Grinding It Out – 2 Days In The Life of Senator Charles Schumer

There are some political leaders who have the gift of gab; they sparkle on camera, whether they are giving a speech or being interviewed. Think Regan, Clinton or Blair.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is not one of those. Schumer has the style, charm and like-ability of your least favorite high school chemistry teacher who always made sure to give you extra homework on the Friday before a holiday weekend. But what Schumer lacks in natural charm, charisma, and good looks, he more than makes up for through sheer hard work and tenacity when it comes to his media presence.

Schumer gets more media attention in any 48 hour period than most senators get in two months.

Here is a partial breakdown of news coverage he received during a two-day period:

Sunday, June 18, 2006; 7:18 PM Wire service story NEW YORK — A reported plot by al-Qaida terrorists to kill thousands of New Yorkers by spreading cyanide gas in the subway underscores the folly of a Homeland Security Department cutback of funds for major cities, a Democratic lawmaker said Sunday. “This is just more evidence that what Homeland Security did to us was terribly misguided and just wrong,” Sen. Charles Schumer said. “It shows that New York is the prime target, and shows the importance of prior intelligence and of manpower.”

Schumer is quoted because he uses the sound bite stable of attacking. Reporters can’t pass up politicians launching attacks. Sunday June 18th, as heard on WINS radio 8:30 PM While commenting on delays at New York City airports. Schumer said, “Laguardia, JFK, and Newark should be renamed Late, Later, and Latest.”

Schumer delivers the perfect sound bite because it has a classic three part list, followed by attacks, followed by another three part list, punctuated with humor. Reporters will always use this type of a quote whether they like the politician using it or not.

Please note that both of these stories broke on Sunday. Schumer has a press conference every Sunday because he realizes that most politicians and newsmakers want the day off and he has a better chance of getting news coverage. In this case, his tirade against late planes got him on the most listened to news radio station in America.

Monday June 19th 2006 On Mad Cow disease “It’s been 20 years since mad cow disease was first reported in Europe and about three years since it was discovered in the United States,” he said, “and yet there still is no comprehensive way to track tainted meat and to pull it off the shelves.”

Again, Schumer is highly quotable because he is attacking and suggesting strong actions.

Tuesday Morning June 20th 2006 Wire stories WASHINGTON Senator Charles Schumer pressed Governor Pataki today to “show some leadership” and preserve a state program aimed at creating jobs by offering companies cheap electric rates.

When a Senator attacks a governor, that is always going to be news.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 Wire stories WASHINGTON – Regarding Democratic fundraising, “Our fundraising success reflects a deep desire for change and recognition that the best way to get things back on track is by electing more Democrats to the Senate,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic committee.

Schumer speaks in strongly emotional terms; reporters love emotion.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006; 3:01 PM From wire services WASHINGTON — A New York senator accused the drug giant Merck & Co. on Tuesday of conspiring to undercut a cheaper generic alternative to its cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor just days before it becomes available to patients….”I find this practice highly disturbing and anticompetitive,” Schumer wrote the agency. “Time is of the essence given the imminence of the generic drug’s entrance into the market, and I urge you to begin an investigation of these anticompetitive behaviors expeditiously.”

Again, Schumer uses attacks and emotion and guarantees himself press coverage.

End of 48 hour examination.

If you are going to be as aggressive in courting the news media as Schumer is, you must be prepared for criticism. In fact, one of the longest running jokes in Washington is that the most dangerous place to be in DC is standing between Schumer and a TV camera (you would be knocked down in his haste to get to the camera.)

But there are distinct advantages to being Shumer-esque in your media strategy. Schumer has name recognition in his home state of New York that would cost other politicians tens of millions of dollars to buy via expensive New York City media market TV ads. It’s no coincidence that when Schumer ran for re-election in 2004 he had no serious opposition. His opponents could not find a serious candidate to run against Schumer because, in part, his media omnipresence made it seem impossible to define him in a new, negative way to voters.

There are other benefits to being in the media as often as Schumer is. While Schumer will never be as famous as his fellow New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Schumer is still famous enough to count in a town of big egos like New York City. Schumer’s fame helps him raise tons of cash from Wall Street millionaires who probably don’t like or even vote for Schumer, but he’s simply too big a public character to ignore. Schumer can also feel proud in knowing he built his fame one story at a time. He’s had no built in advantages of inherited wealth, celebrity-by-marriage, or fame through earlier sports success the way other New York area politicians have.

I might not always agree with Schumer’s political target (though often I do), but I do have a tremendous respect for his understanding of the media game and his wholehearted willingness to play it to the fullest. My point is not to praise Schumer or to condemn him (plenty of others do both regularly). But no one can deny that he is a brilliant practitioner of the media arts. Schumer is the Larry Bird of sound bites. His natural physical abilities may be slim, but though a tremendous work ethic and a knack for always being in the right place at the right time, he always scores.