DEVAL VALUES PEOPLE: but prefers to talk to them directly.
There are a few ways to interpret Deval Patrick’s weeklong million-dollar inaugural bash, which includes festivities throughout Massachusetts and concludes with Patrick’s swearing-in outside the State House on January 4. Maybe it’s a celebration of the people who made his victory possible; maybe it’s an overblown ego-fest. But there’s a third possibility too — namely, that Patrick’s straight-to-the-people inaugural is a metaphor for his nascent press strategy. “This inaugural, with its outside setting and big screens — I think Patrick’s goal is to let as many people as possible decide what they’ve seen,” says a Boston journalist who asked not to be identified by name. “What that does is, it diminishes the role of the media as interpreter. And I think he’d like that. I think he likes regular people, and I think regular people like him."
Time will tell
It may seem a bit early to ask how Governor Patrick plans to work the media, since he hasn’t actually started doing the job yet. But the decisions Patrick and his surrogates made during the campaign and after Patrick’s general-election win offer some tantalizing clues.
Early on, Patrick the candidate showed a remarkable knack for face-to-face interactions with journalists. At press conferences, Patrick acted almost like his own media liaison, closing the proceedings by asking reporters if they were satisfied — “You guys have everything you need?” — and occasionally offering helpful advice. (Everyone who was there seems to remember Patrick warning NECN’s Alison King that her hair was in the way of FOX-25 reporter Joe Battenfeld’s camera.) “Basing it on the campaign,” a second Boston journalist says, “probably the best weapon they have to deal with the press is Patrick himself. He’s very good at massaging people’s big egos, and he’s very good at being accessible when he wants to be.”
Ah, but there’s the catch! Journalists like their politicians to be available on demand; they also want to be the conduits through which all sensitive information flows. But Patrick hasn’t always complied. When he revealed, during the Democratic primary, that a tax lien had once been placed on his Milton home, Patrick didn’t hold a press conference or give a reporter an exclusive scoop; instead, he e-mailed a statement to his supporters and let the media chase the story from there.
What’s more, as the campaign progressed, many journalists found it maddeningly difficult to get comments from Patrick and his media team, which included communications director Richard Chacón and press secretary Libby DeVecchi. The following sequence seems to have been representative: reporter X calls Patrick’s minders repeatedly to get comment for a story; Patrick’s minders promise they’ll do their best; deadline comes and goes without Patrick or his now-contrite surrogates commenting for the record.
To be fair, this diminished accessibility may simply have reflected increased demands on Patrick’s time as he went from unknown outsider to in-demand front-runner. It could also have been a strategic shift by the campaign: as an unknown, Patrick needed all the free PR he could get, but when he was sitting on a big lead against Kerry Healey — and facing a host of tough questions — media attention was less necessary and less welcome. It’s also worth noting that Patrick’s relative unresponsiveness, which marked the period following his win as well, hasn’t just frustrated the press: some of his best-known political allies have reportedly been surprised by their inability to reach the governor-elect.