Sen. Al Franken clawed his way into office in the most high-profile of ways, eking out a victory over incumbent Norm Coleman in a recount covered closely by the national media. Since then, he has disappeared. This is by design: The senator claims to “focus” on home-state media outlets, often to the exclusion of organizations that reach a wider audience.
The upshot? Franken is now practicing the politics of division, at least vis-a-vis the media.
American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norman J. Ornstein helped Franken strategize his splashdown in Washington. As Caesar would say, that strategy was divisa in partes tres: “Become a genuine workhorse,” writes Ornstein, “avoid the spotlight, get your colleagues saying both publicly and privately that you are a smart and serious person.”
And speak frequently with the likes of Kevin Diaz, Washington reporter for the Minnesota Star Tribune. “He provides us very good access. If someone from my paper needs to talk to Al Franken, they can get him on the phone pretty quickly.” Franken, it turns out, does things that journalists can’t even manage: “He respects deadlines,” says Diaz.
Late last year, Star Tribune reporter Jeremy Herb was interviewing Franken near the Senate floor. Just then, says Herb, “a couple or three reporters” advanced on the scene. “He finished the sentence and ended the interview.” When I approached him at a recent event, Franken didn’t even start a sentence - he just cited the Minnesota-first policy and moved on.
The freeze-out extends, too, to the Sunday morning television shows, an American institution.
Congratulations to those national outlets that have somehow, while presumably staying within the boundaries of journalistic ethics, persuaded Al Franken to talk. On technology, he opened up for The Post; on service dogs for veterans, Time magazine; on Net neutrality, NPR; and on bullying, the Advocate.
It’s a meta world for the Franken flackery: Not only do they have to handle inquiries about the usual senatorial grind, but they’ve got to explain Franken’s policy on the media to the media.
His office generated this statement:
“Senator Franken’s primary focus is on his Minnesota constituents and consequently he talks most frequently with the Minnesota media. He does do interviews with national media on occasion, usually when the topic is a policy area on which he has a particular focus or expertise and he believes his interview can contribute to the initiative’s success. While this means the Senator doesn’t do as much as on-the-fly reaction commentary as some national media would like, our office makes every effort to respond to all media requests we receive.”
“Every effort” can fall short. “No, we’ve never had particularly good access to Al Franken,” says Kevin Hoffman, editor of City Pages, an alternative weekly based in Minneapolis. “Of course, that might have something to do with this shot about allegedly strange Franken behaviors we took at him early in his campaign.”
A reported opinion blog on news media: washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple.