There is probably no official anywhere in the world who has the same combination of responsibility and media exposure as the mayor of New York City. There are national leaders with more authority, sure, but how many of them take questions directly from the press multiple times each week? There are plenty of leaders whom its easier to get on the phone, but not many of them have 8 million constituents.
Managing that day-to-day, intrinsically contentious relationship falls to the mayor’s communications team, led by his press secretary, Eric Phillips. He joined Ben Max and me on Max & Murphy to discuss Mayor de Blasio’s interactions with the press corps.
It’s worth noting that Phillips rejects the premise that de Blasio’s relationship with the press is unusually strained: To him, the tussling over on-topic/off-topic, the more than occasional snippiness, is all par for the course. Not that there isn’t room for improvement, on both ends.
“Largely the New York City press corps does a great job,” he told us. “I just wish it would be at times focused a little more on the long-terms stories of sort of where the New York City narrative is headed at any part moment on a variety of weighty, important issues to people’s lives. If we were devoting a little more attention to those stories to those arc stories, to those long arc stories, on education on housing on crime on infrastructure and the like, I think the public would be better served.”
Pressed to identify room for his boss to do better, he was candid about de Blasio’s tendency to take aggressive coverage personally.
“I think anybody who has the mayor’s job, whether it was Bloomberg or whether it was Giuliani or those before them, have a tendency to view the interaction with the person corps and the criticism of the press corps and the analysis of the press corps in a very personal way. I think you guys would. I would. I think it’s a natural, human condition,” Phillips said. “If I could program him as a robot every morning at Gracie Mansion and wind him up and send him out on his day dealing with the press and he would be thoughtful and smart and polite and kind and funny and jovial and smooth and all of those things, of course I would. But he’s a human. He’s not going to do that 100 percent of the time. I wouldn’t do that 100 percent of the time If I were him. Part of the press secretary’s job in general is to try to get the mayor in a head-space that at least more frequently than not is going to produce something close to that. It doesn’t always work. It wouldn’t always work if any of us were mayor either. But that’s a sort of constant challenge.”
Listen to the rest of our talk with Phillips—on how the press operation works, what his days are like and what he thinks of The New York Times—below: