Jonathan Tilove of the Austin American-Statesman delivers an amusing First Reading today. He compares and contrasts his efforts to interview Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebron, who spent decades in jail for shooting up Congress in 1954 — successful — with his attempts to get a sit-down with Democrat state Sen. Wendy Davis, who is running for governor of Texas — unsuccessful, so far.
I especially like the image on the Wendy Davis campaign sticker that adorns today’s First Reading. La Valiente Wendy. Wendy the valiant, the brave.
It calls to mind Lolita Lebron, the Puerto Rican nationalist who, as I wrote in a 1998 profile of her, “on March 1, 1954 … rose from her seat in the Ladies’ Gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives, wrapped herself in the Puerto Rican flag, cried out in English `Free Puerto Rico Now’ and opened fire. While Lebron aimed at the ceiling (`I wanted to bring the roof down’), by the time she and the three other nationalists she led that day were through, five members of Congress lay wounded.”
Of course, in the Davis sticker, she is holding a microphone, not a gun, but the depiction of Davis is very reminiscent of Lebron – who Pedro Albizu Campos, the nationalist leader who ordered the attack, described as “a Puerto Rican heroine of sublime beauty.” And the Texas flag – which, except for the fact that the Lone Star is contained in a rectangular instead of triangular field of blue – is a dead ringer for the Puerto Rican flag. It all brought to mind one of my proudest achievement as a reporter. Possessing only the most rudimentary high school Spanish, I coaxed Lebron – who after 25 years in prison was granted clemency by President Jimmy Carter and returned to Puerto Rico – out of seclusion and into an interview, for which I traveled to San Juan.
Ah, if only I could have that kind of success with Wendy Davis.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. He posts an image of the ironic Davis sticker. If Wendy Davis is so “valiente,” why is she hiding from nearly every reporter in the vast state of Texas? Why is she running away from her record on abortion and trying to cast herself as Annie Oakley reborn?
Tilove recounts his latest attempt to interview Sen. Davis. He had covered a speech of hers that no one else covered (there is hardly a more thankless job in political reporting than covering yet another stump speech you’ve already heard half a dozen times), and sought to talk with her on an escalator afterward. As soon as he introduced himself, Davis called in her campaign handler, who put his body between Tilove and Davis, and that was that. No interview. How “valiente.”
That incident followed by a fortnight the Davis campaign giving Tilove the runaround on an interview that Tilove had scheduled with them days in advance. It also followed Tuesday’s equivalent of Wendy Davis’ bombing the Texas media’s Pearl Harbor, the State of the Union night speech from which her campaign shut out all press except for the Soros-funded tax-exempt Texas Tribune. Or, the Davis campaign’s version of the Goliad massacre, to localize the nature of the offense. It got the media’s backs up, as anyone could have predicted.
Tilove follows up on that, and finds that the Tribune not only livestreamed the speech Tuesday, they were the only ones who were allowed to have any reporter in the venue. The Trib’s Jay Root was given singular access, a choice that has not been adequately explained by any of the players involved. There have been explanations, just not adequate ones. Root eventually replaces Tilove on CBS This Morning’s coverage of Davis’ speech. Access earns rewards, as everyone knows. Davis’ habit of limiting press availability is having all sorts of ripple effects.
A cynic might view that as part of some Texas Democrat strategy — limit press availability to the untested Davis, so that their preferred media get the plum hits on national media. The preferred media will naturally be happy and present a sunnier side of the Davis run. It’s a win-win for them, just not for the other 98% of the media here or the people, who deserve to know more about this person who wants the highest elected office in the state. (The highest actual office is coaching the Longhorns football team, but that’s not an elected position, and Charlie Strong is off to a good start there anyway.)
It’s hard to read much real anger in any of Tilove’s articles toward Davis, as he casts his struggles as “Free Wendy!” From herself? But if you’re keeping score at home, her campaign and her own choices have managed to vex the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, and the Dallas Morning News, in the span of about two weeks. They all buy ink, or pixels, by the barrel. Team Davis has managed to build a cozy relationship with the Texas Tribune, but at the price of generating a sizable backlash against themselves and the Tribune in a stroke. Davis and the Tribune might be wise to see other people for a few weeks, just to cool off.
Wendy Davis has to hope that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram isn’t harboring a grudge over that ridiculous lawsuit she pursued against it. The Tribune does attract good traffic, but not enough to make up for the rest of the media’s anger at her and her hand-picked media outlet.