Press Box

Boies on the Bus

Nobody faults the car salesman who answers his door one Saturday morning and ends up buying the $1,700 Rainbow SE with Power Nozzle vacuum cleaner after a 30-minute demonstration by a door-to-door peddler. The American salesman, everyone concedes, is the American salesman’s easiest mark.

So, nobody should be surprised when reporters are seduced with their own techniques of flattery, brown-nosing, and sycophancy. In today’s Page One Washington Post story about Gore attorney David Boies, “Gore’s Legal Eagle Has Daunting Task,” reporters James V. Grimaldi and Ceci Connolly unintentionally reveal why the press has purchased the $1,700 Rainbow SE with Power Nozzle vacuum cleaner from Boies then gone on to order the satellite dish and WeedWacker accessories: Boies works reporters the way reporters work their sources.

Grimaldi and Connolly write:

Part of [Boies’] friendliness with the media is strategic: He uses reporters to test the power of his arguments.“You’re getting an opportunity to really test your answers and see whether somebody has a point you haven’t thought of,” Boies said of his media interaction.

It is preposterous that David Boies–legal gunslinger, graduate of Yale Law School, slayer of the Justice Department in U.S. v. IBM, slayer of Microsoft in U.S. v. Microsoft, and ubiquitous champion of the vice president of the United States–would need to solicit the awesome legal ignorance of the journalistic community in crafting his legal strategies. He tests his legal theories on reporters when he has Laurence Tribe on the payroll!!?? But there it is, presented at face value, by Grimaldi and Connolly. They actually capture Boies in the act of trolling for reporters’ ignorance at Andrew’s Bar & Grill in Tallahassee. Boies floats a ludicrous idea about filing a separate lawsuit over the Seminole County ballots that serves no strategic purpose other than enabling his adoring reporters to feel brilliant:

[Boies] suggested asking the court to determine which voters properly filled out the absentee-ballot applications and allowing those voters to vote again. Reporters around the table looked at him incredulously. “If you guys don’t buy it, I’m not sure it’s going to get very far,” Boies said.

The smacking sounds of suck-up resound. Why are Grimaldi and Connolly deaf to Boies’ con?

Call it an occupational disability. Reporters can’t hear Boies’ slurping because they spend 80 percent of their time similarly splattering their own sources and subjects with tongue-baths. “I know you’re very busy, Professor Physics, but I’d really appreciate your help in understanding neutrino decay.” … “I’ve read your fantastic textbook on criminal justice, and I wonder if you have the time to help me better understand the implications of Miranda.” … “You’re the only detective on the force who understands how the chief is destroying morale. I’m not asking for documents, I just want you to help me flag the potential errors in my story.”

It costs Boies only a few minutes to feed reporters’ narcissism. By soliciting their advice, he makes them feel like collaborators in his brilliant enterprise. And once they have bounced the sophisticated legal theories around with the big boys, they’ll express their admiration for his strategies in their stories. The payout from such an investment can be immense–especially in the case of Gore v. Bush, when part of the war is being fought on the battlefield of public relations, which can only be accessed through the press. And if Boies ultimately loses this case, the investment is not lost. He can count on the press corps’ “help” in strategizing and analyzing his next big trial.