June 27, 2012
Written by Juliana Simone
Winsted, CT – Ameriborn News Network’s CEO William Landers spoke one on one with colleague Ray Hackett, the Norwich Bulletin’s opinion editor, about his experiences new and old with U.S Senate Republican candidate Linda McMahon’s campaign. Hackett came into statewide news when McMahon’s campaign manager Corry Bliss sent out a negative email blast in response to Hackett’s Sunday column that said Linda McMahon would not be partaking in the traditional editorial board interview newspapers conduct for political candidates seeking endorsements. In a half hour episode, Ray explains his side of the story to William.
During this interview, the veteran opinion editor gives the background on his experiences with the McMahon campaign for two election cycles. Hackett explains the background behind his 2010 editorial board interview with the first time candidate and now the details involved in the 2012 routine request that caused a small in-house ruckus turned news item. Starting early in the year he says, he made numerous requests to the McMahon campaign via email or phone calls for a date to be set for her to be interviewed by the Bulletin. None were returned. Nine out of ten other requests were responded to, he told Landers.
Not until they needed him did they contact him for both the U.S. Senate candidate debate held by the Norwich Bulletin, and to make sure an op-ed the McMahon campaign wanted published was printed in their newspaper. Whenever Hackett spoke with the campaign, he would inquire when Linda would be coming to speak to the editorial board. “We’re working on it,” was the standard reply said Hackett until the debate passed and the op-ed was printed. Later Bliss told Hackett they were not doing any editorial board interviews pre-primary. Hackett said “They lied to me” and not just him, he noted, but all journalists and editorial boards.
Bliss did not know the difference between an editorial and an opinion column. “Editorials are strong positions and opinion columns are biased opinions,” he specified.
In 2010, the Norwich Bulletin accommodated her by allowing her to pick the time and date for her interview, but once he wrote readers in the Bulletin that the interview would be live-streamed and recorded on video, they cancelled saying they did not agree to this. Hackett sent back the agreement to them showing that they did agree. “We’ll have to reschedule. We have a conflict” they told Hackett. They never rescheduled.
“They do not want to be off script,” Hackett said tonight. “It’s a well-scripted well-rehearsed campaign.” Continuing with his thoughts he added, “…turn on your TV and I’ll talk to you for sixty seconds in a commercial. That’s her idea of face to face campaigning with people.” Hackett says he told the campaign this year they did this two years ago and he was not standing for it again. Staff told him they weren’t here two years ago and he quipped “well, someone left the playbook because you’re doing the exact same thing and the only common denominator between 2010 and 2012 is Linda McMahon, so her fingerprints all over this.” For someone who is saying they have a grassroots campaign, we offered her an hour of live time to make her case but they’re afraid of the cameras, he said.
William Landers recalled how in 2009 he taped McMahon in Enfield and was promised an interview with her after the event, but staff quickly interceded and asked him “what are you going to ask her?” Landers said “I didn’t like that if it’s not convenient for you.”
Hackett recalled McMahon’s staff wanted to be there for the interview but the Bulletin board told her staff members are not allowed in the editorial board interview room and that’s the way we do it and there’s the door if you don’t like it. She stayed and they discussed many issues.
Hackett and Landers agreed the candidate did not seem to know much about minimum wage in 2010 for someone who was a chief executive officer of a multi-million dollar business. A New London Day reporter, Ted Mann, covering her endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which is opposed to any increase in the minimum wage, asked McMahon three questions about minimum wage she was unable to answer. This is why they don’t like to go off script, Hackett restated. Reporters don’t stay on script.
Landers brought up her contributions to high powered D.C. democrats but Hackett said he felt this was more a Republican issue than a business one since most companies will give money to incumbents. Landers wonders why she even wants to run for this office and Hackett feels she is bored. Landers wonders if there are gains for her business as a legislator and the two reporters discuss this idea.
“What I find offensive myself is that – they truly believe they can buy this,” Hackett observed. The McMahon campaign “can intimidate, they can bully, they can bribe and blackmail…they think they can win this…that’s a dangerous and unfortunate part of where politics and money have reached a point where we need to be far more vigilant in our democratic process…”
Landers then read a portion of the Bliss email blast sent out that criticized Hackett. Ray observed that McMahon is probably not getting her money’s worth with Bliss who is making fifteen thousand a month. Talking more about Bliss, Hackett says he does not have a great record. Before working for McMahon, he went to work for the Republican Vermont Governor who had a twenty point lead in the polls, and thanks to Bliss, he lost. Hackett maintains it’s Bliss who is the bully and he will debate him any time. “I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be quiet.”
William brings up Connecticut political reporter Chris Powell and his published comment that received a lawsuit threat for libel from McMahon’s lawyers that has also made recent state news. Powell’s newspaper has filed a complaint against the McMahon campaign with the FEC. The two political reporters discuss his comment and share their interpretations of the words involved.
“She is not a conservative,” said Hackett. But if having to defend the WWE, he added, they were feeding an audiences needs at that time, found a golden egg and capitalized on it. She was not a candidate then. As far as endorsements from legislators and conservative organizations recommending her candidacy he told Landers, “If you have a checkbook you can get endorsements, too.” Eighty Republican town committees received contributions from McMahon. That’s a lot of money in small towns, Hackett said.
“The burden falls back on to the voter. Candidates are going to do whatever they have to do to get elected and that’s not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes they cross the line, in this case here I think a lot of lines are being crossed, but that’s my opinion. “…they have to ask themselves, does character count? What kind of character is important to them?” In terms of a candidate, when you allow people running like this, do it all with TV commercials, everything’s scripted, and they never have to answer a real question…and you say, okay, that’s fine, I still want that person anyway, then the voter has spoken and democracy suffers.”
Two years ago, he recalled, I had a chance to talk with Linda McMahon and said according to the polls people want an inter gridlock – can you name me one democrat in Washington you think you could work with? No, I can’t, she told him. This time, at the first debate, she said Richard Blumenthal, he pointed out. I don’t think she even knows who’s in Congress or the United States Senate to where she could come up with a name except for the guy who beat her two years ago.
Hackett believes most D.C. legislator’s get up every morning and try to do something good for their constituents and for this country and it’s that small minority that give them all a bad name. “I think politics is a great game and I think it’s played well most of the time.”
In terms of media, Hackett told viewers not to limit themselves to one source of information and take in the opinions of others.
Opinion Editor Ray Hackett’s column is published every Thursday and Sunday in the Norwich Bulletin.