Wendy Davis’ Media Fail

The campaign’s mismanagement of the press is damaging Davis' candidacy.
by Published on
Wendy Davis speaking
Patrick Michels
Wendy Davis speaks at her gubernatorial campaign announcement October 3 in Haltom City.

I’ll concede here at the beginning that I’ve never worked on a political campaign. Nor do I have any experience in media relations, publicity, political communication or whatever else flacks do. I don’t know the nuances of trying to defuse controversy with a speech. But I have covered many political campaigns in Texas the past decade, so I know what it looks like when a campaign handles the press well.

And the Wendy Davis operation is about the worst at media relations that I’ve ever seen. Her team’s mismanagement of the press is damaging her candidacy.

The foul-ups began as soon as Davis entered the race, and hired a young and relatively inexperienced communications team that had spent little to no time working as reporters. At first, the mistakes were minor, even funny. For instance, Davis’ press staff directed a Texas Tribune reporter to the wrong place for an event and gave a Texas Observer reporter the wrong address to their own campaign headquarters. I’m sure that was annoying for the misdirected reporters, but nothing that would affect the campaign.

As the weeks went by, though, Davis’ team often treated the press with suspicion, asking repeatedly what a story would say before granting access to staffers, refusing to confirm basic campaign scheduling details and shielding Davis from in-person interviews with some major outlets.

That won’t win you any friends in the press and won’t earn much favorable coverage. Still, these are the kind of errors that only journalists care about, the stuff of endless reporter gripe sessions.

In November, when Davis swung through the Rio Grande Valley, the mishandling of the press started to become a real liability. The campaign invited reporters to attend volunteer phone-banks. That’s not the most compelling political theater, but reporters in the Valley showed up for a rare chance to query Davis in person. At the event in McAllen, as the Monitor’s Sandra Sanchez would later report in a piece titled “Wendy Davis Is Not Ready for Prime Time”:

“It was embarrassing to watch as a campaign staffer prematurely announced Davis’ arrival and urged everyone to stand up and chant, which they did for several minutes until it was obvious that Davis wasn’t there. ‘I thought she was here,’ a worker mused into the microphone to the quizzical and confused glances from the crowd of 60 or so.”

When Davis did arrive, she met with reporters for 10 minutes. Sanchez asked the candidate about her statement, at an earlier event in the Valley, that Davis was “pro-life.” This was a predictable question given the campaign’s reluctance to even say the word “abortion.” Sanchez documents what happened next: “[Davis] looked at me and shook her head. But before she could articulate, her new press aide Rebecca Acuña jumped in and said ‘that comment was taken out of context.’”

You almost never see a flack jump in front of their boss like that. Makes the politician look weak. Acuña then called Sanchez later that night and asked her to change a headline on the Monitor’s website.

We might blame these screw-ups on the follies common to a recently formed campaign. But it’s gotten only worse.

In the past two weeks, the campaign’s response to the controversy over the details of Davis’ bio (aka, Trailer-gate) has been slow and weak. On Tuesday night—a mere 11 days after The Dallas Morning News story that raised questions about her bio was published—Davis gave what her campaign termed a major speech to “set the record straight” at a fundraiser in Austin.

That quote—“set the record straight”—comes from the media advisory about the speech the Davis campaign distributed on Tuesday afternoon. A media advisory is like an invitation. By sending one out, you’re inviting (or in some cases begging) the press to cover your event.

But when reporters arrived at the Four Seasons ballroom, they were turned away. As The Dallas Morning News’ Wayne Slater and the San Antonio Express-News’ David Saleh Rauf reported, event organizers said the room was too full and there wasn’t space for the press. Why wouldn’t they make room for media at an event that featured Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, and Davis’ response to a controversy attracting national media attention?

Of course, there was room for some media—The Texas Tribune was allowed in to livestream and cover the speech. That, according to a well-reported piece by the Statesman’s Jonathan Tilove, was the result of intrepid work by Tribune reporter Jay Root. Good on him for getting a scoop. But that doesn’t explain why the campaign and event organizers would grant exclusive access to a major campaign speech to one media outlet.

