Editor’s note: This letter refers to Anne Galloway’s column about Gov. Peter Shumlin’s press conferences, “Off the Fifth floor: Inside baseball, Shumlin style.”
By Susan Allen, Special Assistant to the Governor
A recent column by Anne Galloway asserts that Governor Peter Shumlin is inaccessible to Vermont reporters and does not allow sufficient time for questions during news conferences. She states as fact that reporters are “lucky to get 10 to 15 minutes” to question the governor.
Anne Galloway knows better. What Anne did not inform her readers was that the very day that her column was published, she spent not an hour, not two hours, but thirteen hours of unrestricted time traveling with Governor Shumlin throughout the state. I find it deeply troubling and misleading that in a column criticizing the governor for not being accessible, Anne failed to mention that she was about to spend the entire day with him.
Equally troubling are Anne’s assertions about the time the governor spends answering reporters’ questions. As a former journalist, I was trained to focus not on assumptions, but on facts – and to let the facts tell the story. Anne’s assertion that reporters are “lucky to get 10 to 15 minutes” with the governor is flatly untrue. I know that not only because I field – and in the overwhelming majority of instances, grant – requests from reporters to speak with the governor, but also because I looked at the facts. Here’s what I found:
1. Governor Shumlin has held 47 press conferences and 25 bill signings since taking office, all of which provided opportunities for reporters to ask whatever questions they wished to ask. In addition, the governor routinely responds to phone calls from reporters on whatever subject they wish to discuss.
2. Of the 19 press conferences that we have on video file, the average period of questions and answers from the press was 27 minutes. Ironically, Anne wrote in her article and in subsequent communication with me that Governor Shumlin should aim for 20 to 25 minutes of Q&A time in his press conferences. I am not holding my breath that Anne will write a follow up column praising the governor for exceeding her target.
3. On only three occasions was the press conference stopped by the governor’s staff due to time constraints. In those three examples, the Q&A period was 15, 35, and 33 minutes. The other press conferences ended because there were no further questions from reporters.
Anne is entitled to disagree with the substance of Governor Shumlin’s press conferences, but making up facts is quite another matter. I have enjoyed a good relationship with Anne over the past seven months – in the vast majority of instances when she has requested interviews with Governor Shumlin or members of his administration, those requests have been granted. While I haven’t always agreed with her conclusions, I have respected her work as fair and thorough. This instance is an unfortunate exception.