Collins: I was not “unkind” to Newtown families

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins found herself in an uncomfortable position in recent days, serving as the poster-senator for a news story about how families of the victims of the Newtown, Conn. school massacre refused to take meetings with staff without the lawmakers present as they lobby for stronger gun control measures.

And it only got worse from there.

On Thursday, POLITICO ran a story on the lobbying effort, using Collins as an example of how parents and family members of those slain are wielding their powerful stories into top-level meetings.

“When a lobbyist for families of Newtown shooting victims called the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to set up a meeting, the first response was a standard D.C. offer. They could get a meeting with her staff, and Collins would stop by, they were told,” according to POLITICO. “The families’ answer: not good enough. According to their lobbyists, the families have a rule against staff-only meetings: They won’t do them. They insist on sitting down with the senators themselves. The families wound up getting more than 15 minutes with Collins.”

And that’s where the story left it. But Collins, after reading the story, was apparently not done. In a phone call to Mike Allen, a POLITICO reporter and one of the story’s authors, she attempted to explain some of the background of her eventual meeting with the Newtown family members.

Allen, who writes a daily morning news column, said Saturday in his piece that Collins personally called him to criticize the Thursday story – he categorized her as “furious.”

“What we reported is exactly right: One of the families’ handlers said they ‘declined’ a staff meeting,’” Allen wrote. “Her office quickly pivoted and set up a meeting with Sen. Collins. We took the incident as an illustration of the families’ clout and effectiveness. Sen. Collins felt the article left her looking like ‘an insensitive demon.’”

At play here are two forces – one is the Washington media (of which I am a part) which is driven by daily scooplets and the re-framing of daily news to attract readers, something POLITICO prides itself on. The other is a politician sensitive about their image and positioning on a very sensitive issue – gun control reforms in the face of the latest massacre, which resulted in dozens of dead first-graders.

Collins, trying to emphasize how important it was for her to meet with the Newtown families, told Allen that the meeting made her 45 minutes late for her dinner with President Barack Obama and other GOP senators.

“The Newtown families were very late for their meeting with me,” Collins told Allen, according to his column. “I felt a moral obligation to talk with them. I kept the president of the United States waiting. I mean, how rude is that of me?”

Allen devoted three large paragraphs of his daily missive to Collins, including an unusually long and repetitive transcript of her call to him.

That’s when the liberal news organization Huffington Post got in on the game – again, “re-framing” the story.

“It might be time for a little perspective,” writes reporter Alana Horowitz. She re-capped the POLITICO story and Allen’s column and said Collins made “some questionable comments.”

“Namely, complaints that they made her late for dinner with President Barack Obama,” Horowitz wrote.

Collins told NBC News Saturday, “I can take being attacked by right-wing nutty groups, but to be attacked that I somehow was unkind or cruel to Newtown families I cannot take. It’s not true.”

Was this whole saga an accurate portrayal of Collins or just Washington media doing its thing? It’s up to readers to decide.

Collins is one of several Republican senators who voted last week to bring a recently negotiated gun reform bill that calls for expanded background checks to the floor after fellow conservative colleagues vowed to filibuster the measure. She told NBC News she would vote in support of the actual measure, which was hammered out by a bipartisan team of senators. A Senate vote is expected early this week.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a breaking news editor for CNN's digital politics team in Washington. Previously, she was a senior news editor with U.S. News and World Report, where she began her three-year tenure as a political writer. She spent much of 2012 on the road covering the presidential campaign in battleground states across the country. Metzler proudly tells all who will listen she hails from the great state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.