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Media Relations: Why, Meg?

By Suzanne Spurgeon  September 28, 2009

California gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman was hoping to put the issue of her voter registration behind her this past weekend at the state GOP convention. But instead, Whitman found herself facing some testy reporters at her news conference.  She has admitted she made an "inexcusable" mistake by not registering to vote until 2002, give or take a year. Trouble is, she won't say why she didn't vote.  And nothing annoys the media more than a politician who refuses to answer a question. Whitman obviously has a reason for not voting.  Maybe she was apathetic, or too busy running a major corporation or she didn't like the candidates.  By failing to answer the "why" question, Whitman is only allowing the story to stay on the front burner.  Her advisors had to know the question was coming but chose to hold the line at an apology, minus an explanation. Nice try.

Newsmakers often underestimate how quickly a story can grow from a small issue to one of major importance.  Think back to the 1988 presidential campaign when CNN anchor Bernie Shaw asked Michael Dukakis a question on capital punishment during a televised debate.  Shaw personalized the issue by asking if Dukakis' position would change if Kitty Dukakis was raped and murdered.  Dukakis gave a robot-like response.  Big mistake.  Some believe that one response brought down Dukakis.  Was it a fair question?  You bet.

Is it fair for a reporter to ask Meg, "why".  You bet. 


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