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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, August 15, 2001. Interview C-0331. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Relationship between the media and the governor

Hunt insists that media scrutiny can help politicians identify problems more clearly and makes them more accountable to the public. This theme of accountability reappears toward the end of the interview.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, August 15, 2001. Interview C-0331. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK FLEER:
Now you mention in conjunction with that the importance of the bully pulpit, and you have talked about it in previous sessions that we have had. I talk about it in terms of the governor as a public leader, as a leader of the public, trying to educate and inform and mobilize the people. I want to ask you a few questions about components of that particular responsibility. What was your relationship generally with the print and electronic media as a component of governor, as a public leader?
JAMES B. HUNT:
What was my relationship?
JACK FLEER:
How would you characterize that relationship?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Well, you have to reach the public. Basically you need to go out and have town meetings and I had a ton of them. By the way it was interesting to the media too.
JACK FLEER:
What was that?
JAMES B. HUNT:
It was most interesting to the media. It's the way to go directly to the people, but the media likes the reaction. You never know who's going to come and say what. But I understood that it's through the media that we reach the public. I also found that the media frequently spots problems that you don't know are coming or at least you don't know how imminent they are. So I used, I worked, I did things. I had events. I communicated in ways. I did a lot of it as you know. During my first two terms I guess I had a weekly press conference. I later decided that was not the necessary or the best thing to do. So I had more events at which I was trying to get a certain thing done and took questions of different kinds. But the media is the way you reach, it's through the media that you reach the people. The media has the job of searching and probing and trying to find the truth and criticizing when they think that's appropriate on the editorial page. I understood all that. I would get mad when I thought I was unfairly criticized. But I understood how the thing worked. My wife didn't, but I did. By and large I was treated real fairly by the media. That's not the point. The question is, was I able to be effective as governor to get the message out and hear back and pull together support and get people on the team to do big things through the media. That's the way it has to work. I guess there are some ways that if you want to go on line to people directly, but that's still the biggest way you get to them. So I am sure that I used the media more than any governor in history, maybe several times more. I'd have regular meetings and lunches with reporters in my office and plan things that I thought would be covered that called attention to what we were trying to do. I don't, again I'm not sure I'm answering this question well, Jack. The relationship was one of understanding that the media is the way you get to the people. I used it a lot I think successfully by and large. Where we had problems and they jumped all over them and jumped all over me, that was fair game. And I found out the way to deal with it which was true with the DOT situation was not to get into a bunker mentality. You've got problems. The only thing you can do is work them out and then try to show that you've done that. Make changes where changes ought to be made. I fired people on the Board of Transportation. I put in a code of ethics. I fired a cabinet member. I did what I had to do to straighten the thing out. The first responsibility is to the people to do the job right and to have public confidence and do it in such a way that the public has confidence in you.
JACK FLEER:
Do you think it's a fair thing from your perspective as governor for the media to have been as aggressive as they were in that particular case?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yeah.
JACK FLEER:
You do think so.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yeah.
JACK FLEER:
They were in fact serving the public by making known those issues—
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yeah.
JACK FLEER:
If not problems.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yeah. You can say, ‘Well, they didn't present both sides of the bridge in the Wilson County issue.’ But in the whole scheme of things, that's pretty minor. You had some problems. They were in the—. Mr. Williamson on my board who was the guy that old gentleman and just wasn't sensitive to some of the ethics issues and some other decisions that have been made by people. They were, that's their job. You have to understand your job and carry yours through. But you have to understand theirs. You live in a glass house. You ought to have transparency. People need to know what's going on. There are problems they need to know about. If there are problems and you're governor, you've got the job of fixing them. That's what I did.