Due to a combination of factors -- the overwhelming interest in Nevada's Senate race and the unique way in which the Internet can close the distance between someone living in Washington, DC and people reporting on politics half a world away -- I've become familiar with Nevada-based political reporter Jon Ralston, who hosts a nightly political show called "Face To Face" on KVBC Channel 3 in Las Vegas.
Over at the Columbia Journalism Review, Joel Meares has a lengthy interview with Ralston, well worth a read.
As someone who only occasionally peeks in on "Face To Face", I'm hesistant to render some sort of definitive judgment on Ralston. But for what it's worth, I always feel like the experience is pretty rewarding. Ralston, who projects an affable, workaday vibe behind the desk, combines intellectual mettle and a hyper-awareness of the political landscape, to produce a show that challenges politicians of all stripes. He's got a keen concern for the actual people who actually live in Nevada and doesn't indulge himself with pointless mystification of the political process.
One of the subjects that comes up in Ralston's interview with Meares is GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle's media strategy, which is essentially her pursuit of what she calls "earned media." In essence, that means "media that offers Sharron Angle a lengthy campaign infomercial."
Campaign touts have treated Angle's approach as something entirely new in political campaigning but really Angle is just exploiting some disturbing trends in political media. We live in a world where access is currency, and the average political show bases its credibility on its ability to land the big political names on a repeat basis. As such, there's no incentive to be particularly challenging -- you can't afford to lose the favor of the political figures you have commoditized.
And yet, despite the fact that Angle has this avowed strategy of avoidance, she still submitted to an interview with Ralston in an environment she wouldn't be able to control. Here's how Ralston discusses that interview in CJR:
So how did you get your interview with Sharron Angle?
I asked for it [laughs]. The interview came soon after the primary, when they were getting pounded for not doing mainstream media interviews. Someone from her campaign came to me and said, you're the guy who's known for doing the toughest interviews, we're going to do you and that will shut everybody up.
Did they make any attempt to limit the scope of the interview?
Not at all. They know me and they know that that would be fruitless.
Note how the incentives all run in the proper direction! Instead of a political show held hostage by the need for access, we have a politician that knows that she has no credibility if she doesn't show up to face the "guy who's known for doing the toughest interviews." Ralston is defending a very important line in political journalism. And this is why, on more than one occasion, I've found myself musing on how lovely the words "Meet The Press with Jon Ralston" sound.
Q & A: Nevada Political Journalist Jon Ralston [CJR]