It turned out the Davis campaign’s media advisory actually stated that the event was closed to the press but helpfully provided the link to the Trib’s livestream. This is not unlike someone sending you an invitation that says you’re not invited to a party, but, hey, you can watch it on Skype.

If you would find that offensive, then you can understand why some reporters, Rauf especially, were angry and have been ripping the Davis campaign and the Democratic Party this week on Twitter.

While it’s not smart to enrage most of the Capitol press corps, there’s a bigger issue. The Davis campaign almost certainly robbed the speech of wider media exposure by barring TV stations and major daily newspaper reporters.

Then there’s the questionable decision to hold Davis’ big “set the record straight” speech, after not responding very forcefully for 11 days, the same night as the State of the Union.

That’s all too bad, because Davis gave a great speech. It was heartfelt and impassioned. You can watch it on YouTube. It’s been viewed 801 times.

The gubernatorial campaign has just started, of course, and there’s plenty of time for the Davis staffers to become more media savvy. But so far their handling of the press is doing a disservice to their candidate.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.

  • Another Brad

    Sounds like her campaign’s been aborted pretty early in it’s development. She should cheer.

    • JayfromBrooklyn

      No, she likes abortions late.

      That’s what made her famous in New York.

  • chunkstyler

    She knows she’s not going to win. She’s just setting herself up for national politics or a liberal media outlet.

    • JayfromBrooklyn

      Great way by alienating those potential employers early on…

  • WildBill0283

    She’s about ready to ask women’s rights champion Bill Clinton to campaign for her.

    • Jack Deth

      Hi, Wild:

      Liberal Democrats don’t think like or feel pain as we do.

      • Gale Gleason

        Who cares what a British political party feels anyway?

    • Brenda Stines Mills

      Bill Clinton campaigning for womens rights???? that’s rich!!!! how will she ever pay him for that????hmmmmmmmmm…….

  • Jack Deth

    Sounds like a schizophrenic paranoid with delusions of grandeur and “Daddy Issues”…. Got to be another lying through her teeth, ass backwards Democrat.

  • John Andrews

    Political Career abortion…. Good.

    • JayfromBrooklyn

      Has it been 20 weeks into her campaign yet?

  • Terenc Blakely

    I assume she’s boinking someone on her communications team. I can’t think of any other reason she’d tolerate such blatant incompetence. She does have a history of ‘zipper’ issues.

  • koomo

    How much of her campaign donations will she be able to keep? After expenses for clothing, of course.

    • NoDonkey

      She’s been staying in some swanky hotels too, so nice the Obamas might consider housing their guests there.

  • DavetheInsomniac

    Actually, their handling of the press is doing a very appropriate service to their candidate. She’s a hack and a Barbie doll with nothing to run on except lies and a pair of pink tennis shoes.

    • Brenda Stines Mills

      she isn’t really a Barbie doll…..she is pretty rough in close-ups….to rugged and old….

  • Da St

    Perhaps it’s her mismanagement of reality that’s damaging her campaign.

  • http://www.sgreenfield.net/ Dr. Data

    good analysis

  • Luca Masters

    In her linked speech, she points out that no one’s defending the public record of her opponent, but attacking her private life and attacking her for being a woman. See below for people doing exactly that. The attacks on her are that she’s “Barbie” with “Daddy issues”, wearing pink shoes and expensive clothes.

    With a decent media team, an opposition consisting of nothing but blatantly sexist should be galvanizing to rational voters. But in this state, with a poor media teams, sexism has the possibility of winning.

    • Shawn Miller

      Remember everyone: Being against Wendy Davis:Misogyny::Being against Barack Obama:Racism

      There are also a lot of very valid reasons not to like Wendy Davis. She filibusters for abortion and then claims to be Pro-Life, she says she wants new gun laws that are already on the books, or raiding the rainy day fund to implement Obamacare. She’s a candidate who has 0 chance of winning with or without her media team, the demographics don’t support it (and despite Democrat assumptions not all hispanics are going to go to their side) and she’s not a strong enough candidate.

