When Gov. Chris Christie appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, he offered up some sound advice:
"We can't be the party of no. We have to stand for something and talk about what we stand for."
"We don't get to govern if we don't win."
"Our ideas are better than their ideas and that's what we've got to stand up for."
There were some boiler-plate comments as well - attacking President Barack Obama for a failure of leadership, reiterating his anti-abortion credentials, and flaying public employee unions, for instance - that were guaranteed applause lines.
Unfortunately, Christie also offered some not-so-good advice:
"We've got to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for. The fact is that we have to take these guys on directly. What we need to start saying is that we're not going to put up any longer with them defining us."
Now, media-bashing is nothing new. Both sides engage in it, usually when they're caught up in something embarrassing and wish to change the subject. But the comments were a little odd coming from Christie, who owes his public career to the media defining him.
Standing on the steps of a federal courthouse after winning a conviction or wringing guilty pleas from public officials, Christie was admiringly portrayed in the media as a no-nonsense corruption-busting U.S. attorney hellbent on cleaning the Augean stables New Jersey politics had become.
The media polished his reputation on a regular basis as he sent one miscreant after another - more than 130 in all - off to the federal lockup for breaking trust with the people they were elected to serve.
The media definition, in large measure, paved the way for his run for governor in 2009 and continued into his first term as he battled, baited and belittled teachers, public employee unions, overpaid school superintendents, greedy administrators of independent authorities, members of the Legislature, and, yes, even reporters.
It is not a stretch to say Christie's emergence as a national political force was fueled by the media definition of him as refreshingly outspoken and unafraid of breaking the china in pursuit of his agenda.
He might have been better served, though, had he told his CPAC audience that the party's candidates should avoid loopy, looney utterances that give the media an irresistible opportunity to define them.
Such as the U.S. Senate candidate who suggested a rape victim need not be concerned with a pregnancy since a woman's physiological makeup can distinguish between a "legitimate" rape and some other kind and prevent pregnancy.
Or, another U.S. Senate candidate who said that a pregnancy resulting from rape was, in actuality, "God's will."
Maybe the party could prevent unkind media definitions if it stopped hanging out with people like the National Rifle Association officer who described America's Civil War as "the war of northern aggression."
Then there is the obsession with the legitimacy of the president's birth certificate, an obsession that became an object of ridicule and an embarrassment to the party.
In all these cases, the language defined the candidates or the party, not the media. Christie may well have advised future candidates to steer clear of musing aloud in a roomful of reporters about such topics as rape and abortion if they don't want the media to define them.
Candidates and office holders have always grumbled and groused about the media coverage they receive, often interpreting news accounts of their actions as biased and unfair.
Republicans routinely attack MSNBC, while Democrats just as frequently attack the Fox Network - often with some justification. But it's a losing hand for both parties. The coverage isn't going to change, nor are the opinions of the talking heads who spout them. Engaging them publicly only empowers and elevates them.
The most effective way to avert media definition is by following Christie's good advice: Don't be the party of "no," stand for something, articulate what you stand for, argue that your ideas are better than your opponents' and stick to your principles.
Ironically, the governor is enduring a bit of a media-definition crisis himself, fending off allegations of misbehavior in his administration, and while it's unclear how all of it will shake out in the end, his strategy reflects his own advice as he moves around the state driving a message of fiscal restraint and ideas to achieve it.
In short, don't say something remarkably stupid, and the media won't be able to define you as remarkably stupid. It's not rocket science.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J., Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.