Opinion: To fix media strategy, de Blasio should look in the mirror
Relations between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Fourth Estate have reached a new low. The press is given increasingly rare access to a thin-skinned and hostile executive who only takes questions on items that are on his preferred topic. Remember when this was supposed to be the most transparent administration in history?
Moreover, de Blasio and his team insist that he is answering the questions of New Yorkers constantly, through radio interviews limited to on-topic questions from interviewers, and a single town hall - where guests were pre-selected from a pool of the mayor’s supporters – that looked more like a pep rally.
“Bonkers” is how one Democratic operative described this press strategy. The City Hall press corps’ job is to inquire and to inform about the operations within government and the entities that are around it. De Blasio is now, in essence, poking a bear with a stick. The mayor has urged the press to report on the things he wants reported. The press, by virtue of his antagonism, is not likely to oblige him.
Similar to Mizzou journalism and communications professor Melissa Click, no?
In an interview with Rolling Stone in May, de Blasio responded to a question about his declining poll numbers by saying that New Yorkers didn’t appreciate the “very special” things he has accomplished in his short time in office.
Now, de Blasio’s poll numbers have continued to decline and his approval rating among New Yorkers currently sits at a paltry 38 percent. Obviously, the messaging on those special accomplishments, if there even are any, is falling on deaf ears.
A familiar pattern is emerging when things get rough for the mayor: blame a group(s) that he believes is responsible for a perceived misconception.
In truth, the problems of Bill de Blasio can be traced back to one source: Bill de Blasio.
During the 2013 mayoral race, de Blasio promised anything to any group that would support him. The anti-horse carriage group NYCLASS supported de Blasio in exchange for him banning horse carriages on Day One (didn’t happen … in fact he abandoned them). He told anti-police groups that he would act swiftly on their concerns and grievances (according to them, he hasn’t and doesn’t truly listen to them). He promised to ban member items in the City Council (they’re still here and flourishing). And his greatest promise – ending inequality and division in the city – has stagnated.
In December 2013, de Blasio criticized then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg for not being on scene immediately after the Metro-North derailment in the Bronx. “For me, it would be, generally speaking, important to be there,” he said. “My instinct in these things is to be present,”
However, in August of this year, when a New York City firefighter was shot in the line of duty, the mayor continued on with his workout – in the middle of the day – at his Park Slope gym after he was informed about the incident. The optics were terrible and the public judged him accordingly.
The initial failing of de Blasio’s press strategy was firing Lis Smith (because he did not approve of her boyfriend, Eliot Spitzer), his top press aide during his mayoral campaign, and a pro who would have prevented many of his self-inflicted snafus.
Ever since Smith’s unceremonious departure, de Blasio and his team have taught a master class in how to not run a press office - attacking the press for focusing on things he deemed unimportant; telling reporters what they should report; dismissing them for asking the tough questions about his favors for lobbyists and campaign donors; mocking them for holding him accountable for his claims of transparency. As a result, he has awoken a sleeping dragon by picking a fight with people who buy their ink by the barrel.
Things are not likely to change within the administration unless de Blasio himself has a “come to Jesus” moment and realizes that he lives in a bubble of his own creation. He believes that if only New Yorkers would listen to his sweeping rhetoric, then all would be well. Yet, he forgets that words must be backed up by actions and results. Thus far, the actions and results of his administration have not dovetailed with the rhetoric.
New Yorkers are taking note of de Blasio’s inability to be competent and are punishing him with appropriate questions and an increasing lack of faith. He can no longer blame the public or the press. Instead, de Blasio need only look in the mirror and point a finger.
Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist, is president of Somm Consulting, a public affairs firm based in New York City. He can be followed on Twitter @evansiegfried.