Watching a Media Master At Work

September 2, 2008

I stumbled across a made-for-media event today that turned out to be a fascinating exercise in spokesmanship.

Randall Terry is the founder and director of Operation Rescue, one of the nation’s most visible pro-life groups. I had parked my car on Summit Avenue and was walking down to the Xcel Center when I saw a few people gathering in front of the Cathedral of St. Paul. It turned out to be Terry, who had a press conference scheduled.

There were 10 people at the event: Terry; five of his supporters; a reporter and photographer from the Associated Press; a reporter from Pacifica Radio; and me. A couple of nervous-looking cathedral maintenance workers and a young priest milled around at the top of the long stairway, on the lookout for trouble. A few minutes into the event, two passers-by stopped and watched. But this was all about getting a message out through the media — no audience was necessary.

Terry introduced himself in friendly fashion to each media person there, asking our names and shaking our hands. His supporters unfurled a large banner with a photo of an aborted fetus (see below). Before Terry started to speak, he leaned over and told the people holding the sign to “lower it just a little, so it’s level.”

He turned to the radio reporter and asked, “Can you get decent sound?” The skies were gray and threatening, and he told us all that if it began to rain, “I don’t mind going through the cycle more than once.”

Speaking without notes, he began delivering his message. Abortion is murder, he said, and Catholic bishops have a duty to tell their parishioners that they cannot vote for the Obama-Biden ticket.

“Any abortifacient that masquerades as birth control must be made illegal,” he said, mentioning birth control pills and Norplant. “These are human pesticides that have taken the lives of probably 300 million people.

“Human sexuality is a gift from God,” he continued. “We are not animals. We have a duty to treat each other with love and respect.”

Then he turned again to the radio reporter and said, “Did that sound horrible to you?” (He was referring to sound quality, not the content of his remarks.)

I’ve seen many officials speak in public settings, but I’ve never seen such conscious stage-managing up close and personal. I’m not knocking it — this guy is good at what he does. Of course, he speaks in public about as often as you and I go to Starbucks, and it would be silly of him — unprofessional, really — not to be aware of things like setting and sound.

As I left, a reporter from the Minnesota Independent showed up. Terry greeted him warmly and said, “Don’t worry — I’ve gone through this twice, I don’t mind doing it a third time.”