accounts, a fan of public broadcasting. And in this week of Big Bird bashing, we need all the help we can get.
But trying to schedule a sit-down with him for our “Where We Vote” series has been a nightmare. It finally ended last night when the campaign’s communications director Ben Marter flatly broke a promise to have his candidate appear for an hour on Monday October 8.
Marter gave me a “guarantee” that Murphy would appear for an hour on Monday October 8th after backing out of two previous dates that they had chosen. Yesterday morning in an email, Marter changed the terms, telling us that Murphy would be leaving at 9:30 AM. I asked Marter why, and he later told me “It was a scheduling issue.” I told him that’s not how it works.
But long before that, the writing was on the wall. In correspondence with producer Tucker Ives, Marter openly worried about planted phone calls from McMahon staff. I explained to him on two occasions that our policy is to screen all incoming calls, and to present a program that’s fair to both the candidate and listeners. Murphy himself knows this – it’s why he loves coming on Where We Live as a sitting congressman (more often than not, his appearances coincide with unsolicited requests from his office to come on the air). Despite their candidate’s demonstrated ability to handle himself on live radio, it now seems clear that Murphy’s staff:
- Has no interest in their candidate engaging in an open, long-form conversation with public radio listeners at this point in the campaign.
- Has no interest in honoring commitments made by top campaign officials.
- Is unnecessarily frightened by the specter of tough questioning from unfriendly callers.
Given that the campaign has so far allowed McMahon to paint him as a mortgage deadbeat, and serial skipper of committee meetings, you’d think that they’d make every effort to honor agreements and show up when scheduled.
And it’s not just Where We Live. As the Connecticut Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas tells us, he’s increasingly had to shout questions at Murphy from afar, and that the candidate now meets with the media only in “carefully chosen settings.” Reporters tell me that he’s still more accessible than McMahon, but not by much.
In this campaign cycle, journalists have increasingly become seen as a nuisance in a race to win at all costs, while informing the public as little as possible. But in this case, Murphy’s communications team denies his candidate a chance to describe McMahon’s own problems with her finances, and to paint a sharp contrast between her press inaccessibility and his openness. As one veteran political analyst told me: In a race this tight, if you’ve got some high ground, protect it.
Kudos to Elizabeth Esty and Andrew Roraback, who are running in an equally bruising race for congress for both having the guts and character to answer questions from their constituents on Where We Live. And, I’m looking forward to upcoming conversations with 4th district candidates Jim Himes and Steve Obsitnik on the show.
Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure that if a hypothetical President Mitt Romney decides to cut federal funding for NPR and PBS, public broadcasting will have the support of Senator Chris Murphy. But if that pledge comes from Murphy’s campaign staffers, I’m not gonna take their word for it.