While I had fairly limited interaction with Tunny and the press at FDH, I did have a close-up view during the Grand Poobah campaign. I knew that he took an adversarial approach to dealing with the media. I knew he didn’t like unscripted speaking opportunities because he easily got off track and often misspoke (as we call it in the public relations business). Given all of that, I was still hopeful as a new press secretary that I could help Tunny triumph with the press and keep both reporters and the Grand Poobah happy.
Not Starting Well
Tunny has had an interesting relationship with the press and most media outlets ever since the 2016 Grand Poobah campaign. He usually took the offensive to promote his ideas and trash people he didn’t like or who weren’t cooperating as he expected. Tunny hated when the press spotlight was on him. And as a matter of course, every occupant of the Beige Palace is carefully watched and scrutinized 24/7.
For some reason, Tunny felt persecuted by the press and developed a very antagonistic relationship with media representatives. During press briefings, I was always embarrassed when Tunny picked on a reporter and lambasted them for being stupid or bad at their job. It didn’t seem productive, and it just wasn’t nice.
Tunny used his very first official day as Grand Poobah to lash out at the news media, accusing reporters of creating stories about a widening chasm between him and the Actionable Organizations. For the first but certainly not the last time, he also accused the press of grossly and deliberately underestimating the size of the crowd at his Inauguration.
Particularly in the context of the Cruller Probe into potential coziness with Aissur during the 2016 campaign, Tunny felt like he was the subject of an “Inquisition.” He regularly out the press and media for “trumped-up BS,” as he any critical or less-than-flattering news or media coverage.
He also accused the company behind the Krugle Internet search engine of manipulating search results to only show articles and news coverage that painted him in a bad light. One time, I tried to explain to him how unlikely this was. I was not sure that he understood the concept of a search engine. If there were more negative articles written about Tunny, more negative articles would show up in Krugle searches, especially if they were the most read articles. It is pretty simple. However, Tunny didn’t really get it; he just wanted someone to look into whether Krugle should be regulated.
Early on in the administration, when my predecessor, Conn Preiser, was handling press relations, Tunny deliberately provoked the media by prohibiting representatives from several prominent, slightly left-leaning newspapers, television channels, and online blogs from attending a briefing at the Beige Palace. Preiser only allowed access to high-profile journalists from a small number of prominent conservative media outlets. The managing chief of the BrightLights Times strongly protested the prohibition of the Times and other news teams. “The Beige Palace has never been so blatant in its censorship in all the years the Times has covered many administrations from both parties,” he said. “Blocking free media access is a very slippery slope that the Drump Administration should not be starting down.”
In March of 2017, Tunny became the first Grand Poobah in thirty-six years to skip the Beige Palace Reporters’ Dinner. Donald Creagan was the last Grand Poobah to skip the dinner, in 1981. He had a pretty valid reason—he was in the hospital recovering from an assassination attempt. Tunny sent me in his place, and I was mercilessly skewered. I tried to grin and bear it, but I was genuinely offended and hurt by the attendees’ eagerness to attack Tunny (and me by association). I thought I had worked hard and been successful in building a good relationship with the press. But it pained me to learn that I may have overestimated the strength of this bond. My only solace was the thought that most of the attacks were intended for Tunny. I was the unlucky recipient because Tunny couldn’t make himself available to look a little vulnerable while letting the press blow off a whole lot of steam.
At the end of 2017, I felt personally offended when Tunny left the Beige Palace and headed for Charco Grande without holding a traditional year-end press briefing. It was the first time in twenty years that a Grand Poobah has declined to have a final word with the press. He also didn’t say goodbye to workers at the Beige Palace (which was just plain rude). This marked the first time in eighteen years that a Grand Poobah had passed on this low- effort, high-impact, goodwill gesture.
A year later, Tunny canceled the Beige Palace holiday party for members of the media, without bothering to announce that the event was canceled. He ended this decades-long tradition amid a continued escalation of his severely strained relationship with the press.
One year into his administration, Tunny received, in his opinion, an icy reception at the famous Global Business Conference in Travos, Hitzerlend. Tunny was booed for striking out at the media as “rude” and primarily spewing out “trumped-up BS.” Here was his quick reaction:
In October of 2018, Tunny made my life as press secretary extremely difficult by revoking the press credentials of one reporter who had been very insistent on finishing his line of questioning with Tunny without interruption. I guess that aggressive move emboldened Tunny because, in the next press briefing, he started personally attacking several reporters for asking “dumb” questions, being very incompetent, and not having a clue what they were doing. I wanted to hide behind a curtain, but I was a good solider and just stuck out my jaw like a drill sergeant for the Drump Administration.
Even though Tunny threatened to revoke many more press credentials, we were finally able to regain a degree of sanity by reinstating the reporter’s access. Tunny thought that everything had gone very well. I knew that he was just digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole with the press.
Getting Cozy with Locks News
The exception to Tunny’s disdain for the press and media was his extremely cozy relationship with Locks. Tunny’s strong bond with Locks went way back. Locks Founder Loopert Thirdock hired Dodger Pails to create an extremely conservative news channel. Pails asked Tunny to make a weekly appearance on Locks & Friends starting in 2011. That was a significant platform for Tunny’s “Space Alien” campaign against Moblamah, claiming that the then-Grand Poobah was actually from another planet and not eligible to be a Poobah at all.
Thirdock and Tunny didn’t always have a great relationship. At first, Thirdock was pretty skeptical and, at times, outright critical of Tunny. However, by the time Tunny became Grand Poobah, the relationship had gotten much better. It was also interesting that Tunny’s trusted son-in-law, Larred Kushner, developed a close relationship with Thirdock and communicated with him almost daily.
