Zen and the Art of Press Management

What is the sound of no phone ringing?

Feb. 16 -- I call, leave message with person who answers phone. "Korten with New Times. Seeking comment about governor's appointment of Leslie Rothenberg to Third DCA. Thanks." Person asks re: my deadline. I say tomorrow.

Feb. 17, 18, and 22 -- Tomorrow turns into yesterday. Call, leave same message. Repeat. Clearly a contest of wills.

Feb. 24 -- Story published. Call again, leave message for DiPietre: "Just wanted to say hi, see what he's up to."

Fred Harper

Office kid who answers phone: "I think I talked to you the other day."

Me: "Probably."

Kid: "I think we still have your old message around here...."

Me: "I bet you do."

Kid: "Well, he's out of the office right now, but I'll make sure he gets it."

Feb. 28 -- Call again. Leave message with woman: "Just wondering what he thought of best director award going to Clint Eastwood."

Woman: "Oooh-kay."

Mar. 4 -- Call Governor's Appointment Office re: public records request. Office director: "Celeste Lewis."

Me: "Just checking on status of my records request."

Lewis: "I'm sorry, we have no authority to release records. Have you contacted the governor's press secretary?"

Me: "Why, yes, as a matter of fact I have." Ask if she'd call them for me. After all, not responding to a records request is a violation of state law, hate to get our lawyer involved.

Lewis: "I don't appreciate you threatening us with a lawyer."

1 p.m. -- Call DiPietre's office, leave message with kid that it sure looks like office ignored my public-records request. Major no-no. Should I get our lawyer involved? (Like saying that). He promises to pass message along.

1:40 p.m. -- Phone rings. Woman from gov's press office: "Hi, I understand you were seeking a comment for a story, and I also understand you were inquiring about a public-records request?"

I've passed through the gates of enlightenment. Finally figured out what gets them to call back -- lawsuit threat. I'm now ready to descend from the mountain. I ask her to hold while I savor the moment. Tell her it seems they responded only because of words "public records" and "lawyer." Ask her name. "I'm not a quotable source," she answers.

"Says you," I tell her. "I'm taking anything I can get."

She repeats: "I'm not a quotable source" but adds she will pass request for comment to DiPietre. Asks me to e-mail records request to a woman named Jennifer Grice.

Grice responds: "Thank you for sending your request. As you may or may not know, our office is responsible for handling media requests, and all requests should be directed to us.... As to this specific request, I'll start the process for you and let you know as soon as it is complete."

It took until April 12 to actually get the documents. Never did talk to DiPietre. I remembered something he told his campus newspaper. When asked what it was like dealing with reporters, he said, "Reporting is reporting is reporting. Their job is to report the news." I realized my nemesis had uttered a koan disguised as an unintelligent quote. Note to self: Read DiPietre press releases for further hidden clues to enlightenment.

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