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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 11, 1998. Interview C-0336-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Managing the media

Scott thought that during his administration the media were "a little unfair," he confesses, perhaps because they thought his law and order posture made him too tough on demonstrators. He also reveals some of the tactics he used to manage the press. In order to avoid difficult questions, Scott's advisers peppered him with questions before press conferences, and Scott filibustered press conferences, speaking at length to dull the impulse for follow-up questions. He does not assess himself, however, as a particularly adept manager of the media.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 11, 1998. Interview C-0336-2. 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:
Another way that you said you kept in touch with the people was through the media, and I wanted you to comment, if you would, on the question of how adequate and fair you felt the media's coverage of your administration was.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
I did not have a close working relationship with the media, and at that time, I thought they were being a little unfair. In retrospect, they were not, I don't think. They were doing their job. Sure, they editorial biases were there. But like so many office-holders, I think I got along pretty well with the reporters and so on, but the editorial piece of it, I didn't. I didn't take the time to lobby the editorial staffs, if you will. Bill Friday was one of the best I ever knew about that. He would stay in touch constantly with the editorial people of the state, particularly the major dailies, and they could call him, and he would respond, and so forth. I don't know whether I just didn't see the value of that—I wasn't all that antagonistic to them, but I just didn't see the value of that, or I just didn't take the time to do it. Probably both; I know I didn't take the time to do it. Consequently, whenever the unfavorable editorials came along, [unclear] , and particularly if they stayed on a little while, I became a little defensive about it. And one of, I guess, my barbs, when I spoke, I think, to the Associated Press Council of some editor's group—I think it was down in Wilmington—and I made the statement that, "I read newspapers every day, I read the two morning dailies, I read an afternoon daily, and I read my local county weekly." And so I said, "I generally read pretty thoroughly. I always read the comics, because I think there's great philosophy in some of them. And I always read the news accounts and so on. I don't pay too much attention to the women's section or the classified ads. But in any event, the last thing I read are the editorials, at night, so I can go to bed with nothing on my mind."
JACK FLEER:
[Laughter] Did they chuckle?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Well, not really. These were editors. And I think a lot of the—I would have to go back and review them, but again, with all the tension going on, I had the responsibility, I felt, to try to keep the lid on and preserve law and order, and I had to call out the guard sometimes, and I used the highway patrol—I didn't want to, but I felt like I needed to. And a lot of times the editors thought I was being too rough. I had a little too much law and order.
JACK FLEER:
On the relationship with the press, what was your general policy as far as access that you would give the media to you? Would you hold news conferences periodically, would you—
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Yes, we tried to hold news conferences either once a month or twice a month—I'd have to go back and look at the schedules. And the way I would do that, if a news conference was scheduled, say, at ten o'clock in the morning, at nine o'clock we would have a briefing, me and my staff, and they would sit around and fire questions at me. The idea being, they knew what was likely to be asked. Particularly my two guys that worked that, C. T. West—he's dead now—and David Murray, who's still living in Raleigh. But they mingle with the press and they knew what was on their minds and they knew what was happening in the legislature and out across the state, and they would take the newsmen's perspective and fire questions at me. So that when the actual news conferences began, I was fairly well briefed. It was pretty rare that a question came— [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
—a question that would come out of left field, that I had not been prepared for, that came out of the blue somewhere. As a matter of fact, David Murray sort of kept a running total of that, and he told me, shortly after the end of my term, that 97 percent of the questions that were asked in my news conferences, we had talked about. Which I thought was pretty good. Also, most news conferences in those days, the governor read off-he had a statement he wanted to make, an announcement he wanted to make, anything like that. I also learned—well, I knew this—that when a question is asked, the longer you talk, the less likely they're going to have a follow-up question. So I'd filibuster. But the news media—the print media, the television media, and the radio—we got on pretty good. One difference now, I think, today, is the turnover of the reporters is much greater than it was then. Some of those fellows had been around capitol hill a long time. They knew where the skeletons were. And they had developed other sources of information. So when they asked you a question, they probably already knew the answer.
JACK FLEER:
A good reporter does, huh? The other side of the media is your use of them to try to get your message out, in a sense, to the public. Did you feel that you had adequate access to the media in order to tell your story, to promote your policies?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Yes, I felt I had adequate access. In fact, I probably didn't utilize it as well or as effectively as I could have or should have. Someone who practiced a few more skills than that could do a better job. I was not very adept at that. But yes, I never felt that I was being denied coverage or access. If I were making a talk in Salisbury, of course the news media knew that I was going to be there, and we would have advance copies, where appropriate, to hand out to them. And sometimes I would arrange to have a news conference before or after, particularly if I was promoting something. When I was trying to build up the support to restructure the university system, and all, the tobacco tax, and flying around over the state—these were kind of hurried tours, and it very apparent to everyone what I was trying to do. But the media was—it was a matter of public interest, and they were generally covering it.