The Charleston Post and Courier has posted online (pdf) all 570 pages of emails obtained from the office of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.
There’s a bevy of information in there, but one exchange that jumped out at us was the one between Sanford’s press secretary, Joel Sawyer (who just today announced he’s quitting — good for him!) and David Gregory, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press. In courting Sanford’s office, Gregory wrote that “coming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation as you really want to.”
All the networks aggressively wooed Sanford’s office in the period during and just after his disappearance, in an effort to convince that their show offered the perfect forum for him to address the controversy. CNN’s John King told Sawyer he had always appreciated Sanford’s “kindness, candor, and hospitality,” and added, in a transparent attempt to bond, “I’m all for anonymous escapes myself.” George Stephanopoulos offered his show, ABC’s This Week, as a “civil forum to address this week’s events.” And producers for CBS’s Face the Nation, ABC’s Good Morning America, several Fox shows, and many others gave Sanford’s office the hard sell too.
But the emails of Gregory — who in the past has been known as a pretty aggressive questioner — make particularly clear just what a get Sanford was seen as, and how far the networks were willing to go in promising a safe landing place for the governor.
Gregory’s first email to Sawyer was sent at 12:24 p.m. on Wednesday June 24 — that is, after Sanford had admitted to The State that he had actually been in Argentina, but before the famed stream-of-consciousness press conference where he admitted to an affair. Gregory wrote:
Hey Joel …
Left you a message. Wanted you to hear directly from me that I want to have the Gov on Sunday on Meet The Press. I think it’s exactly the right forum to answer the questions about his trip as well as giving him a platform to discuss the economy/stimulus and the future of the party. You know he will get a fair shake from me and coming on MTP puts all of this to rest.
Let’s talk when you can.
Gregory left two different phone numbers.
After the press conference, Sawyer replied:
Thank you very much for taking the time to personally reach out to us. For the time being, we’re just going to let what the governor said today stand on its own. If we do some interviews in the future, I’ll let you know as soon as possible.
Gregory followed up quickly: “You aren’t doing anything at all this week…no other intvus anywhere?” Sawyer replied that they weren’t.
Gregory gave it one last shot:
Look, you guys have a lot of pitches .. I get it and I know this is a tough situation … Let me just say this is the place to have a wider conversation with some context about not just the personal but also the future for him and the party … This situation only exacerbates the issue of how the GOP recovers when another national leader suffers a setback like this. So coming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to…and then move on. You can see (sic) you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it.
Sawyer did not respond.
When you read the emails by Gregory, King, Stephanopoulos and others, you start to understand why most major network interviews with politicians tend to be a lot less hard hitting than they need to be to really hold their subjects accountable. The politicians themselves have the power to make or break the networks, by granting or withholding access. That ends up meaning that, consciously or not, the networks soften their approaches — both in their pitches, and in their actual interviews — in exchange for that access.
That’s how the world works, and it’s hard to know what to do about it.
Late Update: Gregory responds.