I occasionally ask this question of my students: have you ever seen Gov. Bobby Jindal on the LSU campus? Their answer, of course, is no.
It’s no wonder. Jindal, having slashed the state’s higher education budget by more than $400 million, shows no interest in explaining his policies or hearing from students and faculty about the impact of decisions that result in cancelled courses, laid-off instructors or higher tuition bills.
Our governor is rarely in Louisiana, anyway, so when would he have time to visit LSU? (You may recall that two years ago, after begging the governor to visit the campus to explain his budget cuts, the LSU student body president wrote Jindal via a New Hampshire newspaper in hopes of reaching him.)
But Jindal’s disrespect for LSU didn’t begin with the budget cuts, which were the result of his decision to blow a hole in the state budget by slashing income taxes for wealthier people. He and his staff have been disrespecting LSU from almost the first days of his administration.
What reminded me of this was a photo I noticed the other day on Twitter. It’s a picture of Mitt Romney hugging Politico reporter Ginger Gibson after he gave her a birthday cake. Romney, it seems, gives a cake to all the reporters in his travelling press corps when their birthdays come around.
It’s a nice touch and a smart move. It never hurts to respect and show kindness to the people who write about you for a major news organization. In fact, it’s a good rule to treat everyone with respect, right?
That’s where Jindal enters the picture again.
It turns out that only four years ago, Gibson, the Politico reporter now assigned to cover the GOP presidential nominee, was an LSU political communication major at the Manship School. She was also a Daily Reveille reporter assigned to cover Gov. Bobby Jindal.
And guess who refused to return Gibson’s phone calls or even put her on the Governor’s Office press release list?
You guessed it — Bobby Jindal.
In fact, Jindal and his press office were so rude and dismissive to Gibson and the LSU students who covered them that the Reveille eventually took to posting in the paper the number of days that had passed since Jindal’s office first refused to return their phone calls.
Gibson even wrote an editorial — “Jindal, call us back or fire press secretary Sellers” — to Jindal in hopes of persuading him and his office to begin communicating with them:
Dear Gov. Bobby Jindal,
Could someone in your press office please return a phone call from The Daily Reveille?
Or is “Melissa Sellers,” your alleged press secretary, just a figment of your imagination? Maybe there is no one employed by your press office capable of returning phone calls or answering e-mails.
Maybe none of the above is true, and she just refuses to acknowledge us. If that’s the case, maybe you should save the state her $85,000-a-year salary or find someone to be a “press secretary” that is willing to work with the press – all of it.
The repeated refusal by your press office to acknowledge the student newspaper seems indicative of a prevailing mentality, one that puts college newspapers – and to a larger extent, college students – at the bottom of your priority list.
Sellers has yet to return one of the numerous phone calls and e-mails sent to her office by reporters, columnists and editors at The Daily Reveille. She also refuses to add us to the media advisory list to alert reporters and editors when press conferences will take place or when media advisories have been issued.
It’s not hard to hit the reply button on a BlackBerry or dial our number, even if it is to inform reporters that she has no intention of responding to their questions – at least that would be acknowledgment of some sort.
At the time, I remember being completely perplexed by the ham-handed way Jindal and his press operation were mishandling the LSU student newspaper. I recalled that when I was communications director for Gov. Kathleen Blanco we not only put the Louisiana college newspapers on our press list and dutifully returned their phone calls, we even organized a special press conference with Gov. Blanco for college journalists.
Also, at the time, I remarked that Ginger Gibson was the most aggressive and talented Reveille reporter I’d known. I predicted that she would be covering the presidential race in 2012 for the Washington Post and Bobby Jindal, if he still had national ambitions, might regret having treated her and her Reveille colleague with such disdain. (Ginger, of course, is a pro and I’m certain would always treat him with fairness and respect.)
I wasn’t right about the publication for which Gibson would write, but I was correct about our former student’s enormous talent and her future role covering a presidential campaign for a major news organization.
I doubt Bobby Jindal remembers Ginger’s name. But he should. He and his press staff missed an opportunity to build a relationship with a student who would someday be a well-respected and influential national political journalist.
In Jindal’s defense, it’s probably worth noting that he wasn’t just picking on LSU’s student newspaper. It’s not so much that he’s afraid of the Reveille. He’s really afraid to face the students the paper represents.
Jindal doesn’t want to face these students because he has no acceptable answer to the basic question they might ask him: why did you slash the budget for my school and raise my tuition and then give that money, in the form of income tax cuts, to the wealthiest Louisiana taxpayers?
Such an encounter, of course, will never occur. But wouldn’t you love to hear Jindal’s answer?