Rep. Jahana Hayes issued a scathing response last week to stories in Connecticut newspapers, leaving some media observers in the state in doubt about the soundness of her strategy.
Typically members of Congress court positive relationships with their hometown media outlets.
But in response to stories published by The Connecticut Mirror and The American-Republican this month, the freshman Democrat adopted a decoy most often deployed by President Donald Trump — casting doubt on the stories she objected to by describing them as “clickbait journalism at its worst” in a statement released Sunday.
“She certainly has the right to complain about coverage and be vocal about it, but I’m not sure why this is the hill she wants to attack,” Richard F. Hanley, associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, said in an interview with The Middletown Press. “They are about as far from clickbait material as you can get.”
Both stories centered on whether the freshman lawmaker has been targeted by racist threats during her short time in office, which editors defended as a “timely” focus in the wake of Trump’s taunts of four nonwhite freshman congresswoman in July and reminders about security protocols by Capitol Police before the August recess.
In the audio recording of her interview with the Mirror, Hayes can be heard repeatedly distinguishing herself from the “squad” — the focus of the president’s tweets and most headlines about ramped up security concerns.
Hayes represents the moderate 5th District — the kind of district where the Republican Party has sought to draw out partisan divisions by elevating the left flank of the Democratic Party through an emphasis on the “squad.”
“I have a heightened sense of awareness, and I think this has contributed to it. I have had disparaging phone calls. I haven’t had a direct threat. But I’m very aware of it. I’m an African American woman who was elected in a district that is extremely moderate, and there are some people who are very upset about the things that are happening on both sides,” Hayes said in the interview.
“I think this has happened after some of the recent tweets by Trump,” the reporter says in the recording.
“It is really unfortunate because people view the Democratic caucus as a monolith. I’ve had people lash out at me for things that I have had no connection to, or comments that were made by other people, or positions that other members have taken,” Hayes said.
“It’s not like an insurgency and this growing group of people becoming more angry and disagreeable, I think it’s the same people doubling down,” Hayes said later in the interview.
“There are some people who are just spewing out hateful things,” Hayes said.
“Are they racist things too?” a reporter asked.
“Yes, very much. Very much so. Very much so. That continues to be a recurring theme,” Hayes replied. “And I remind people this is who I am … but it’s not the totality of who I am.”
The Republican-American story noted that it requested copies of the threats that Hayes said she received but she didn’t supply any.
Hayes accused the papers in her statement of “exaggerated headlines” and of “driving a narrative that I am using race as a dividing card.”
“As the wife of a police officer, I am deeply aware of how much it corrodes our public safety when false allegations are bandied about,” she said.
However, the Mirror’s original story ends on a note of harmony.
The paper reported that Hayes said “from the perspective of a history teacher,” she believes the nation is going through “growing pains” that “will be overcome.”
The Mirror defended its story as “accurate” and “balanced” on its Twitter page. Publisher Bruce Putterman has asked the congresswoman for a retraction of her statement.
The Republican-American story also reported that Hayes has an imperfect record of releasing public schedules — her staff says that is due to a heightened sense of awareness around her security — and questioned a reporter’s presence at a public event.
Correction, 1:57 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated the 5th District was previously represented by a Republican.