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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL206.PRB - Take Out the Trash Day
This fall I've been thinking about the old "West Wing" TV show that first aired in 2000.
It was an entertainment series focused on the White House staff working for a fictional president, Jed Bartlet.
It was one of the best public policy shows I've seen, and one of the most accurate fictional accounts I've found dealing with governmental issues and processes.
Former top presidential advisers of both parties served as writers and consultants for the program.
It was so accurate that I urged my journalism students to watch it. The educational value went beyond the political process.
Many of the episodes focused on complicated public policy issues like gay rights, medical insurance, education, tobacco lawsuits, environmental protection and elderly health care.
These episodes became near teaching lessons providing background on the issues they, and I, were covering.
It was from a "West Wing" episode centered on the Iowa presidential caucuses that I gained a much better understanding about the conflicting economic claims of mandating ethanol in gasoline.
It became an invaluable lesson for me because the same year that show aired, ethanol became a major legislative issue when the man who had campaigned for mandating ethanol took office as governor. One one year later, Gov. Matt Blunt signed the requirement into law.
But the episode I've been remembering this fall was titled "Take Out the Trash Day."
Asked about that phrase by a young staffer, Presidential Aide Josh Lyman explained that news for which they wanted limited coverage would get dumped out Friday. When asked why, Lyman's response was that "no one reads the paper on Saturday."
It was the first time I heard the phrase "take out the trash day," even when I was covering Congress.
To check my memory, I called up a long-time friend who had been a Washington wire service reporter covering the Jimmy Carter administration and Watergate, Wes Pippert.
While Wes also does not remember encountering that phrase as a reporter, we both clearly remember what it described.
We reminisced our many experiences covering news releases government officials dumped out on Fridays about news they really did not want covered in depth.
My thoughts about that old "West Wing" episode returned on a Friday -- Sept. 7, when Gov. Jay Nixon issued a release that one of his top aides had been named to a high paid, six-figure, state post as a utility regulator on the Public Service Commission.
Less than a month later on another Friday, Oct. 2, the governor's office issued a release that Nixon had commuted to life in prison the death sentence of a convicted killer. The announcement provided no meaningful explanation.
The following Friday, Oct. 9, the administration issued an announcement that the Health Department director had moved to a lower-level job as a lawyer for the Mental Health Department. Again, there was no explanation for the switch.
"Take out the trash day" is not limited to Democratic governors.
Late Friday, Oct. 23, House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, released as lengthy set of recommendations to address the sexually inappropriate behavior of legislators with college interns working in the statehouse.
Both Wes and I speculated on the various reasons that so often we experienced Fridays as "trash days."
At end of Friday, it's more difficult to reach others on the other side for balance to the stories.
And, we both confessed, reporters are looking to get home to their families on Friday afternoon -- particularly given the grueling hours spent after a week when Congress or the Missouri legislature had been in session.
And, finally, sometimes I think a Friday dump simply reflects the rush to get something decided and announced before the end of the week without any intention to suppress coverage.
I suspect that might have been the reason for Richardson's Friday afternoon release of his intern proposals -- to have a response before the weekend to the public demands for action by Democrats earlier in the week.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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