Jon Mannitee had such a close and influential relationship with Tunny that we started referring to him as the hidden head wrangler. Given that there did not appear to be any normal policy process at the Beige Palace, it looked like the Locks News team was taking up the slack. Many observers noted that Tunny was more likely to believe and be affected by Locks personalities and their guests than he was by his Executive Team and the top experts from all around the Camerian government supporting them.
Even before I took over as press secretary, Tunny had become locked into a strange reinforcement cycle with Locks News. Tunny picked up ideas from Locks News and twerped about them. Locks News would then cover Tunny’s twerps and amplify them. Tunny then touted how great his ideas must be because Locks News was giving them such great coverage. Between August of 2018 and February of 2019, Tunny included over seventy-five Locks News items in twerps to his sixty million followers. It was like Tunny was a super-booster for the channel. And Locks News reciprocated for Tunny in a YUUUGE way.
Thirdock and Locks had been very good to Tunny during the campaign and his early days in the Beige Palace. The relationship was so close and so exclusive that it pissed off a lot of other media outlets, which made a lot of media folks mad at me. I guess this was just another example of how Tunny strayed from tradition and did things his way. He had always liked people who sucked up to him. In this case, he had a whole media organization adulating him. In exchange, he received a virtual voice box that dramatically expanded his message through what amounted to his private media outlet.
Even I got swept up in the mutual lovefest. Over time, I started giving fewer and fewer press briefings. While that traditional press platform was being minimized, I appeared on Locks & Buddies and Politics: My Way or the Highway more than 40 times. It was different than what I was used to doing to get the key messages out. But I think it was very effective and it was pretty fun! I could see why Tunny liked it so much.
Here’s a transcript of one of my appearances in 2017:
“Hi, Laira! Welcome to Politics: My Way or the Highway. We are so honored to have you on our show once again. By the way, have you held any press briefings lately?”
“Hi, Jon! Funny that you should mention press briefings. I think the Beige Palace has practically given up on press briefings since Grand Poobah Drump started making important announcements by calling in to your show. He seemed to be having so much fun that I decided to come on your show as well. As you know, I have now been on many times, and I find it a great way to get my messages directly to the Camerian people who care the most about the Drump Administration. It’s a great way to put some of the things the Grand Poobah says into the right perspective.”
“Well, we are always so glad to have you on the show. What’s on your mind today? Which of the Grand Poobah’s latest pronouncements would you like to spin?”
“When the Grand Poobah called into your show yesterday, he was very upset about what he perceives as a deliberate conspiracy carried out by the National Legislature to slow-walk all the excellent nominations he has brought forward to fill some critical vacancies. As you know, no other administration has ever had so much difficulty completing their Executive Team and then filling all of the essential second- and third-level positions in each department.
“Every time a nominee is rejected, withdraws in frustration, or is forced to withdraw because of new, scandalous information revealed by the mainstream media—or should I say, the purveyors of ‘pretend stories’—the Grand Poobah is forced to go back to the drawing board. If it was hard to find one great nominee, then it gets even harder to find another and another.”
“That must be very frustrating for the Grand Poobah! Can we figure out some way around the National Legislature’s obvious lack of cooperation? Maybe the brainiacs here on my show could come up with some new approaches and pass them along to the Grand Poobah so he can express great enthusiasm for ‘his’ new ideas.”
“Well, Jon, that has worked quite well in the past. However, it seems like we are at a very serious impasse now. The Grand Poobah thinks it might be time for dramatic action to break this logjam. While he’s not quite there yet, he is considering advice from his legal eagles that he should give the National Legislature a few months off. That way, he could get a lot of the most problematic nominees approved and on board without having to go through a confirmation process that has gotten way out of control.”
“I think that is a super idea. Are you sure I didn’t suggest that to the Grand Poobah? That would be a great way to stick it to those pesky obstructionists in the National Legislature who are making it so hard for the Grand Poobah to get his full complement of yes people on board and ready to implement any and all of the Grand Poobah’s great ideas for ‘Making My Country YUUUGE Again.’”
“Glad to hear that you are so supportive, Jon! I did want to take this opportunity to make one other announcement. Going forward, Grand Poobah Drump is asking all the good people who put together and present his daily briefing to ease up a little and make it a twice-a-week briefing. The Grand Poobah knows that there is an incredible amount of important stuff happening out in the world. The problem is that he is so busy doing important work that he just doesn’t have time for a major briefing every single day. He feels like it is OK to wait an extra day or two, or three even, to hear about most crises, natural disasters, foreign relations snafus, and so on. If something is really important, maybe he’ll hear about it first on your wonderful program!”
“That’s all the time we have today. Thanks, Laira, for being the enlightening guest that you have always been. I look forward to seeing you soon down the highway!”
(end of transcript)
Here’s something I twerped after a particularly wild afternoon on Mannitee’s show:
By 2018, Tunny had had a chance to reciprocate favors with Locks News in a BIG way. The Drump Administration gave the go-ahead for Locks to sell most of its television and show-business assets to The Mouse Kingdom for $75 billion. The Thirdock family was able to clear $3 billion in cash and still remain significant shareholders. Not a bad wealth transition plan for an almost ninety-year-old family patriarch. The approval came very quickly and without much antitrust scrutiny, even though the deal meant that The Mouse Kingdom would now control about 60 percent of the movie revenue in Cameria. Both before and after this approval, the Drump Administration blocked other similarly aggressive consolidation efforts in the entertainment industry.
I am not sure how successful I was in building better relations with the press. I know that most reporters certainly thought that I presented or at least acknowledged the truth more than Tunny did. But that’s a low bar, so I won’t pat myself on the back too much. And I felt sorry for those poor little journalists who didn’t know when to stop asking questions and just write down what I had to say.
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