Some members of Congress use the summer recess to hold town hall meetings in their districts. Which, for residents of those districts interested getting on television, presents a wonderful opportunity. As a public service, here is your guide to leveraging your elected official into a lucrative snippet on the 6 o'clock news.
A word of warning before we begin. Congressmembers are often discreet about their recess schedules. This is in part because they want to go on vacation and don't want to make a big deal about it. But, as The New York Times noted this week, it is also because they want to deny their constituents their democratic right to be seen on websites and Channel 8 haranguing their elected leaders.
“Ninety percent of the audience will be there interested in what you have to say,” one Senate Republican aide said. “It’s the other 5 or 10 percent who aren’t. They’re there to make a point and, frankly, to hijack the meeting.” ...
Sometimes, [members of Congress] wait until the last minute to announce the meeting, advocates said. Other times, they book a room that cannot accommodate large crowds and then alert their supporters to arrive an hour early so that the audience fills up with friendly faces.
So step one is: Figure out where and when the town hall meeting will be. Or any meeting, really. Don't be fooled if it is called a "Millennial Health Care Forum," you just need you, a member of Congress, and a phone that can upload to YouTube.
Then, employ one of these tactics.
Get the member of Congress to say something stupid
We started with the hardest one. It's entirely up to the member of Congress whether he or she decides to admit some weird political view while staring down an iPhone lens. But sometimes they do.
Take Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas. As we reported on Tuesday, Farenthold used the occasion of his town hall to suggest that impeaching Obama was a thing that could happen. Farenthold was such an easy target for this strategy that his newsworthy response was answering a hypothetical question. Maybe he just wanted to keep his constituent off the news.
Just for good measure, he also embraced birtherism, but that got a little buried under the impeachment talk.
Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida wasn't much more helpful in his response, as noted by MSNBC. Suggesting that the president wants to bankrupt Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Miller stated that he wanted to defund the EPA and that "this whole Al Gore thing of climate change unfortunately is not doing this nation any good." (Which, if you read it in one way, is actually true.)
But here, too, the questioner didn't get in the news coverage, until someone asked a follow-up. That's the lesson from a town hall held by Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma. Mullin, confronted by the "Birther Princess," ineffectually rebuffed her questions about the president's birth certificate. The incident got him a number of headlines, but by constantly interrupting him, the Birther Princess got in the videos, too.
Which brings us to strategy two.
Get in a fight with them
Tried and true. The second question in Miller's town hall got a lot more heated, with one woman audibly calling him a bastard. (Right here.) That'll work for your 11 o'clock newscasts, or for news websites.
The best recent example comes from North Carolina's Robert Pittenger, who, prompted by a questioner to answer a question about defunding Obamacare yes or no, responded, "No. OK? You got your answer." Which only made the whole thing worse.
Just yell at them
This is the easiest strategy and, unsurprisingly, the one most likely to result in success.
Rep. Andrew Harris of Maryland found himself featured on Greta van Susteren's Fox News show after being yelled at about:
- The NSA
- Terrorism (to which he responded, "Benghazi," in essence)
- The IRS
- How Republicans are being "too nice" and "Boy Scouts"
The main yeller, an earnest guy in a suit yelling about the NSA, couldn't help but check that he was still on camera after his tirade ended.
Yelling about the NSA seems like a particularly effective strategy, in fact — far more topical than complaints about unpaid mortgages or whatever. Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma was confronted by a man on the same issue and, boom.
This wasn't actually a town hall meeting, but it is still instructive. And it resulted in what is perhaps the quintessential Fox Nation tweet.
VIDEO: Tea Partier Wows Crowd With Protest Song http://t.co/Trr1a77iCW— Fox Nation (@foxnation) August 14, 2013
(First reply? "Wow." Q.E.D.)
At a planning meeting in Oakland, one woman expressed her concerns in song. And she had a good voice, too.
You yell an angry song at your member of Congress, getting him to say that Obama was born in Kenya, and you'll be on the news every night from now until January 2017.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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