      • Luca Masters

        There are very valid reasons to be opposed to Davis, but the comments on this article are that “She’s a hack and a Barbie doll with nothing to run on except lies and a pair of pink tennis shoes”, a comment about clothing expenses, and a claim that she’s banging one of her staffers…

        It’s not sexism because she’s a woman. It’s sexism because _those are overtly sexist comments_. Do you actually DENY that, or are you just throwing out red herrings?

    • jan375

      Luca Masters, look for an event page called “Pissed off women over 50 and friends of pissed off women over 50.Sunday eve, we had perhaps 30 women, tonight (Fri) we have nearly 1700 pissed off women who have taken on Rep. Rothlisberg (R) Ks. for his misogynistic sexist remark and plan to target many more.
      We are organizing fast. Nancy Pelosi is ready to take on the suits and red ties, we plan to take on the skirts too. The women who are voting WITH and FOR the 600+ anti-women’s rights bill that have been intoduced nationwide, many of them have passed, unfortunately.
      We are going to be supporting Wendy Davis..

      • Billy Watson

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. snort***snicker**giggle***wipe nose***HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Funny stuff

        • Meid_ICH

          What are you? Ten years old?

      • Brenda Stines Mills

        have you given any thought to the 25,000,000 + potential women that have been aborted in the past 41 years??? more females are aborted than males due to sex-selection abortions…HOW MANY GREAT, AMAZING WOMEN weren’t given the chance to take a breath of air before their lives were ended? that is what should have you pissed off…..that is serious SEXISM!!!!! you should be fighting for THOSE females that don’t deserve to die…..

        • Inkan1969

          You haven’t given any thought to the 25,000,000 pregnant women. And you have nothing but a wild guess about the prevalence of gender selection. No matter what the abortion rate, there are always great amazing women being born now, but you want to devalue them down to baby factories instead. As a woman, you should be fighting against the forces that want you to be nothing but a baby mill; instead you collaborate with them like a quisling.

        • Meid_ICH

          And here I thought Rightwingers want to keep Big Gubment OUT of our lives? Or do the hypocrites make an exception when it comes to a woman’s womb?

  • MSM

    With all that money she’s fundraising, she couldn’t afford a good and experienced campaign advisor? If she wants to turn her chances around she needs to start by firing her campaign staff. They’re a clear liability. If she keeps them, she’s sunk herself.

    • JayfromBrooklyn

      I just have a feeling that they are doing the right thing- every time her mouth open, stupid stuff just comes out.

  • Elaine Hansen

    are we sure her team aren’t GOP saboteurs?

    • No Funeral

      It sound like her team can barely read.

      • Elaine Hansen

        lol

      • Meid_ICH

        Which would only underscore the real possibility that her team has been infiltrated by GOP saboteurs.

    • Brenda Stines Mills

      no, they are actually ex-obama campaigners….

  • Denise Calhoun

    Poor little reporters. They just aren’t used to having to work to get a story. SO used to having everything spoon fed to them by the likes of Bush and Cheney.

    • http://www.picsofcelebrities.net/blog/2012/05/08/voice-season-finale Cromulent

      You sound like one of Wendy’s staff. Please, if you have any siblings get them hired too.

    • Brenda Stines Mills

      YES! there have been SOOOOOO many President Bush stories lately and quite a few Cheney stories keeping the press occupied…..lets see, what year is it, denise????

    • Meid_ICH

      Everyone with more than half a working brain understands that our Fourth Estate is D.E.A.D. and a Goebbels-like propaganda machine, fueled and funded by tax-dodging corporations, have taken over. They won’t rest until every working American who isn’t born into money or part of the upper echelons of American society, is relegated to being nothing more than money-milking cows for the rich.

  • David Holmes

    Oh my. If you haven’t read it already, Dave, you really might read Bully Pulpit and then imagine what you might have written here.

