Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Wherein I Help Jonathan Krause

One of Krause's New Year's Resolutions is to catch a Great White Whale:

I resolve to get Senator Herb Kohl to actually do an interview this year. He's been in office for almost 20-years and he has never been on any of our radio shows. Does anyone actually know where he stands on any issues?

Here's some advice:

Get to know Kohl's Press secretary in Washington. His name is Joe Bonfiglio. When you call Kohl's office looking to set up an interview, ask for him by name. Be persistent. Chances are you have to go through the "staffer firewall," so feel free to chat up the junior staffer or intern answering the phone. Get to know them. Develop a report. Staffers are the soft underbelly of any elected official. If they start to like you, they'll eventually let you in. Here's are the DC digits:

330 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-5653
Fax: 202-224-9787

At the same time start hounding Kohl's regional office in Appleton. Make it a two-pronged plan of attack. Treat them with just as much respect and kindness as you would the folks in Washington. Remember, you want to ask Sen. Kohl the tough questions, not his staffers. Here's the contact info:

4321 West College Avenue, Suite 235
Appleton, WI 54914
Voice: 920-738-1640
FAX: 920-738-1643

Do not just randomly show up at the office one day. You will look crazy. Be patient and emphasize the fact that Oshkosh -- and your listening area -- are very hotly contested swing districts in Wisconsin. You'd think that this might not matter to someone who wins elections by landslides time and time again, but at heart Sen. Kohl's still a politician who wants to communicate to voters. Be patient. This will not happen over night (again with the persistence thing).

Something that's absolutely clutch: be accommodating. I don't care who you are, Sen. Kohl's time is more valuable than yours. That's not because he's a senator, it's because he's Herb frickin' Kohl. Chances are the best you're going to get is a phone interview. Take it. If you have to actually tape an interview at a more convenient time, jump on that chance. Offer that option to the Senator's staffers. If anything that lets them know that you're willing to work with them. Also, let them know what you want to talk about during the interview. Give them a short list of topics you plan on discussing. Obviously, the conversation might change depending on the events of the day, but it's a good idea to give them something to prepare for.

And most importantly: prepare yourself. Not just for the interview, but at every step of the negotiating process. Do your homework. Kohl actually has very clear stances on a number of issues, they're just not publicized. Read his office's press releases and keep up with him in the news. Senators are hard to book on nationally broadcast programs, so you have to let Kohl's office know that you're not wasting his time. Kohl sits on the Senate's Judiciary and Appropriations committee (and the Special Committee on Aging) -- get to know what's going on with those bodies.

Should you actually land the interview be firm, yet courteous. Any Senator worth his office will want a bit of a challenge, so he'll be looking for a few tough questions -- and they will respect you for doing your job as a journalist ... so long as you know what you're talking about. When it's all over be sure to invite him back on the air. Follow up with the staffers in the office. If you can, set up another interview quickly. At the very least send them thank you notes. Once you get to know the staff, periodically ask them for quotes on this issue or that if for no other reason than to keep your name out there. Once you start the relationship, you'll have to work to maintain it. If you interview the Senator in May and not bother to contact the office until the following December, they will not be terribly inclined to accommodate you.

Getting an interview with a sitting Senator is not impossible. If none of this works, talk to Tony Palmeri, who got former Bush administration speech writer and author of the single best magazine article written this year, Matthew Scully, to come on his radio show a few years back.

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