From one side of the Denver Post Wednesday, Political Editor Chuck Plunkett told me that the Post doesn't like to "cry in public about having a rough time getting someone to talk to us."
Then, from the darker side of the Post, Editorial Page Editor Curtis Hubbard, wrote on the Post's Spot blog, that he has a "hunch" that FOX 31's Eli Stokols' strategy of calling Mitt Romney out for avoiding the press in Colorado will pay off. Hubbard wrote:
Eli throws a bomb: I don't know that I've ever seen a reporter publicly criticize a campaign for their media strategy/declining interview requests. Fox 31′s Eli Stokols didn't hold back in his criticism of the Romney camp today. Just a hunch, but I bet his strategy pays off.
So I asked Hubbard, via email, why he didn't use Stokols' tactic, when he had Plunkett's job.
I also asked whether Hubbard expected more journalists to be inspired by Stokols and call out hiding politicians more often, and whether he'd give it a try himself, on the commentary page. Hubbard replied:
It's an interesting discussion, but my job (whether it was in the newsroom or in this position) is not to be a media critic. As the editorial page editor I certainly have more leeway to comment on media coverage, but I try to keep in mind that more of our readers care about news than how the sausage gets made.
I commented on Eli's post yesterday because, in my nearly 20 years in the news biz, I couldn't recall a reporter doing anything like it. Eli has demonstrated through his strong work on the beat that he shouldn't be ignored, so it's probably a pretty safe bet on his part. Then again, a thin-skinned campaign or a cut-throat competitor, might very well use it against him.
The trouble is, the line between the news and how it's made isn't so clear. In the case of Romney ignoring Denver journalists, the two are one and the same. It's a news story that Romney is ignoring the press in favor of conservative talk-radio hosts. (Or at least it deserves a mention in a news story.)
But my takeaway from Hubbard's blog post is that he thinks the tactic could work. I'd love to see him try it. (And if it backfired, I'd love to see the Post blow up the retribution.)
Hubbard (or Plunkett) could create a little chart showing which candidates actually take questions from journalists when they pass through town.
It could be called the "Howard Beale Index."
Each time the Howard Beale Index is updated, a short Eli-Stokols-type letter could be published.
If I'm a Post subscriber, and I am, I'd be proud of my newspaper for going after those candidates, and trying to hold them accountable publicly.