Home The Pulse | Kaine team needs to work on its media strategy

The Pulse | Kaine team needs to work on its media strategy


A long-time friend in the local media who covered the Tim Kaine visit to Staunton last week with me for the News Virginian felt, shall we say, slighted at the treatment accorded him by the Kaine traveling party, and called me to get my input on what had transpired.

The media folks on hand, including Press Secretary Gordon Hickey, seemed to give the conservative NV the short end of the stick when it came to access. It was to a point where I left the impromptu two-reporter press gaggle at the Lowe’s in Staunton after an event which had the governor talking up energy efficiency feeling bad that I’d hogged the Q-and-A time after Hickey tried to cut off the session following my final question.

As we talked it out, we both came to understand the situation. The NV is hypercritical of the Kaine administration in particular and Democrats in general. To me, it’s almost as if a Democrat could declare that two plus two equals four and end up pilloried for having learned simple math in the liberal public-school curriculum.

I’m thinking now that I hadn’t hogged the session. Once they were done with me, they were just done.

It seems to me that you should try harder to cultivate working relationships with your critics when you’re in politics, not push them away. Case in point: The editorial in the Friday NV, which lambasted, to say the least, Kaine and his legacy as governor, concluding that Kaine’s depature from the governor’s post three months hence “is indeed a thing to be heartily cheered. Good riddance.”

It’s entirely possible, borderline likely, that the editorial in the Friday NV would have had the same sting had the Kaine team gone out of its way to accommodate the paper with its request for interview time.

Even so, does a little reachout hurt anybody? To me, it’s just plain common sense.

Now, let me be clear in saying that I’ve always had what I felt was a good working relationship with Tim Kaine specifically. The governor has been gracious with me with his time dating back to his years as lieutenant governor, and we’ve had many thoughtful conversations over the years at events and on the phone and e-mail.

There was a time back in the ’05 governor’s race when Candidate Kaine’s communications staff pushed me aside for a period of about six weeks following a spat over a story that I wrote on the claims from Republican candidate Jerry Kilgore’s campaign that the Kaine campaign was poking fun at Kilgore’s Southwest Virginia accent in a media spot.

The spat didn’t come to an end until I basically told on the Kaine team to then-Gov. Mark Warner at a Staunton Braves baseball game in the summer of ’05. The issue was cleared up the next day. (That Warner, he can get things done.) In the interregnum I couldn’t even get anybody from the Kaine team to call me back on questions regarding coverage of issues arising in the campaign, which of course was silly, considering the amount of coverage we give to Virginia politics on a regular basis at the AFP.

I thought then that the issue that I had to work through wasn’t Kaine, but his team, and I tried to keep that in mind as I covered the campaign while working through the communications issues. That said, it was inevitable that our stories were going to be tilted toward the Kilgore side, whether I wanted them to be or not, because I had routine access to Kilgore and his communications folks.

I’m only tugging on the part of the elephant that I can feel here, to borrow from the old saw about perspective, so take what I’m about to say here with a grain of salt. But Tim, let me say, man, as you transition from governor to full-time Democratic National Committee chair, I’d want to make sure that I had a communications team on my side that knows how to make friends and not enemies in the news media.


– Column by Chris Graham



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.