DEP Wins Press Prize
Breaks Record for Press Releases Issued – New Roles
The “Do Less With Less” DEP Does More Media
I’m still working on The Year in Rebuke – (Part 3 – Issues), but in my research for writing that piece came across some facts I wanted to share independent of that analysis.
I didn’t think it was possible, but Bob Martin’s DEP has issued significantly more press releases in the first 2 years than former Commissioner Brad Campbell did (see data below).
Recall that this is the Christie “Do Less With Less” DEP.
Campbell was well known for his media savvy and efforts to drum up favorable press.
Campbell broke new ground at the DEP Press Office, and not only in terms the number of press releases issued.
Campbell issued a regulation that revised the DEP Press Office’s function and role. (see NJAC 7:1, To his credit, this has since been revised by Martin’s Administrative Order, quietly published in the NJ Register without public comment on 9/20/2010).
Under Campbell, for the first time, the press office’s role was to support the Commissioner’s policy initiatives, not necessary to provide accurate information to the public and media in accordance with professional journalistic standards.
Campbell was deeply involved in shaping the Press Office’s work. He reviewed and approved all press releases and often personally called reporters and worked the media to promote his initiatives and put the most favorable light on the news coverage.
DEP staffers were restricted from speaking with press and told to direct reporters to him for comment. In the event that staff expertise were required to respond to a press inquiry, a DEP press officer was always present or on the phone line when the staffer spoke to the reporter (this practice also has since been revised, which is a good thing)
[update: I'm getting feedback from frustrated reporters that DEP is not responsive and management restricts access to professional staff, so I overstated the relaxation of this restriction. This jibes with my experience as persona non grata at DEP, where Martin only speaks to me through the State Police].
Several times, Campbell was able to derail investigative efforts of reporters before bad news stories were even written, and do damage control in stories that were critical of DEP.
Campbell used the DEP Press Office effectively to promote policy, but, he often did so in ways that earned him a reputation for self aggrandizement and what many found to be over the top spin.
[full disclosure - I worked for Campbell and often with him and the press office.]
So, I never thought that Campbell’s media initiative would be topped.
In fact, Campbell’s successor, Lisa Jackson, greatly reduced the number of press releases issued by the Press Office and had nowhere near the emphasis on media.
But I was wrong about surpassing Campbell.
Here are the data for press releases issued in the first two years of Campbell, Jackson and Martin (hit the links to access each release, by year):
In addition to breaking the record for total press releases issued in the first two years, the Christie/Martin media initiative is very different than its predecessors.
Following the aggressive, bullying spin of the Governor, the tone of the DEP press message has changed.
Even more important is the fact that press spin has been injected into official regulatory documents in extraordinary and unprecedented ways. Examples:
- Commissioner Martin personally harshly criticized DEP scientists
- Martin attacked Senator Buono in a DEP press release
- Martin criticized Rutgers and BPU economic analyses in the press
- The Energy Master Plan uses ideological rhetoric to criticize current policy
- The State Strategic Plan expressly disparages prior planning efforts
- The Red Tape Report harshly criticizes DEP
- The basis of some DEP rule proposals read like press releases
- The DEP media/message machine has become an appendage of the Governor’s Office – the Barnegat Bay cheerleading is a prime example of this.
So, not only has Bob Martin broken the numerical record, he has transformed DEP’s approach to media.
While, to his credit, he has eliminated Campbell’s policy with respect to the role of the press office and relaxed restrictions on technical staff talking to press, overall, the negatives far outweigh the positives.
The net effect is to further erode the independence and reduce the credibility of the DEP as an institution.