CLEAVER, DISPLAYS FASTER, BETTER PRESS OPERATION. The CBC has had years of bad press. From Eric Lipton in the New York Times to bad press rising from ethics investigations (many of which resulted in nothing) to various CBC Chairs who didn’t know how to handle the new communications world. The last two CBC Chairs who did particularly well with the press were Reps. Kweisi Mfume (min-90s) and Elijah Cummings but that was before a massive change in the way the press covers politics.
Obviously no one, not even a public official, can be available to the press 24/7 and at every interval the press desires. To hear some in the press tell it no one is ever available enough. In this world of multi-media and “all covering” press, the pace of information is fast. In recent Congresses, the CBC has shown an unwillingness to keep up with the pace. But now, praise Jesus, the Congressional Black Caucus has a new press secretary, Stephanie Young, to go along with its new Chair, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. Accordingly, there is a new attitude and a way of doing things. And it shows.
In just the last few weeks Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has been seen and heard on Meet the Press, CNN, MSNBC and NPR. He just hosted a new CBC Debt Commission on Friday with five other members, which was live on C-SPAN. Cleaver also took the time to speak with reporters attending the Democratic retreat in Cambridge, Md.
At the start of the 111th Congress in January of 2009, there were several meetings and events the CBC hid from the press — events that made them look influential by most standards. Of course, most reporters found out anyway, just later than we should have. These included a meeting with black owned business concerning stimulus money featuring Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke in February 2009. A meeting with the new HHS Secretary Kathy Sebelius. Several meetings with Speaker Pelosi — none of which were controversial and several of which featured the CBC as a powerbroker, and a forum on Haiti in July 2010. The forum on Haiti, which featured over ten members, USAID Director Rajiv Shah, and many others (see a clip at bottom), received zero press coverage after the media was informed of the forum the morning of the event. What the point of holding events no one knew about remains unclear — but that was a hallmark of CBC version 111th.
And now things are much different. The CBC’s new Debt Commission event was known about a week beforehand — unheard of for any CBC event other the legislative conference. Rep. Cleaver is not afraid of reporters and can at times be a rolling press conference as he will almost always take a few questions and talk policy at random in a hallway. The CBC is on twitter, is using its facebook page and has a new cool website. After the reign of press terror that was Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick and the quiet years of Rep. Barbara Lee as well as a general penchant for secrecy for no real reason, the CBC has been hit with several stories regarding “waning influence.” Examples include a recent Roll Call story and a piece in The Root. All that talk stands a very good chance of turning around with their new chair and new press secretary who have already done more press and outreach in 25 days than the last crew did in 365.