Monday, September 03, 2012

The Malloyalist Propaganda Machine

After it had been pointed out that his drawings were hypercritical and highly unflattering representations of his subjects, a famous caricaturist responded, “What’s the point of having absolute power, if you are not prepared to abuse it?”

Roy Occhiogrosso, Governor Dannel Malloy’s Senior Advisor and a fierce Malloyalist, should have internalized the quote so that he would be able to flourish it  when asked by reporters why the governor thought it necessary to recruit dozens of state officials as propaganda agents.

Investigative reporter Jon Lender noted in his story, “Malloy Using State Agencies To Develop Behind-The-Scenes Media Strategy," that Mr. Malloy’s approval rating has now dipped below 50 percent.

That drop, possibly related to massive tax increases a portion of which has been dedicated to bribing large companies to remain in Connecticut, has been followed by “an unusual media-management effort --  directing dozens of officials to produce ‘communications plans’ to put out a steady stream of positive news.”

Through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, Mr. Lender was able to retrieve several e-mails circulated among the Malloyalists concerning an administrative effort to polish the governor’s apple.

One of the intercepted e-mails involved an order from Andrew Doba, Mr. Malloy’s Communications Director, to the public information officers of several agencies.   

"You can help us by pulling together a plan that drives home how your agency is working to help residents," wrote Mr. Doba, who reports to Mr. Occhiogrosso. "Also, there is a separate calendar template that will take you through the end of the year. Please plug in any events that you are aware of that present an opportunity to talk about the good work being done by your agency."

The information officers, Mr. Lender reported, “responded with timetables for press releases or events designed to get the governor or a top agency official in front of cameras. ‘Event possibly with the Governor,’ said the Department of Motor Vehicles' draft of a calendar entry for Sept. 19. ‘Announcement of teen safe driving video contest with teens who helped create this year's theme and outreach to other teens.’"

The propaganda effort, which began in January, was well under way by June 19 when, attempting to set a possible political narrative, Mr. Malloy characterized the effort in a letter to his budget chief, Ben Barnes, as “a more centralized, structured process for benchmarking the change we've all been working so hard to implement in the executive branch… not so we can pat ourselves on the back; rather, so we can use those successes as a rationale for pushing change." A nice touch that: We would not want to be caught patting ourselves on the back. Mr. Malloy, certainly one of the most partisan governors in Connecticut, very likely saw the critical assault on his propaganda effort waltzing down the street in his direction and boldly confronted it.
Some critics of the propaganda effort regard the June 19 letter as a head-fake designed to blunt the obvious perception that Mr. Malloy was using putative non-partisan agency directors to cast luster on the governor for campaign purposes.

Since becoming governor, Mr. Malloy, taking a campaign page from the most over-exposed politician in the state, has had more face time per week than former Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, about whom it used to be said that there was no more dangerous spot in Connecticut than the space between the attorney general and a television camera. Mr. Blumenthal used his exposure as attorney general to great effect in his campaign against Linda McMahon.   

Senator John McKinney noticed the curve on the ball. "You can make the argument that this is designed to help us to make more positive change in government,” said the Fairfield Republican Senate leader, “and it's true that governors with 43 percent [approval] ratings have a harder time passing their proposals in the legislature. But I think they would be less than truthful if they said it wasn't also designed to put him in a better light than he currently is. It is undeniable that this is also about politics.''
Other governors have used agency heads to burnish their reputations before and during campaigns, Mr. McKinney noted. Leading the charge against former Governor Jodi Rell -- who had earlier produced an “Annual Report" containing at least 19 photos of herself and describing the governor’s ‘bold approach to leadership’ – was Democratic Malloyalist Occhiogrosso, who then characterized the production as “a campaign mailing [for which] she owes the taxpayers a lot of money."

That was then; this is now. The scale of gubernatorial propaganda will be much larger and more intrusive under Mr. Occhiogrosso's boss, a utopianist of rare metal who has vowed to remake Connecticut.

A recent report from Fred Carstensen, the director of the Connecticut Center of Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut, is a splash of cold water tossed into utopian faces: The UConn report discloses that Connecticut's economy is still shrinking, while the rest of the United States recovered from a recession that ended three years ago. Connecticut has fewer jobs now than in 1988, according to the report, "a generation without job creation.”

Facing such a stark reality, a reformist governor who has vowed to recreate the state, needs a strong propaganda arm to maintain the illusion of forward progress.

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