The passing of former Mayor Ed Koch gives us a second shot this week to comment on how different public figures handled the media.
Earlier this week we discussed the skills (sic) of San Francisco 49er coach Jim Harbaugh.
Ed Koch was about as challenging as Mr. Harbaugh.
I was an NPR reporter during the Koch years in New York. The Mayor had three different approaches when he did not like a question, i.e. he was about to be caught:
Tactic # 1: He would answer with an obscure fact that the reporter didn’t know. This would seem to imply that he knew more and the direct answer to the question wasn’t very relevant given the new information. He rarely took a follow up from this.
Tactic # 2: Mayor Koch would ask the reporter a question. This move would again derail the process from original query and Hizzoner would move on to the next reporter.
Tactic #3: Edward I. Koch would take a vote on who was right, him or the reporter who asked a question and had a couple of facts imbedded in the query. I can’t remember a single time when the press corps said, “Mr. Mayor, the reporter is right and you are wrong.”
Why did Mayor Koch get away with it so often? First, most of these skirmishes were not on live TV or radio so they became outtakes. Second, he satisfied most of the other things reporters need. He was entertaining, passionate AND quotable. To answer his own legendary question to voters at subway stops, “How am I doin’?” You did just fine, your Honor.