Two weeks ago, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed was upbeat as he greeted the press corps covering his post-inauguration press conference. He invited reporters to ask him about “anything,” but the questions politely followed the ground he’d trod in his speech a few minutes earlier.
The questions didn’t last long, either. “Anything else?” Reed asked during an awkward silence that seemed destined to finish the event. I spoke up.
“This is a little off topic, but you said we could ask about anything,” I remember saying. Reed nodded and smiled, ready for whatever.
I asked him about Jason Carter, the Democrat running for Governor. The AJC had written stories hinting about Reed’s cold shoulder toward his fellow Democrat. The political buzz had been that Reed had been eyeing a run for Governor in 2018, and had wanted the Democrats to take a pass on challenging his buddy, GOP Gov. Nathan Deal in 2014.
Carter’s candidacy this year — whether he wins or loses — threatens Reed’s presumed front-runner status in the Democratic primary in 2018. It’s all inside ball, but a fascinating subtext.
Nobody would have blamed Reed for dodging the question, especially on his inauguration day.
Instead, Reed ramped up the intrigue: “I ran for mayor twice. Jason didn’t support me,” he said. “I’m not a bandwagon jumper.”
As Reed concluded and left the room, you could see dropped jaws among the press corps. Though Reed would undoubtedly disagree, it was easily the most interesting thing he’d said on his inauguration day. Reed’s inauguration made headlines, but the sidebar stories were about the “chill” between Reed and Carter.
Reed is great about responding to off-topic questions. It would have out-of-character for him to dodge the Carter question.
But the longer he’s been mayor, the more combative he’s become with reporters. I always have to make sure whatever question I ask is precise and accurately framed, or he’ll expend many words challenging the question before answers it.
But typically, he will answer — even questions he doesn’t like.
Friday, Reed challenged the entire Carter story. I’d met with him following an event in Buckhead. “May I ask you a question about politics?” I began, and Reed was agreeable. I asked about his comments last week in Washington, wherein he described himself as “Robin” to Gov. Nathan Deal’s “Batman.”
Reed provided a long answer that quickly circled back to the inauguration presser. He conveyed irritation that I’d asked that question on that occasion. He derided what he called “the most insanely overblown, falsely created narrative that I’ve ever seen,” referring to stories about the chill between Reed and Carter. The interview lasted five minutes, and is posted here in its entirety. Reed’s irritation at yours truly is quite plain.
But mostly, he seemed to be arguing that the story was overblown. Maybe he’s right. I think a lot of stories are overblown. The news media grasps onto material it finds interesting, often to the exclusion of other stories that are at least as important. Consider how many times weather dominates a newscast. Frequently, no other news exists on such days.
The Reed / Carter story got nothing close to “Snowmageddon” treatment. But it got ample attention in a political season that has had little drama so far. Like it or not, the news (and our audience) is drawn to drama.
Once again, Reed could have sidestepped my question. But that would have been out of character. Instead, he denounced coverage of the story as “crap.” In so doing, he made news and gave the story legs for another day.
The interview is also an example of an opportunity wasted by yours truly.
During his answer, Reed complained that nobody had reported about his enthusiastic support for Michelle Nunn, the Democrat seeking the open US Senate seat in 2014.
“If you’re not a bandwagon jumper — then why’d you jump so enthusiastically onto Michelle Nunn’s bandwagon?” That’s the follow-up question I failed to ask.
At some point, Reed will undoubtedly answer that question — probably at length, and with a wary eye directed at the questioner.