On the Mike Pence/State News Agency

Associated Press
Associated Press

When I saw the top of the home page headline concerning the newly proposed State news agency being proposed by the Pence administration (it was the top story at Breitbart.com) Tuesday, it was completely impossible for me to comprehend what I was seeing.

As a broadcaster with WIBC, an affiliate of Network Indiana, all I could think was that something had gone badly wrong at the top of the governor’s office food chain, and that someone kidnapped Governor Pence and locked him in a very dark place.

Important to understand here that I have been good friends with Mike Pence for the better part of 20 years now, and in fact, the show that I host daily was one that he started in the mid-nineties.  I took it over when he announced his run for Congress.  And in all those years, through all those incarnations as first a rookie, then a committee chair, to chair of the Republican Study Committee and finally leadership at the top levels of the House, he had been a real hawk on matters of the protection of journalistic endeavors and their work product.  More than once he championed causes intent on such protections, so the idea that he would ever countenance some kind of direct competitor, operated by government right here in the heartland, convinced me at once of said kidnapping.

Not so.  The document obtained by the Indianapolis Star that got disseminated all over hell’s half acre was not some committee level thought starter or sketch of some ideas for a good clearing house website to consolidate and make accessible the various releases emanating from the large number of state agencies at work in state government.  Upon reading it through, it became instantly clear that what had been generated for interdepartmental/interagency review was a comprehensive blueprint for a state-run news outlet that would not just compete with the private sector and existing entities, but at some points would “scoop” the press with its own “breaking news” hits.  It had a board of governors, a managing editor, an editorial board—no really, a freaking editorial board!  Inescapable conclusion?  Whoever did this was about as far from the political and constitutional philosophy of Mike Pence as anyone could get.  But he/they were working for him.

When I called the Governor about coming on the show he was quick to agree, but in our ensuing conversation it was clear that this beast had gotten drafted, spread across the spectrum of state government, and ended up in the papers and across the Internet without ever having gotten to his desk.  He simply did not know that it was there and sure as hell didn’t know what was in it.  Now, this is not by way of excuse or justification; but I so advise because, for whatever management errors occurred, we are not governed by some Soviet throwback, enamored of the idea of recreating Isvestia—maybe now INvestia?—someone who desires to undermine the fourth estate.

Of course the question of the hour is, how does something like this get legs—or more important, maybe—who gets a job in state government with ideas like that?!  Here are a couple of observations or conclusions that might put some perspective on this topic.

First, Mike Pence is the kind of leader who, once he reposes trust in people, he tends to give them their heads and lets ‘em work.  Of course that’s all fine so long as those people are a.) worthy of that trust, and b.) mature enough and savvy enough to handle the jobs they are given.  I don’t know that either of those was missing in the people who built the architecture of a state run news agency, but sure as hell in this case they needed some adult supervision—from the git-go—that they didn’t get.

Well, that all lands in the governor’s lap; his leadership team, press guy, chief of staff, to be sure, but mostly with him.  And that’s really the bottom line.  Mike Pence didn’t ride herd on his guys close enough that he saw such things before they got out of his office.  But that’s all he got wrong.  The more he read of the memo, the worse it got, and the more he understood the outcry.  Evidence the fact that when I asked him on air the day after this all hit the fan, “so is this thing KAPUT now?” his immediate response was, “oh, it’s a lot more than that.”  I wish I could say I never experienced having people who worked for me making a mess I had not just to clean up but to eat, but that would be a real whopper.

What we have here is a mistake and maybe the reposing of too much trust in the wrong places, at least this time.  We do not have “Pravda on the Prairie,” as Dr. Berry quipped in her Wednesday followup story at Breitbart.  Never fear, Doctor. He’s still here and still a conservative—and a chief executive who has just met face to face with a lesson he will not have to learn twice.


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