Bryan Schott’s Political BS: Message, Mediums and Echo Chambers

Can somebody please help Utah’s Democrats understand how to use the media to get their message out?


So far this legislative session we’ve seen the following media fails from Utah’s minority party:

  • A pre-legislative news conference laying out their priorities for the 2014 session held on the Tuesday before the session when basically nobody was paying attention yet. They could have held court with the media on the second day of the session – which was a dead space between the opening day and the State of the State Address.

  • They totally flubbed their response to Gov. Herbert’s speech.  In the past, Democrats had a pre-recorded response that was carried on a number of television and radio stations. This year, they opted for a press conference outside of the House chamber to better respond to things Gov. Herbert said during his speech. Nice idea, but they forgot to tell KSL, which planned to carry their response live. No Democrats ever showed up and they basically forfeited a chance to get about 10 unfiltered minutes on the radio station and website with the biggest audience in the state.

  • Democrats held a completely uninspiring press conference unveiling their education proposals in the second week of the session. It came off as scattered and slapdash. There were a smattering of teachers in the audience while Democrats stood self-congratulatory at the front of the room. Not the best visual.

  • Latino Democrats had a press availability to discuss their efforts to increase the participation of Latinos in the political process. That turned into Latino legislators quickly running through a laundry list of their bill proposals before they had to scurry off to other legislative duties.

Are you sensing a pattern here? Four fumbled events that were not good. They were so ungood.

While there should be an adversarial relationship between the media and politicians, the media can be a useful tool to help get your message out.

Clearly Utah’s Democrats don’t know how to effectively use that tool.

There’s a big difference between politics and policy. Policy is important for sure, and the reason most people run for office in the first place. But, you need to be able to play politics effectively to make policy. Using the media is a big piece of today’s political game, but there’s an art to it. You have to give something (information and interesting quotes) in order to get something (media coverage).

Right now there are so few Democrats that they have to force their way into the narrative on the hill. There’s no reason for anyone to ask them their opinion on anything simply because they can’t do anything unless Republicans want them to. Democrats seem more than happy to play along with this legislative kabuki theater, dutifully fulfilling their roles as a token opposition.

The 2014 session should be a favorable environment for a number of issues that are traditionally friendly to Democrats – air quality, education funding. It’s even better for Democrats because Republicans really don’t want to address those issues right now.

Instead, the fight over a statewide non-discrimination measure has become the public face of the 2014 legislature. Two and a half weeks in, the most memorable event was a small handful of protesters being led away in handcuffs because Senate Republicans refuse to hear SB 100. Every single day the subject comes up in the Senate’s noontime media availability. It’s become so ubiquitous that one lawmaker walked into the room prior to the daily Q&A and said out loud, “I wonder what we’re going to talk about today? Maybe SB 100.”

The story of 2014 is ripe for a subject change in the media. The SB 100 story is becoming played out because the bill is going nowhere.

Meantime, issues like education, which should be a home run for Utah’s Democrats take a back seat.

We already know how the 2014 story ends. Democrats will fight to get a few things passed, their supporters will applaud wildly about how hard they worked, patting them on the back saying how things would be different if only they were in the majority. It’s an echo chamber of denial where never is heard a discouraging word.

If Utah’s Democrats are perfectly fine being a super-minority, they are doing a bang-up job at it.