  • skfod

    Wendy’s Pro-amnesty / pro-abortion / anti-Christian / gun control supporters are named in documents submitted to US Attorney Yarbrough, the FBI, the DOJ, the GSA, etc.

    SAN ANTONIO-BEXAR COUNTY TX is under CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION

    San Antonio Tx Mayor Julian Castro (“Obama for America” campaign
    co-chairman), Senator Leticia Van De Putte, city attorney Michael Bernard
    (brother of White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard), City Manager Sheryl
    Sculley and SAPD Chief William McManus are in the crosshairs. US Attorney
    Steven Yarbrough – New Mexico District- is in receipt of additional evidence
    showing that FBI agent D. True Brown , Texas Ranger Hank Whitman, Bexar County
    District Attorney Susan Reed and others helped conceal public/police corruption
    for years. 57th District Judge Antonia Arteaga and US District Judge Xavier
    Rodriguez play along while the corrupt law firm of Fitzpatrick & Kosanovich
    defrauds our judicial system and conceals the criminal activity while being paid
    with our tax dollars. Attorneys Malinda Gaul, Edward Pina, Joe Hoelscher, Dan
    Moore, Deborah Klein, Diego M Bernal, Cliff Herberg and others help hide the
    criminal conspiracy while attorneys Al Acevedo and Frank Perez are cooperating
    with the criminal investigation. Local Feds have been cut out of the ongoing
    investigation.

    FEDERAL COURTHOUSE SCANDAL…The construction site for the new courthouse was
    illegally transferred to the federal government during an illicit city council
    meeting on 10/14/2010 in violation of the law but Project Liaison- US District
    Judge Xavier Rodriguez has kept this fact hidden for almost a year while
    supporting efforts to obtain $110 million to begin construction that is two
    years behind schedule …all the while presiding over TWO lawsuits naming the
    corrupt city officials who defrauded the government of property and millions of
    dollars as defendants ….. Conflict of Interest…Typical South Texas Judicial
    corruption

    Contact the Feds…….Phone: (505) 346-7274……. Fax (505) 346-7296…
    [email protected] – Public Info Officer email

    Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough
    District of New Mexico
    P.O. Box 607
    Albuquerque, NM 87102

    It’s my understanding that you have opened a criminal investigation into San
    Antonio / Bexar County, Texas corruption and that you have been provided with
    evidence implicating City / County officials and others in an ongoing criminal
    conspiracy to cover up long term public/police corruption, Constitutional
    abuses, bond fraud, grant fraud, theft of public funds, contract fraud, “fraud
    upon the court”, HUD fraud: hl-10-0465 , open meeting violations and other
    criminal activity impacting City, County, State and Federal funds. I believe it
    would be a public service to thoroughly investigate this situation as few
    public officials are able to “police themselves” and the RICO-like criminal
    conspiracy needs to be investigated and prosecuted asap. I would, as a taxpayer
    living in our great Nation, be most appreciative of your efforts to ensure that
    Justice is served, that the criminals are held accountable and that OUR money
    is recovered. Sincerely,

  • JayfromBrooklyn

    Who are are those bored 801 people who watched her speech on YouTube?

  • JW

    The candidate is doing a disservice to viable babies. That is much more important

    • Brenda Stines Mills

      in LATE TERM ABORTIONS the BABY can be aborted and terminated [killed after being born alive and breathing and crying] up to and past the due date…..WHAT IS WRONG WITH ANYONE THAT AGREES WITH THIS?????

      • Inkan1969

        What is wrong with people who scream?

        • Meid_ICH

          They’re usually of short physical stature and short on analytical thinking.

      • channelclemente

        What a stupid, ignorant misrepresentation of the facts.

  • No Funeral

    I posted my friend’s demo tape to YouTube and it has more views than her speech. What a chump.

  • Meid_ICH

    With hit pieces like this one, is anyone really surprised why the Wendy Davis campaign is suspicious about “the media”? Seriously?

