Harry Reid Will Only Do Town Halls By Telephone, Media Mum

The most powerful man in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), announced on Friday that as a result of recent protests at town hall meetings he won't hold any such political gatherings during this month's Congressional recess.

Instead, he will only do what's called "telephone town halls" where he and his staff have complete control over the questions being asked and who's asking them. 

Should have been big news, right?

Well, according to LexisNexis and Google news searches, not one major media outlet felt it was important enough to share with the citizenry.

Not one.

Despite the ensuing silence concerning this matter, the Las Vegas Sun broke the following seemingly important story Friday (h/t Terri Green): 

A day after holding up a square of Astroturf to denounce the orchestrated attacks on Democratic town hall meetings on health care, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office said he would be talking with his Nevada constituents this month over the phone lines.

Reid’s office is scheduling a telephone town hall meeting for August, opting to avoid the shouting matches and microphone speeches that have erupted at events across the country. The senator expects to reach thousands of Nevadans, including those in the state’s rural expanse.

“It’s a forum that obviously lets us reach more people, but also provides a more respectful environment that allows all sides to be heard,” said Reid spokesman Jon Summers.

“It’s more the dialogue that town halls were meant to be, as opposed to the organized disruption we’re seeing in other town halls,” Summers said. “This is so Nevadans who want to be heard can voice their concern, support and their opinions.”

Once again, from what I can tell, not one major media outlet shared this with the citizenry.


After all, this is apparently a growing trend, for the Mercury News reported similar decisions by Democrats in California: 

IA contacted three South Bay members of Congress — Democrats Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, and Anna Eshoo — and none currently has plans to hold a town-hall meeting on health care during Congress' August recess. At least, not in person.

Honda and Lofgren each plan to convene a "telephone town hall" on health reform before Congress reconvenes in September. But for now, they won't be subjecting themselves to a potential smackdown.

This refusal to face one's constituents is now sweeping the nation. Washington state's Rep. Brian Baird, after claiming he received death threats, has canceled all of his town hall meetings this month opting for the telephone version:

Random voters will receive automated phone messages asking if they have a question for their Congressman. If they do, they will be asked their location and the subject of their question. Sitting at his own telephone, Baird then will choose a name based on its location and the topic. After the call is over, the recording will be posted on his Web site.

Hmmm. Gives the Congressman an unlimited amount of control over the content and questions, doesn't it? Not REALLY what a town hall is supposed to be about, is it?

That said, because of the death threat element, Baird's announcement did receive some national attention although not much considering the media's current one-sided fascination with town hall meetings.

Another such announcement to go teleconference came from Florida's Rep. Kathy Castor after videos of her town hall meeting on Thursday went viral. Sadly, media were far less interested in her decision to only speak to her constituents via telephone for the rest of the month.

North Carolina's Blue Dog Rep. Heath Shuler will also avoid face-to-face town hall meetings. According to LexisNexis, not one major news outlet other than Human Events reported this revelation (no link available):

Some lawmakers are meeting constituents only by phone. They include Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Chet Edwards (D-Texas), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), John Tanner (D-Tenn.), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Larry Kissell (D-N.C.).

"Tele-townhalls" are popular with Congress. Their best use is when a member can't appear in person because they must be in Washington. But that's not the case during this five-week break. Lawmakers can speak with large numbers by phone, but constituents can only speak if their phone is activated. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) used this system last week to talk to 15,000 via phone. She took questions from 14 of them -- but 500 unsuccessfully signaled the operator that they wanted a chance to talk.

Tele-townhalls are mostly one-way communication. There is no face-to-face. The politician has complete control and keeps inconvenient constituents out of sight. Questions can be limited or screened. Best of all, it leaves no embarrassing videos on the Web.

Interesting stuff, but not if you're a major national media outlet.

Why is that?

(Readers are advised that television transcripts of segments aired from Friday evening on may not be available until Monday. As such, it is possible that some of the above was covered by networks that have not made transcripts available yet.)

Brian Baird
Noel Sheppard's picture