Senator Rand Paul Learns Valuable Lesson — Most Media Interviewers Are Liberal Progressive Democrats Pushing Their Agenda — Republican Candidates For President Are To Be Buried Not Praised — Just Smile and Give Your Prepared Response — “Friends, Romans, countrymen” — Drives Interviewers Nuts — Be Prepared — Stay On Message — Videos
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Story 1: Senator Rand Paul Learns Valuable Lesson — Most Media Interviewers Are Liberal Progressive Democrats Pushing Their Agenda — Republican Candidates For President Are To Be Buried Not Praised — Just Smile and Give Your Prepared Response — “Friends, Romans, countrymen” — Drives Interviewers Nuts — Be Prepared — Stay On Message — Videos
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Rand Paul loves the spotlight. He just doesn’t love the people who wield it.
In February, the Kentucky senator scolded CNBC anchor Kelly Evans as she tried to ask him about a bill he co-sponsored.
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“You have taken an interview and you’ve made an interview into something where we got no useful information because you were argumentative and you started out with so many preoppositions [sic] that were incorrect,” he said.
The interview continued, but Paul wasn’t done with the tongue-lashing, and went back to media criticism a few minutes later.
“Part of the problem is that you end up having interviews like this where the interview is so slanted and full of distortions that you don’t get useful information,” he said. “I think this is what is bad about TV sometimes. So frankly, I think if we do this again, you need to start out with a little more objectivity going into the interview.”
Ron Paul is shown. | Getty
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Clips of the interview quickly went viral as headlines blared how Rand Paul “tears into,” “snaps,” “shushes” and “belittles” the CNBC host.
“Rand Paul needs to be shushed,” read a headline from a piece by Joan Walsh on Salon.com. “To some men, apparently, an assertive woman is out of control and needs to calm down – especially if she’s succeeded in upsetting his calm,” she wrote.
PBS NewsHour host Gwen Ifill warned in a blog post soon after the interview that whether or not he considers questions from the press to be distorted, “Paul might want to get used to concealing his irritation. That sort of viral video lives forever.”
The tantrum was a rare case of Paul losing his temper on live TV, which he’s made almost a second home as he’s sought to build his brand ahead of his expected April 7 presidential launch. But his famed accessibility — he’s willing to submit to most Capitol Hill hallway interviews and even impromptu interviews on airplanes; he’ll hop on the phone with a junior reporter and talk to cable shouters from Bill Maher to Bill O’Reilly — masks a relationship with the media that is anything but friendly. Reporters who cover Paul have called him “thin-skinned,” “sensitive,” “wary” and “prickly.” Others say he and his team will blame the media for his own mistakes, at some points freezing out reporters for perceived slights.
Sen., Rand Paul is pictured. | AP
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Brian Darling, Paul’s former senior communications director and now a senior VP at Third Dimension Strategies, a Washington PR firm, told POLITICO Paul is an “open guy” who “speaks with what’s in his heart and mind … that’s the way he’s wired.”
“To make him be more secretive, walled off from the media — it would be something that would not be consistent with the way Rand Paul is put together,” Darling said.
“We’re not an office that hides things, we want to get our message far and wide,” Paul spokesperson Sergio Gor echoed. “He’s interesting, he speaks his mind … I think people appreciate the honesty he brings.”
Paul’s willingness to go off script might sometimes get him in trouble, but reporters find it a welcome break from the rigidly controlled operations of other potential 2016 candidates, like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
Rand Paul is shown. | Getty
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“One of the refreshing things in covering him is the tendency to go offscript. Now that’s not always intentional and his staff doesn’t always appreciate it when that happens and you write about it, but it is a departure from the norm in covering politics to be around somebody who isn’t so tightly scripted,” said New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters.
Ask Paul the wrong type of question, or point out an inconsistency, though, and he doesn’t hide his irritation.
“He still has pretty thin skin when things get tough,” one reporter who has covered Paul for years and asked to speak on background said. “He doesn’t hide his displeasure and anger very well and that can do you in. He’s probably overly sensitive to some of the coverage.”
Another reporter for a major national paper wondered whether Paul, an ophthalmologist, suffers from what a lot of doctors experience, “a sense of never being questioned in their professional lives.”
Darling defends Paul, saying he “has a thick skin,” despite one or two antagonistic interviews.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., arrives in his hometown, Bowling Green, Ky., Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, to give an assist to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at his final campaign stop. McConnell, a 30-year incumbent, would ascend to majority leader if he holds his seat and Republicans take control of the Senate in Tuesday’s midterm election. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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“The CNBC interview turned out to be a bait and switch where the network was intent on making news,” Darling said. “Sometimes prickly is the best way to deal with a hostile interviewer. I don’t think he is prickly, but if that is a perception, then he should work to smooth out his delivery so that he can dispel that perception.”