    Sorry folks. But our “media” have been infiltrated by corporations and investigative journalists have been replaced with corporate stenographers with the single goal to put more Republicans at the helm. Those tax cuts that you and I are paying for and why we’re really borrowing from China, is money they want to keep. We get the bill. So OF COURSE they’ll attack any Progressive who dares challenge a do-nothing, know-nothing Republican candidate.

    May Texans be smarter than the propagandists posing as journalists believe them to be, and vote in their own self-interest rather than that of multinational corporations and their privileged positions in our country.

    • Joe in ATL

      Ummm…. Meid, The Observer IS the alternative press.

      “Texas news, politics, and culture from a progressive-left viewpoint since 1954.”

      Unless you’re saying that The Observer is a secret right wing Koch owned shill also?

      • Meid_ICH

        Can you recall a cable “news” network that claimed, “Fair and Balanced”? Nuff said.

  • Meid_ICH

    Hey, Texas Observer! When are you going to nitpick – I mean – do an in-depth expose on Wendy Davis’ Republican opponent, Greg Abbott?

    I’m certain that if you used that same microscope on her opponent, Greg Abbott, you’ll come up with far more relevant information Texas voters should be aware of, like his battle against people’s right to vote, for one. So why the media blackout on him? Don’t Texans have a right to know whether or not they’ll have the fundamental right to vote instead of whether or not Wendy Davis is “media-savvy” enough for your taste?

    Were he alive today, Goebbels would be SO proud of how our 4th Estate had been usurped by the propaganda outlets of today…

    • daner

      Let me save you some heartache and wasted energy… Wendy Davis is not going to be the governor. Her signature issue that rose her to prominence enjoys no better than 30% support statewide. She literally has as much chance of winning as you or I do. Don’t get yourself worked up over this. Just some friendly advice.

      • Meid_ICH

        Polls showed Romney wouldn’t win the primaries. Then they showed Romney would win the general in 2012.

        My point is, polls show what the people who pay for them want them to show. The only polls that matter are the ones where people actually cast their vote – minus electoral fraud, of course. Exit-polling is still the best polling.

        Remember…Senator Obama had NO chance in Hades to win the Democratic primary against the Clinton Juggenaut or against an established war-hero like McCain. Guess who’s president today? And he was elected TWICE.

        All I’m saying is, a candidate needs a certain “niche” to catch the imagination of the electorate who will vote for them. Senator Davis has one – she’s a woman. We’ll see what happens on election night.

  • bagocheese

    A one trick pony…supporting an unpopular position (late term abortion). What could go wrong?

  • Joe in ATL

    “It’s been viewed 801 times.”

    Yeah. That’ll make a difference.

    • Tom_Tildrum

      Yes, I think that remark was intended to be sarcastic.

  • Mark Loeffler

    This explains why her logo looks like a sinking ship!! Subliminal messaging!!

  • MrBassV

    A perfect example of ” Texas Toast “.

  • Carson Horton

    If Wendy Davis isn’t elected governor, Texas is in for another long spell of governance by the ignorant. For the benefit of the elite, At the expense of the state’s majority. At great cost to the environment and the quality of life in a once great state that has devolved into the poster child for what the other 49 states do NOT want to become!

    • Dsanb

      Bonehead, What flavor of Kool-Aid is that!

  • fr0thing

    I knew this woman was vapid and empty but wow. Just listen to one of her smug speeches. She doesn’t have a brain!

  • Anthony Clay

    i be luvin BORTION BARB, who never saw a baby she didn’t wish to throttle, 50 million and counting DEMS you have much to be proud of Hitler is envious

  • Jack

    I fear ex-Mrs. Davis is a bit like Velcro for losers and dimbulbs. I did quite a bit of campaign covering over here in ‘zona a while back and what you have in Texas with the Davis gang is ‘a failure to communicate.’ Of the worst kind, it seems.

  • Dsanb

    How about the simple fact she’s culpable as a baby killer, and an idiot as well!