Denver TV reporter exposes Romney for giving Denver journalists “silent treatment”

One of the many things professional journalism needs to do to survive is fight back.

For example, as I’ve discussed before, when politicians slam the “media” or “The Denver Post,” as having a liberal bias, reporters should ask them for the evidence, not act as if an insult has not been hurled at them.

And when political candidates like Mitt Romney slide into Colorado, take questions from friendly talk-show hosts, and slide away, journalists should call them out on it–so we are informed that a candidate is avoiding questions but also so we know that journalists are trying to do their jobs, to ask questions on our behalf.

You’d think most journalists would agree, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Otherwise you’d see more journalism, like the kind Fox 31’s Eli Stokols produced today, in the form of an “Open Letter to Team Romney.”

In the letter, Stokols wrote that Fox 31 had made numerous requests to interview Romney (Ding. Ding. A journalist doing his job.).

But, Stokols pointed out, Romney hadn’t held a “media availability since Florida,” giving Denver media the “silent treatment, “though Romney took “some questions from the media” in Colorado Springs.

You’d think someone campaigning to be leader of the free world could handle questions from local reporters, as, say, Rick Santorum did whenever we and our competitors approached him here over the past week.

Congratulations, though, on saving Gov. Romney the potential embarrassment that might have arisen from — gasp! — an unscripted moment.

That nightmarish scenario surely would have been worse than last night’s — going 0-for-3 because you couldn’t even salvage a win in a state you should have owned.

But, listen, if — if!!! — you make it back here this fall, we’ll still be here — and hoping to talk.

Asked via email if he’d ever called out another candidate who’s avoiding reporters, Stokols wrote:

No, I haven’t Not quite so directly anyway. We’re often pushing and prodding communications directors for sit-downs, for access, but I don’t normally try to call them out publicly — and, honestly, that’s not why I wrote this piece. I framed it as a letter to Romney, although I wrote it to simply make a point about his strategy, not to antagonize the campaign into agreeing to an interview down the road.

I was disappointed to read that Stokols wasn’t trying to “antagonize the campaign into agreeing to an interview,” because he had every right to do so, toward Romney or any other candidate who acts the same way.

In fact, I had already shot off an email to Denver Post Political Editor Chuck Plunkett, asking if The Post would join Stokols in calling on Romney to talk to reporters. I wrote Plunkett again, saying he could ignore my question because Stokols’ letter was meant as an analysis of Romney’s strategy.

Still, I asked for Plunkett’s thoughts on Stokols’ letter and for an explanation of why The Post hadn’t even reported that Romney wasn’t taking questions in Colorado. Plunkett wrote:

It is more often the case that politicians don’t make themselves available to the media when they swing through. Both sides of the divide love to ignore us, as they know risking a press avail risks having their answers made public, and most of them like to remain on script.

Here at The Post, we don’t like to complain to our readers — many of whom work demanding jobs — about difficulties we encounter in doing our jobs (though sometimes we do complain!). We’d rather not cry in public about having a rough time getting someone to talk to us.

We here at The Post routinely seek chances to do interviews with those we cover, including the president and presidential candidates when they are in Colorado. Sometimes we get to do the interview, other times we don’t.

It looks like Eli was being clever, and I enjoyed his post and its tongue-and-cheek approach to calling attention to the situation.

No one likes whiners, it’s true, but I think most Post readers buy the newspaper to be informed, and it’s pretty important to know when a political candidate isn’t taking questions from The Post, even if it’s routine for candidates to blow off journalists.

In any case, I was glad to read Plunkett’s assurance that The Post is fighting for access to candidates. You’d obviously expect this, but it’s good to read it anyway.

Unlike the Post, Stokols did report on the air, during Romney’s visit, that Romney was not answering questions from reporters in Denver.

Stokols added that Romney had just announced a press briefing for today, his first since Feb. 1, on the tarmac in Atlanta.

I asked Stokols if he planned to read his “Open Letter” on the air:

I doubt I go all Howard Beale and read this on the air, although I may tease it after my piece tonight and direct viewers to the website.

To which I say, dude, it’s time to go all Howard Beale. Do it for the sake of journalism and the electoral process. The stakes are high for both. And it’s a great letter.

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