But Kevin Madden, a senior adviser and spokesperson for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign who is now a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies not connected with any 2016 candidate, said that how a candidate answers a question can matter just as much as the content of their answer.
“Oftentimes it’s not just how you answer the message but substantively it’s what kind of message you send about your leadership style,” Madden said. “If you’re prickly and easily irritated that’s not going to be something that really gives people a great sense of security. If you can be calm and collected, show a lot of poise — that says a lot about your leadership style and voters pick up on that.”
Almost all pols have their prickly moments with the press corps. What’s nonetheless appealing about Paul, journalists who cover him say, is his accessibility.
“Would I rather have that, or Mitt who always stayed in front of plane and never deviated from script? Of course, I’d never want to cover someone like Romney, or Hillary for that matter,” one reporter said.
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But Paul and his team are also known to blame the media when the senator makes a mistake, or says something that’s inconsistent with his previous positions.
In 2010, The Louisville Courier-Journal published the transcript of a meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board, in which Paul suggested he wasn’t a fan of how the Civil Rights Act lets the federal government intrude into private business practices.
“I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners — I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant — but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind,” Paul said at the time.
When asked whether he then believed that it was OK for a restaurant to deny service to someone such as Martin Luther King Jr., Paul said he’d protest t but that the First Amendment allows for “boorish people.”
File-This March 28, 2015, file photo shows Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky reacting after winning possession of the ball against Arizona during the second half of a college basketball regional final in the NCAA Tournament, in Los Angeles. When Kentucky, with four NBA-quality freshmen on the roster, lost to a senior-laden team from Wisconsin in the semifinals Saturday, it struck a blow for traditionalists who say you can still have it all, a full college career, a chance to play for a title, a wealthy future in the NBA. Player of the Year Kaminsky and two of his teammates, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, forged opportunities to do all that with the Badgers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
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“In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people who have abhorrent behavior, but if we’re civilized people we publicly criticize that and don’t belong or associate with those people,” Paul said.
Paul went on the “Rachel Maddow Show” for a follow-up interview a few weeks later, repeated his position and endured a few more days of media firestorm. In 2014, when the hosts of MSNBC’s “The Cycle” brought up his old Civil Rights Acts comments, Paul turned the attack back on the network.
“Have I ever had a philosophical discussion about all aspects of it? Yeah, and I learned my lesson: To come on MSNBC and have a philosophical discussion, the liberals will come out of the woodwork and they will go crazy and say you’re against the Civil Rights Act and that you’re some terrible racist,” Paul said.
When Yahoo! News asked Paul whether he still believed the United States should stop sending federal aid to Israel, he denied he’d made the proposal. After being pointed to interviews and videos showing that he had said as much previously, Paul lashed out.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left, accompanied by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, speaks to lawmakers, Thursday, March 19, 2015, at the State Capitol in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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“You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question,” Paul said. “That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money — more money — to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.”
Earlier this year as measles outbreaks were making headlines, Paul seemed to suggest in a link between vaccines and mental disorders, a link widely debunked by the medical community.
“I’ve heard many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” he said in the same CNBC appearance where he shushed the anchor.
Paul later tried to clarify his statement, denying that he had said vaccines caused mental illness but saying he believed it should be a personal decision. Paul’s staff then invited members of the media, including The New York Times, to accompany the senator as he received a booster shot at the congressional infirmary.
“Today, I am getting my booster vaccine. Wonder how the liberal media will misreport this,” Paul tweeted.
Paul’s media attacks can backfire, says Eric Fehrnstrom, a former top Mitt Romney adviser and founder of the consulting firm the Shawmut Group who is unaligned with any 2016ers.
“He sounds like a surly teenager arguing with his parents, and not about the substance of things either but about their meaning and definition,” Fehrnstrom said in an email. “It’s tiresome. I’m not saying the media is always right, they aren’t, but that can’t be your constant critique.”
One favored tactic among Paul and his team is a common one — freeze out reporters who have committed perceived slights, sometimes for months. At least three reporters interviewed mentioned specific instances where after certain stories — about the medical board he created in Kentucky, funding for Israel or his criticisms of the GOP’s focus on voter ID policies — Paul and his team would institute a temporary ban on the reporter. And it’s not just reporters who suffer the freeze — in September, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said Paul had said he would no longer appear on his show.
