Freddy and the Press: Could It Have Been Different?

The rough treatment Freddy’s gotten from the press, as Wayne Barrett and Evelyn Hernandez both noted on Kirtzman’s show on Sunday, may well have been the fatal blow to a campaign that was already up against a the long odds created by a billionaire incumbent, low crime, and a decent economy.

Some of the bad press was really almost unavoidable. The preferences of media barons for their fellow-tycoon over a middle-class politician from the Bronx was predictable. That accounts — at the very least — for some decisions about whose gaffe makes tabloid wood. Beyond that, and throughout the press, Freddy was painted earlier as a bumbler and a lightweight; Mike was pictured as invulnerable, successful, and in control.

So the question isn’t whether Freddy’s had a hard time with the press. He has. The question is whether this was automatic, decreed by big theories of class and race and the media; or whether it could have been different.

And framed that way, it seems fairly clear to me that a different Ferrer (maybe a different candidacy; maybe a different candidate) could have been a press darling. Reporters love an underdog. Reporters love someone who answers questions straightforwardly, is personally open, and — sadly it matters — at least pretends he or she likes to deal with the press. The history of modern electoral politics is full of underdogs the press fell in love with, candidates who convinced reporters to identify with them personally and who converted that into coverage you can’t buy.

Reporters don’t much like dealing with Bloomberg. He’s vague and bland when questioned, often repeating message points rather than answering directly. He never spontaneously makes news. He’s made his personal life off limits. And his wealth, as well as his choice of career, make him somebody reporters don’t naturally identify with. (His administration has been relatively open to the press, however, which counts for a lot.)

But maybe Freddy’s problem with the press wasn’t that he was too different from our darling, Mike. Maybe it’s that he was too much like Mike: oblique, aloof, on-message. Personally closed. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that — Freddy has always been a private person, and it’s certainly his right.)

And as for the notion that the media elite weren’t ready to fall in love with a badly underfunded Hispanic underdog, it so happened last night that Freddy’s appearance on Road to City Hall was followed on another station by West Wing’s fake presidential debate, in which the show’s liberal, blue-state audience has predictably fallen in love with the underfunded Hispanic underdog candidate, Matt Santos. Who was invented by the media elite. So the viewers could fall in love with him.

Which is to say that tabloid owners were always going to go with Mike, but Freddy’s relationship with the reporters who wound up diminishing his candidacy chip by chip could have been utterly different.

ALSO: The Lipskys take the others side of this argument on their blog, here. And stay tuned for the details on a post-election forum The Politicker, Gotham Gazette, and the Drum Major Institute will be holding to talk about press coverage of the race. Freddy and the Press: Could It Have Been Different?