Elizabeth Warren Doesn’t Like an Unplanned Soundbite

Her book gives insight into her press strategy.

Elizabeth Warren

Associated Press

Elizabeth Warren likes a soundbite, just not a soundbite she doesn’t control.

That’s the takeaway from a section of her new book, excerpted by the Boston Globe, explaining her shyness around reporters. This has been a particular point of interest for the Globe since Warren took office. Last August, two reporters there described how Warren eschews the Senate tradition of chatting with reporters in the Senate halls.

She’ll either huddle close to a Senate colleague, breezing past several reporters as if they don’t exist, or use a variety of other methods to avoid hallway questions. There’s the tricky cellphone to her ear maneuver, the more athletic dash for the elevator, the outright sprint to catch a departing tram.

That shyness is in part explained by an interview she did with the Daily Beast during her campaign for Senate, from which emerged the quote, “I created much of the intellectual foundation for [Occupy Wall Street].” Anyone who followed the campaign will recall the countless headlines that followed, all reading “Elizabeth Warren Takes Intellectual Credit for Occupy Wall Street” or some such.

In her book, Warren admits that she was not misquoted and that she did sound presumptuous. “My words sounded so puffy and self-important, and they made it seem as if I were trying to take credit for a protest I wasn’t even part of. I wondered if some alien had invaded my body and said something stupid while the real me was visiting a desert island.”

Warren’s problem with the encounter was that the quote came in the context of a long interview in which she felt she’d generally performed well. And yet, one sensational soundbite had overshadowed it all. From this experience, she concluded, “The old way of talking with the press — long conversations and lively discussions — was gone.”

That doesn’t mean Senator Warren has either given up sound bites as a tool or accepted a smaller press profile. In fact, she’s particularly adept at getting her words to go viral. She maintains a lively Twitter presence, which is, by its nature, a collection of soundbites.

She may hide in the Senate hallways, but on the Senate floor, she has a knack for drama, with speeches, quotes, and confrontations that ricochet around the web. She appears on cable news, a riskier medium, but one where she can at least count on being quoted in full sentences.

Most journalists will agree that there’s something lost, though, in a press policy that denies the public a glimpse at Warren’s more candid reactions and impressions to developments in Washington and at home. But Warren seems to have to decided that with the “gotcha” culture of political media, these moments are too risky to endure.