Mayor G.T. Bynum shares his thoughts on the me­dia

Tulsa World - - Metro&region - Mike strain

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum re­mem­bers that Christ­mas break­fast well. He burned the eggs. He fears that's all any­one will re­mem­ber about an oth­er­wise fine break­fast — there was great ba­con! And pas­tries! I think he's prob­a­bly right. Burned eggs are a tall break­fast hur­dle.

Last week, the mayor shared some sto­ries when I asked him ques­tions about deal­ing with the me­dia. He used those eggs to make a good anal­ogy and also dis­cussed other top­ics — like be­ing “ter­ri­fied” in his first in­ter­view, deal­ing with bad news and a good phi­los­o­phy he learned from a U.S. se­na­tor.

Bynum is nearly half­way through his first term as mayor, and here are his thoughts on the me­dia:

P.J. Lassek was a Tulsa World City Hall re­porter for years be­fore mov­ing to Maine in 2012. She had the re­spect of those she cov­ered, and they all knew this equa­tion well: P.J. plus

His first in­ter­view:

B.S. equals trou­ble. Es­pe­cially for a city coun­cilor.

“I re­mem­ber my very first in­ter­view I did as a city coun­cilor with P.J. and be­ing com­pletely ter­ri­fied,” Bynum re­called. Turns out, he wasn't so wor­ried about P.J. He was wor­ried about the me­dia in gen­eral.

“I had heard all the ur­ban leg­ends of how re­porters try to trick you into say­ing things and then take it out of con­text,” Bynum said. “So I was ter­ri­fied of every­thing I said in my in­ter­view with her. (She might) take one thing I said and mis­rep­re­sent it.

“And what I quickly learned was — and maybe we're just unique here — al­most across the board, the me­dia here in Tulsa wants to get the story right.”

That's not to say ev­ery­one is per­fect.

“There are a cou­ple re­porters in the decade that I've been at the city that I think elected of­fi­cials felt like in­ten­tion­ally sen­sa­tion­al­ized things. And ev­ery­body knew who they were and just wouldn't do in­ter­views with them.”

He wasn't nam­ing names, but I know who it's not. He's on speak­ing terms with all our re­porters. In fact, he of­fered this thought on the Tulsa World's cov­er­age, which is led by Kevin Can­field: “I'm not just say­ing this be­cause I'm talk­ing to you. The Tulsa World re­ally is kind of the tip of the spear (at City Hall).”

How do you cope with bad news, be­cause it's in­evitable?:

But it's not all bad news. We report a lot of good news, and you can find it at tul­saworld. com/good­news.

“… It's easy to be mad that some­body is do­ing a story on some­thing that doesn't re­flect good news, but the re­al­ity is that you're not re­port­ing some­thing in­cor­rectly,” Bynum said. “It's just, you'd love to have good news all the time.”

What's the big­gest chal­lenge of deal­ing with the me­dia?:

“That's a good ques­tion,” he said, be­fore paus­ing in thought.

“Not as­sum­ing there's an agenda, just to be to­tally hon­est,” he said with a laugh. “That's prob­a­bly one of the more com­mon gripes I'll hear from elected of­fi­cials.

“Oh, well, re­porter X, they em­pha­sized this in their story, but they didn't em­pha­size that! And so clearly they are try­ing to slant things in a cer­tain di­rec­tion.”

Bynum said he “made that mis­take” in his first six months as a coun­selor. He shared an en­counter with the late Brian Bar­ber, a re­spected City Hall re­porter for the World. Bynum said he “chirped off” to Bar­ber, who “quickly put me in my place.

“And that was when it oc­curred to me: Un­less I feel like there is a fac­tual er­ror, I'm not go­ing to gripe about sto­ries. Ed­i­to­rial is to­tally dif­fer­ent,” he said laugh­ing as the World's Ed­i­to­rial Pages Ed­i­tor Wayne Greene sat nearby. “On news sto­ries, I'm not go­ing to call up and whine if I don't like how the story went.”

The word agenda is used a lot th­ese days, but — as I've writ­ten in this space be­fore — our goal is not to make any­one look good or bad when we're cov­er­ing the news. We want to pro­vide bal­anced in­for­ma­tion so peo­ple can make up their own mind.

The mayor said he learned a good les­son from former U.S. Sen. Don Nick­les, for whom Bynum worked. The les­son ap­plies to the me­dia and also ap­plies to deal­ing with fel­low lead­ers on pub­lic pol­icy de­bates, Bynum said.

“You can ar­gue with peo­ple about their po­si­tion, but don't ques­tion their mo­tives,” Bynum said. “When you get into their mo­tives, then it be­comes per­sonal, and you're never go­ing to win that de­bate any­way.”


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