By JACOB D. ROBERTS, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, November 17, 2009
Former Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis and Boston Globe columnist Renee Loth advised aspiring politicians yesterday at the Kennedy School about media strategy and reminisced about the strength of press coverage in decades past.
Dukakis exhorted potential “public managers” and political appointees in former New York Times Public Editor and Visiting Lecturer Daniel Okrent’s “Writing and Reporting on Politics and Policy” class to take the press seriously and use media as a positive conduit between government and the people.
Dukakis graduated from Harvard Law School in 1960, served three terms as Massachusetts governor, and lost the 1988 election to former President George H.W. Bush. He said that politicians today do not face the same intense scrutiny from journalists they once did. “Nowadays, they don’t do investigative journalism well,” he said. “You can put a lot over on them.”
He said that some lessons from the past continue to apply. He urged potential politicians in the crowd to develop an effective organization at the grassroots level, a lesson he said he learned from both his success in races for Massachusetts governor and from his failure on the national level.
He advised the students to address questions from reporters frankly, and to let reporters know when they do not have an answer.
Loth, who first covered Dukakis during his campaign for governor in 1974 and went on to work for several Boston-area newspapers, talked about the changing dynamics of the media industry with the advent of the Internet and around-the-clock coverage.
“There is a lowest common denominator in the mainstream media because we’re competing with this new media… that puts a premium on speed and not accuracy,” she said.
Loth lamented the rise of “gotcha” reporting, a tactic meant not to highlight failures of governance so much as to contribute to a reporter’s career.
“There’s not the same kind of respectful ‘friendly antagonism’ that defined the relationship of the press and public officials,” she said.
“Today there is a lot more cynicism and ambition to get ‘gotcha’ moments with a scalp, to make government look bad,” she added.
Nick Rigas, a second-year student at the Kennedy School, said that he was intrigued by Loth’s comments. “I found the discussion of more breadth and less depth interesting, the change from reporters in your face to reporters in pajamas,” he said.