I Got a Letter From the Government the Other Day

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 21 2013 12:12 PM

I Got a Letter From the Government the Other Day

155053771

Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

A new, quick piece from me—aided greatly by Emma Roller—explains why senators insist on sending "formal letters" to each other, then releasing these letters to the media. As former Harry Reid spokesman Jim Manley explains, it's an old tradition that's been repurposed as a media-grabbing ploy.

“When you’re sending an official letter you’re killing two birds with one stone,” says Manley. “You’re not ambushing your colleague, but you’re not giving the recipient the chance to shape the message in his own direction, either. It’s far too easy to dream up a press strategy that involves writing a letter and quickly releasing it to reporters, making the recipient look pressured. There are strategists who spend whole days thinking of stuff like this.”

It's a short article, and it doesn't include the rest of the reason that congresscritters often prefer sending letters to other methods of communication. You don't just get extra media attention. You get extra attention from the recipients, who are worried about the media attention, and will work harder to put out a response. Tweet them, and you might not get anything. But members of Congress and administration officials and nominees feel compelled to respond to letters.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 2:44 PM Where Do I Start With Mystery Science Theater 3000?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.