In Crisis or Not, Politicians Tweak Media Spin

Sen. Larry Craig says he may still fight for his Senate seat if the lawmaker can clear his name with the Senate Ethics Committee. Meanwhile, actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson is expected to announce that he's officially in the running for the Republican presidential nomination.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

With a single word, Idaho Republican Larry Craig may have let himself room to keep his job. Senator Craig said last weekend that he intends to resign after his arrest in a Minneapolis men's room. He said he intends to resign. That was the word he used, and it's a word he explained in a voicemail message he accidentally left on the wrong person's phone.

Senator LARRY CRAIG (Republican, Idaho): Yes, Billy, this is Larry Craig calling. You can reach me on my cell. Arlen Specter is now willing to come out in my defense, arguing that it appears by all that he knows I've been railroaded and all of that. Having all of that, we've reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.

MONTAGNE: The newspaper Roll Call obtained that tape. NPR's Juan Williams has been listening. And, Juan, what makes the Senator think he could keep his job?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, the hope, Renee, is that if you get a change in the guilty plea in Minnesota - and that's what Billy Martin, the criminal defense lawyer is working on - that then that could impact the ethics investigation here in Washington, impact public attitudes and allow the Senator to remain in office.

MONTAGNE: Now the voicemail, and, by the way, it went accidentally to a complete stranger, someone unconnected to politics. That voicemail…

WILLIAMS: That's right.

MONTAGNE: …that voicemail goes out at some length. And I want to play some more of it, because what you hear is a veteran politician at work in a crisis.

Sen. CRAIG: I think it is very important for you to make as bold a statement as you are comfortable with this afternoon, and I would hope you could make it in front of the cameras. I think it would help drive the story that I'm willing to fight, that I've got quality people out there fighting in my defense, and that this thing could take a new turn or a new shape, has that potential.

MONTAGNE: That again Senator Craig.

And, Juan, setting aside the details of this particular scandal, is this the normal language of people trying to manage the news?

WILLIAMS: Well, in this era, of course, Renee, you've got to somehow manage crisis. In fact, there are people who are called crisis managers. But you could have heard this phone call going back to, let's say, the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

So what you're seeing is an effort, I think, to try to shape the events that are going forward, and especially the public perception through media in a way that would give Senator Craig wiggle room, if you will, or the possibility of staying alive politically.

MONTAGNE: Okay, he may want to keep his job, but, Juan, can he keep his job?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, the governor in Idaho, Butch Otter, has not appointed a replacement, Renee. And in fact he has support from his fellow Republicans, the junior senator in the state, Mike Crapo, as well as the two congressmen from Idaho. The real question is going into this Senate luncheon today, can he get some of his fellow Senators in addition to Senator Specter to give him some support? That will give him a chance to stay alive.

MONTAGNE: Now we're getting analysis from NPR'S Juan Williams. And, Juan, Larry Craig isn't the only Republican in the news. Fred Thompson will finally announce his presidential campaign with a Web video and then some ads on Fox TV. Who is his intended audience? What is his audience?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's an interesting three-step. You know, he'll go on - he'll put an ad on Fox before the debate tonight. And then he's going to go on to Jay Leno's show. And then he's going to, at midnight, launch a 15-minute Web cast. And then, as another element to it, he'll start campaigning - go to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and back at his home state of Tennessee.

But the audience, Renee, is Southern white conservative Republicans. The calculus here is that that conservative Southern base doesn't have a candidate. That they're uncomfortable with Rudy Giuliani, the consistent leader in the polls, because of his socially liberal stands on gays, abortion, immigration. That they're not happy with Senator McCain because of his stand on immigration, not happy with Mitt Romney because the former Massachusetts' governor has shifted on several issues from abortion to immigration, question of his Mormon religion even.

So what you see is Thompson wants to tell conservative Republicans he is their guy, and that's why he's so controlling about this message.

MONTAGNE: And any chance that Fred Thompson has waited too long?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I don't think so. He's going to have an impact. The question is whether or not this is a candidacy that will implode or explode on launch, Renee, because there's going to be a high-level of scrutiny to all that he says.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much. NPR's Juan Williams.

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