In Face of a Liberal Press Corps, Rick Scott Needs to Get Right Message Out
Around the State
Good news can travel fast. In Gov. Rick Scott's case, the reverse holds true.
This week's report that Florida's drug-testing of welfare applicants is projected to save the state $9 million in one year certainly classifies as good news (ACLU lawyers excepted).
The mainstream media's response? Zzzzzzz.
Only Sunshine State News saw fit to actually post a full article about the study. Other news outlets trickled out short, superficial blogs ... or, in most cases, nothing at all.
Compare that to the exuberant coverage mainstreamers gave to the ACLU's lawsuit seeking to overturn the drug-testing program. The suit fit the template for covering Scott: Bad news makes good news.
The liberal-statist bent of this (and any other) state's capital press corps is indisputable. Florida's daily news report is replete with cloying headlines that parrot "progressive" pejoratives like "Pink Slip Rick."
That's to be expected from the thundering herd of allegedly independent journalists. What isn't expected is the Scott's administration's seeming inability to articulate its message.
The governor's office surely had ready access to the same data that the Foundation for Government Accountability used on which to base its analysis. Scott himself could have refuted earlier news reports that the drug screening was a loss leader. Why not put out the good word?
If that's too heavy a lift, how about issuing a news release disseminating the FGA study and highlighting the governor's policy? That's what press offices are typically paid to do.
Hearing nothing from the governor's office by Wednesday evening, I contacted Lane Wright, one of his spokesmen. In an e-mail response, Wright wrote:
"The findings of this study certainly provide good news for taxpayers, but the real value, as we have always maintained, goes far beyond any dollar figure on savings.
"This law was put in place to make sure the cash that does go to welfare recipients is used for children. We are also making sure that taxpayer dollars aren’t being used to subsidize someone’s drug habit."
That's fine, as far as it goes. But why not be proactive? Instead of waiting for a press inquiry (which may never come on a story like this), why not push it along and play it up?
If he cared to, Scott could make national headlines for leading the charge in bringing accountability to a federally funded welfare program. The FGA report calculated that enacting similar drug screens in other states would save the country $173 million in the first year.
Bill Clinton wasn't apologetic about "ending welfare as we know it." Scott shouldn't be bashful about touting Florida as a laboratory for new levels of accountability.
Even libertarians like Phil Russo, a Floridian now working in the New Jersey Legislature, have come around to the merits of testing welfare recipients.
"If you're sticking your hand into my pocket for money, I have a right to set the conditions," he says.
Meantime, Scott continues to take a beating on "bad" news played up by the press corps.
He was branded inconsistent and wrong for approving the SunRail commuter train after he was assailed for rejecting high-speed rail.
A departmental budget cut was characterized as a beat-down of the disabled.
He was accused of slashing the education budget while promoting oil drilling in the Everglades.
In each instance, the governor was put on the defensive because of his office's inability to clearly and forcefully articulate its policies.
On SunRail and the disabled, he was merely carrying out state law. Education funding fell because $100 million in Obama stimulus money expired. Everglades drilling? He never proposed that.
To his credit, Scott has ventured into social media, posting periodic Tweets and Facebook entries. But these are just two tools in the toolbox; neither constitutes an effective communications strategy. Just ask Charlie Crist, whose glib persona kept a captive capital press corp eating out of his hand.
Rick Scott has a positive story to tell. But, according to the daily news script, negative news about this governor is about all that the public is seeing or hearing.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.