“I think maybe he’s written off a lot of conservative talk radio as simply neocon or hawkish, and he won’t talk to us,” Hewitt said. (That seems to be changing though — both Paul and Hewitt’s teams said Paul would appear on the show in the next couple weeks.)
Gor pushed back on Hewitt’s comment that Paul doesn’t like conservative radio, calling it “blatantly false” and noting that he is a regular on Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity’s shows. “We do tend to avoid unfair and biased interviewers,” Gor said.
But while Paul’s team may have a penchant for freezing reporters out, Paul himself doesn’t even seem remember them.
“I approached him for an interview in the hall and he asked his staff, ‘So why are we mad at him again, why shouldn’t I talk to him?’” Peters said. “He clearly doesn’t remember day to day what grievances he has against the media. And that’s definitely a good thing.”
Reporters also noted that Paul is still a rather mysterious character for them, though that may be rectified with long days on the campaign trail.
“They put him in front of so many reporters, it is kind of hard to get a good feel for him, develop the same kind of rapport that I’ve had with other politicians. He’s not the most chatty, extroverted guy. Very little small talk. Maybe he’d rather keep the interviews short and get down to other business. But at least he suffers through them,” Peters said.
Another reporter who has covered Paul for years said that for a politician, Paul doesn’t seem to particularly enjoy the social aspect of his job.
“I wouldn’t call him a happy warrior,” the reporter said. “For all his hipster demeanor and clothing, he doesn’t look really comfortable a lot of the time. He’s doing most public thing you can do but doesn’t see to be enjoying it. I’ve seen him at events where he doesn’t even work the room. If you’re running for president, that’s not how you do it.” (Running for president is “not really a lot of fun,” Paul told a conference in February.)
Paul’s relationship with the media has matured as he has spent time in Washington, especially as his press team of just three staffers gained experience from fielding as many as 100 requests some weeks.
“When he first got here, his overall press organization was quite challenged, to be generous,” said Courier-Journal Washington Correspondent Jim Carroll. “He’s a work in progress as a candidate.”
Rand Paul comes out swinging…at interviewers
In a round of interviews yesterday, Rand Paul took on questions he found unfair, and got into an argument with Savannah Guthrie of the
Today show. The predictable result was return fire from talking head pundits, unhappy over his refusal to play the game on the ground rules the media likes to set. In the words of T. Beckett Adams of the Washington Examiner, it was a “media pile-on.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., became the target of media criticism Wednesday after he accused NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie during an interview of “editorializing” her questions.
“That Rand Paul sure is a charmer,” tweeted
Business Insider’sNicholas Carson, after Paul said Today Show co-anchor Guthrie was phrasing her questions as declaratives rather than interrogatives during an interview with the newly declared 2016 presidential candidate.
Politico’s Ben White tweeted, “Politicians mansplaining to female journos how to conduct an interview is just, well, it’s just very bad.”
The hoary Democrat spin of the GOP “war on women” was picked up by several commentators, including Chuck Todd on MSNBC (embedded below because almost nobody saw it when broadcast):
Paul shot back: “I’ve Been Universally Short Tempered and Testy with Both Male and Female Reporters” (
That is true, and it may be the best signal for the senator from Kentucky to heed. Without question, the GOP base, sick to death of unfair media treatment, will cheer Paul on. And he did something that many of us have longed for (via
Rand Paul says he doesn’t want to be grilled about abortion until Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz answers similarly tough questions.
My own opinion is that Rand is pursuing a good strategy, but he needs to quickly refine his skills. It is important to be likable, especially when taking on media interviewers who have been chosen for their Q Score (likability). By shushing Savannah Guthrie, Paul left himself wide open, and Wasserman Schultz took advantage:
Wasserman Schultz hit back — highlighting
Paul’s testy interviews with female television anchors, too, by saying she hopes he can “respond without ‘shushing’ me.”
President Reagan was a master of being genial while also refusing to kowtow to media gotcha questions. It is an open question in my mind whether or not this is a skill that can be picked up or a gift that is inherent in a personality.
Megyn Kelly’s interview with Rand Paul last night saw a mixture of criticism and concern.
What works for Sen. Paul in the primaries will not work in a general election. I think voters do not want a president whom they perceive as “short-tempered and testy” (in the senator’s own words). I realize that Rand Paul is running on ideas and change. But the sad reality is that a huge number of voters, probably a majority, choose their president based on factors like their comfort level in having a beer with the person. To paraphrase an old saying, you go to the voters with the electorate you have.
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