MEDIA WATCH: Basically, The Press Has Had It With The Wehby Campaign

The honeymoon, as they say, is over.

At one point not long ago, Monica Wehby was the apple of the Oregon media’s eye.

You'll notice no actual reporter is pictured.

You’ll notice no actual reporter is pictured.

Her handlers and campaign donors had cultivated an image of Wehby as a moderate Republican (at least relative to the right-wing eccentrics running the GOP, like Art Robinson), and she banked on her reputation as a pediatric neurosurgeon. She was exactly the kind of candidate the right-leaning press (and the national GOP bigwigs) wanted to take on Sen. Jeff Merkley. The Oregonian editorial board, for instance, was absolutely gushing with praise in their endorsement of Wehby.

That love affair, though, has since come to an acrimonious end.

It all began when Wehby decided to duck out of the only televised live debate between she and fellow GOP candidate Jason Conger. The debate—to have been hosted by KGW—would have been the only chance for Republican primary voters to see the candidates respond to questions in a live televised format.

The Oregonian editorial board–her biggest champion in the press–delivered a blistering rebuke of Wehby’s decision, calling it “wimping out.”

Wehby’s campaign masterminds must reason she has a lot more to lose from a live, widely televised debate than to gain. That doesn’t say much about the campaign’s confidence in its candidate. And if Team Wehby doesn’t consider her ready for the crucible of a live TV debate, why should Republican voters consider her ready for a race against incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley? Or service in the Senate, for that matter? Is this what accountability will look like when Wehby is on the Hill?

And that’s from her biggest fans.

Things went from bad to worse as soon as the media started reporting—just days before primary ballots were due—about multiple stalking and harassment allegations against Wehby by her former boyfriend and an ex-husband.

Rather than address the charges head on, Wehby went into hiding, refusing to even talk to the media.

In fact, at the end of an appearance at the Portland City Club on May 16, Wehby and her handlers made a mad dash for the exits, refusing to take questions from the press. In the process, one of her aides actually pushed a news camera away:

Within days, it was apparent that Wehby’s campaign plan was to keep her as far away from the public as possible.

Wehby even refused to speak to the press on Election Night—when she beat Conger by 13 points—pledging to reporters that she’d talk to them that Thursday. Care to guess how that turned out?

And then for another two weeks, her campaign was completely silent, refusing to talk to Oregon reporters. Last week, she agreed to speak with Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes, but only answered questions about her harassment allegations by attacking Sen. Jeff Merkley’s campaign as a “Band of Bullies.”

KGW reporters, shunned once again, don’t appear happy.

Since they couldn’t interview Wehby, they instead interviewed Mapes about interviewing Wehby:

Two weeks ago, Dr. Monica Wehby easily won the U.S. Senate Republican Primary.

What hasn’t been so easy is getting the first-time political candidate to answer questions about three separate times someone she knows called police because of what he considered harassment.

Now, for the first time, Wehby is talking to a journalist about those reports. We had to go to our news partner, The Oregonian, to see what she said, because the Wehby campaign has not yet granted KGW an interview.

“You know, it was interesting,” senior political reporter Jeff Mapes said. “She said, ‘No, I was not trying to avoid questions from reporters.’” (emphasis incredulously added)

The Eugene Register Guard has basically had it, heavily criticizing Wehby’s decision-making for the past several weeks:

Republican Senate nominee Monica Wehby is off to a stumbling start in her race against Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley.

Since winning the GOP nomination, she has attacked Democrats, including Merkley and his “band of bullies,” for the release, shortly before the May 20 primary election, of a 2013 police report in which a former boyfriend accused Wehby of “stalking” him at home. In other police reports obtained by The Oregonian newspaper through a public records request, Wehby’s former husband called Portland police in 2007 and 2009 to complain about her behavior while the two were going through divorce and child custody issues.

With the exception of an interview with a conservative talk show host, Wehby refused to discuss the reports with reporters — until Tuesday, when she met with veteran Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes.

If Mapes was hoping for a candid explanation, he was disappointed. She accused the media of sensationalizing the reports and dismissed them as minor personal incidents that should never have been made public.

There’s still plenty of time for Wehby­ to get her campaign back on track. She should call a news conference and state that she is willing to fully answer every question, even if it takes until midnight. Then she should declare that she’s done talking about the police reports and is moving on to the critically important issues Oregonians are concerned about — starting with health care.

Making matters even worse, over the Memorial Day Weekend, Wehby held a handful of small public events in rural parts of the state, but didn’t announce them until an hour before, making it impossible for any political reporters to attend.

Wehby’s refusal to answer questions in public is now a bit of a joke with the press. If she plans on running a credible campaign in a way that engages voters on the key issues affecting their lives, she’s going to have to do more than issue soundbytes attacking her opponents.

Meanwhile, Wehby’s absence has given Sen. Merkley a great opportunity—he’s the only one out there on the campaign trail talking about standing up for the middle-class and fixing the economy.

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