During the contentious days of the union protests in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker figured out a secret way to get uninterrupted press time.
Walker outlines the strategy — and how he dealt with the onslaught of protests during the contentious period — in a new book, End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun!), by Fox News contributors and long-time conservative writers, Guy Benson and Mary Katharine Ham.
"At the height of the [anti-budget] union protests, when we were approaching 100,000 protesters at and around the Capitol, I finally got wise," Walker tells Ham and Benson in an interview for the book. "I started holding press conferences at 5:00 because I knew that if I kept it concise, local television and some national outlets would cover it live. So I had an unfiltered way to talk to the state for about 10 minutes."
The protests in 2011 were over Walker's budget proposal, which, to meet a budget deficit, instituted significant increases to public-sector employees' benefits and pension contributions, and limited their ability to collectively bargain.
That media control of Walker's didn't last forever, and he admits that the protesters figured out what he was doing and adapted.
"They started to get really loud right around 5 p.m.," he says in the interview. "I'd be speaking to the press, and they'd make lots of noise. On one particular day, they were louder than they'd ever been, and a reporter asked me if those people had a right to be heard. And I said that they had every right to be heard, but that I wasn't going to let tens of thousands of people — and some were bused and flown in from other states — drown out the voices of millions of people around Wisconsin who elected me to do exactly what I was doing."
Walker notably delivered a critique of the media over the weekend, after being asked whether he believed President Obama is a Christian.
"I've never asked him that," Walker told the Washington Post. "You've asked me to make statements about people that I haven't had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?"
"To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press," he said. "The things they care about don't even remotely come close to what you're asking about."
But inside that analysis, Walker also said he did not know whether the president is a Christian, spurring his press secretary to follow-up to clarify that the governor was trying to make a point rather than question the president — the kind of thing that doesn't always go smoothly in a presidential election cycle.
Still, Walker's seizure of an unadulterated media space in Wisconsin highlights both an eye for media opportunities and an underrated experience in front of a presidential campaign: the incredibly intense media and activist environment that followed changes he made to public-sector collective bargaining. Few other candidates will have been at the center of scrutiny like that, and so recently in terms of an truly online media environment.
In the interview with Ham and Benson, Walker describes some of the violent threats his family received following the budget and bargaining changes.
"One day, the leader of my security team came to me with a letter they'd intercepted that had been sent to my real home, our private home, that was addressed to my wife," he tells them. "It said that while there had never been a Wisconsin governor who'd been assassinated before, there was a first time for everything. It told my wife that she needed to stop me, and that the sender knew where my boys attended high school and where her father lived. It was scary, but it made me furious."
Katherine Miller is the political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Katherine Miller at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.