Politicians of every stripe find splashy emails their communiqué of choice

Scott Swanson

“Hey,” yells the email on my computer inbox list.

Wow, it’s from U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

Just like the one I got yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. In fact, I get at least one email from Kamela just about every day – no exaggeration.

And Bernie Sanders. Chuck Schumer. The Democratic National Committee. And the Republicans (to a slightly lesser extent). Newt Gingrich. Mitch McConnell. Karl Rove. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Miriam Swanson. Wait, that’s my wife.

Team Beto. Followed by (drum roll), Joe Biden.

Every day, filling up my inbox.

Telling me that unless I do something – sign their petition, send somebody an email, or most of all, send a donation, the world is going to go right over the edge.

I’ve been in journalism a long time, but this is new. You cannot imagine how many highly energized people there are out there in the Politics-Land. And they’ve figured out how to get right in my face – every day, all day long – for free.

Probably because I run your local community newspaper, I’m a prime recipient for seemingly every political strategist or self-appointed political pundit in the nation.

I get at least two or three dozen emails every day – that’s more than one an hour, 24/7 – from all corners of the political spectrum, usually screaming for my attention to some crisis – from stopping Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump, to saving children on the Mexican border. Again, this is not an exaggeration.

It can be really tiring.

When this surge really began, right about the time Donald Trump got elected, one of the biggest producers was Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, from whom I can pretty honestly say I got at least one a day for the first two years after Trump took office.

I kept a file of them for a while, with plans to analyze them to try to figure out what Jeff’s strategy was, since the topics were wide-ranging, but then my computer’s email client burped and blew that folder to smithereens… Not sure if it was due to the volume of contents, but that’s beside the point.

Jeff’s backed off quite a bit recently, as other wanna-be’s have picked up the pace.

To be fair, our reporter Sean Morgan and I have discussed whether Jeff (or any of these other people) is really writing this stuff or whether it is zealous staffers – the tone is often what you might expect from a recent college graduate. But the emails have the principals’ names on them.

When Trump first took office, “Jeff” sent emails for months urging his constituents (or whoever the recipients of this email are) to “resist” just about everything the president was proposing or doing. There were “answer this question” surveys, petitions, “click here to register your outrage” buttons and such.

Earlier this year, his email stream has focused on the situation at the Mexican border, especially the situation with the children in custody there, which Jeff’s email accused the administration of “deliberately” creating “the family humanitarian crisis at the border, specifically targeting children as pawns … purposely choosing to inflict harm on children in a misguided attempt to deter people seeking safety from coming to America.”

That tone is pretty standard for both sides of the aisle, though I should mention that many of the frequent right-wing writers are not elected politicians.

I have gotten messages for years from “Understanding the Threat,” which, as the name implies, appears to be a conspiracy-minded organization aimed at Islam.

The problem I have with most of these missives is that they are about as reliable, as information sources, as most radio talk shows, TV news channels that are frequently accused of bias, and newspaper reporters who think they’re smarter than their readers and therefore should tell us what to think. They tell you only what they want you to know, and there’s a lot more pathos than logic.

They’ve also discovered the power of graphics. Particularly in the last year, the email messages have started arriving loaded with splashy headlines and photos showing their target(s) or their hero(es) in favorable or unfavorable poses. They emphasize all the horrific facts that they want me to know, usually peppered with loaded phrases (“assault on America,” “persecution of Congress,” “bigotry,” “fake,” “nasty,” “false,” etc.) which, as I mentioned above, don’t really reveal any sense of objectivity. (Wait, there’s another side to this story?)

None of this does much to reduce the political divisiveness both sides keep complaining about.

On a recent morning I waded through several emails from Harris, who’s now angling for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and her staff – and one from her husband).

Seems like I get one from Beto just about every five minutes, though that IS a slight exaggeration. Beto’s posts show us what a nice guy he is, full of photos of the candidate listening intently as earnest, well-groomed “normal” people sit around him at a table, or parading past supporters in “Beto” T-shirts with a cute kid on his shoulders.

Then Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sends me frequent calls to help defeat Susan Collins “who claims to be a moderate but “voted with Trump 94 percent of the time in 2017” or offering me a chance to participate in a straw poll “so we know (which of the 25 pictured candidates) you are supporting in the primary?”

It’s a jungle out there. Never boring.

Have to say, politicians are not above a bit of bait-and-switch as well. Inserted below the “Correction Needed” subject line on a message from the National Republican Congressional Committee, I learn, when I open it, that “your membership status is not in our records.”

Uh, there’s a reason for that. And don’t send me bogus messages about “corrections.” We take them seriously at this newspaper.

During Oregon’s long legislative session this year, I got a lot more email than usual from both sides of the aisle in Salem. It’s a little less splashy than the stuff from the feds, more information-based. Refreshing, really, though not without partisan flavors.

Things got a little rough when the Republicans walked out, but I didn’t fall asleep reading those.

The volume from state politicos is less, but I occasionally get emails from political pundits or activists – especially environmental law firms and action groups that send me emails about their efforts to stop logging or protect wildlife (wolves, cougars), toxic chemicals, etc.

Our late Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, when he was a state senator, used to send out a regular newsletter reporting things that were happening in the legislature – with his commentary. Now Sen. Dennis Linthicum, who represents the area around Klamath Falls, has taken up the mantle.

The reason I’ve paid particular attention to what they’ve had to say is Richardson, and now Linthicum, have addressed issues that are very real to us rural dwellers – unlike seemingly just about everybody else in Salem. And that’s why we’ve run their “commentary” occasionally on our opinion page.

If you haven’t already asked this question, it’s probably obvious: Why do I put up with this? Why not just unsubscribe to all this stuff, or at least make sure it ends up in the spam file? Without counting these, I typically get well over 100 emails a day – every day, which require a considerable amount of time and mental energy to deal with.

Here’s why: Because it’s not necessarily all baloney. Every once in a while one shows up, even from less credible sources, that is worthy of consideration. It’s good to know what people are doing, or saying. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets this stuff.

As a news editor, albeit one whose focus is predominantly local, it’s my job to stay on top of things.

When I was a reporter, I used to cover a lot of public bodies (city councils, school boards, county commissions/boards of supervisors) whose meetings invariably attracted regular attendees. They would regularly get up and proclaim that unless we put aluminum shields on our heads, we were going to be zapped with rays from spy satellites in the sky or some other threat that none of us were aware of.

While the validity of some of these claims may have been questionable, a lot of these individuals had something else to offer: They spent a lot of their time poring over voluminous staff reports (because they didn’t trust anybody) and, once in a while, they would come up with something truly noteworthy (especially for a reporter who lacked the time to read every word of those staff reports.)

So, although I didn’t necessarily run out to buy a roll of aluminum foil, I always tried to listen as they rambled on. You just never knew.

The same principle applies here. You never know. This is politics today. That’s why I have to keep reading this stuff.

And now it’s time to move on to Facebook…

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