What a bounty this month! Martin Shkreli returns as the winner with a bonus—his lawyer. The two runners-up illustrate the Wrong Thing to Say. Additional BIMBOs come from Yoko Ono and Germany’s finance minister. More Wrong Thing to Say examples from a friend of Kanye West, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao and the now-former president of Mount St. Mary’s University. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and a Tennessee election official show the power of a single word. There’s an extensive section dedicated to—what else—campaign blunders. We also have good examples from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Meryl Streep and Don Briggs of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.
THE WINNING BIMBO
“It is clear that Mr. Shkreli never intended to violate the law, nor did he defraud anyone,” said celebrity lawyer Ben Brafman, hired by former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, adding “He’s not making any more statements. Zero.” Shkreli made headlines last fall after raising the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a pill, generating a torrent of criticism. (Shkreli hired Brafman to deal with investigations and charges into business dealings with other companies. During the interrogations before Congress, Shkreli smirked while repeatedly citing the Fifth Amendment as a reason for not answering. Predictably Shkreli did not follow his lawyer’s advice about more statements when he made a quip about Congress: “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.” Then, he complimented Brafman and said, “I’m confident we’ll beat the charges.” Leaving aside his comments about Congress, saying he’ll “beat” the charges can only infuriate law enforcement. He should have said the predictable but important, “We have confidence that my actions will be justified.” Stay tuned for more. Can Brafman stay with a client who won’t listen to him?)
USA Today, “‘Hated’ CEO Martin Shkreli told to zip it,” Feb. 3, 2016
“There are risks in life. There are risks sitting on a couch,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell trying to deflect concerns about concussions and the deaths of seven high school students this season. (Goodell gave his annual state of the game report with elaborate choreography. The comment immediately generated wide ridicule, and it was a missed opportunity to stress that the League is funding extensive research into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Goodell is dealing with an increasing chorus of credible athletes – Chris Evert, Mike Ditka and others – saying they would not let their children play football.)
The Washington Post, “Roger Goodell defends the indefensible, spinning nonsense,” Feb. 5, 2016
“I’ve been on the record saying that I’m a sore loser,” said Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton after suffering defeat by the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. (He stalked out just two minutes into the press conference. Newton needs training and coaching, and he needs to realize he is still a leader after both wins and losses. He should have said, “Let me tell you what I think we did well and what I want to work on in the future.”)
USA Today, “Cam Newton defends Super Bowl media walkout: ‘I’m a sore loser,’” Feb. 10, 2016
“I had nothing to do with breaking up the Beatles,” said Yoko Ono, the singer-songwriter widow of John Lennon. (We’re tempted to ask “Who cares?” but Ono is a celebrity so all of her comments – such as taking a cold bath every day – are going to get ink. Notice that the BIMBO quote migrated to the headline.)
ABC News, “Yoko Ono Says She Didn’t Break Up the Beatles,” Feb. 25, 2016
“He’s not out doing drugs, he’s not out trying to rob nobody,” said William Robinson in defense of his teenage grandson, Malachi Love-Robinson, who was caught impersonating a physician for the second time. (While we’re sympathetic to a grandfather’s love for his grandson, he should have used the opportunity to use positive words.)
The Huffington Post, “Florida 18 year old Arrested for Allegedly Operating Fake Medical Practice,” Feb. 17, 2016
“It’s not going to be like Mardi Gras,” said San Francisco Director of Safety and Wellness Kevin Gogin regarding the controversial decision to hand out condoms to middle school students. (Leaving aside the sheer insanity of handing out condoms to seventh graders without parental knowledge or consent, Gogin had exactly the wrong quote. His title should have prompted his quote, stressing safety and wellness.)
SF Gate, “S.F. middle schools’ condom curriculum,” February 5, 2016
“It’s not a wall exactly,” said Iraqi Interior Ministry’s spokesman, Police Brig. Gen. Saad Maan about an announcement that they planned to build a wall around Baghdad as a way of fending off Sunni militant bomb attacks. (If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. So, it’s a wall. Maan’s quote should have stressed the commitment to protecting lives and safety. Notice the word “wall” is in the headline, an example of how we pick up and repeat words.)
CBS News, “Iraq planning to build giant ‘wall’ around Baghdad,” Feb. 7, 2016
“I have no concerns about Deutsche Bank,” said German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble as prices of stock shares and bonds plummeted. (When a government official says he has “no concerns,” you can bet he has concerns. The bank’s co-CEO distributed an employee memo that said the bank was “rock solid” with “strong capital.” It would have been helpful if the minister backed up that language with real examples. Since the internal memo became public quickly, his comments could have highlighted that.)
Bloomberg Business, “German Finance Minister Schaeuble Has ‘No Concerns’ Over Deutsche Bank,” Feb. 9, 2016
“I’m not going to turn into the obstruct caucus,” stated Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in the debate about whether there would be a hearing on a presidential nominee to fill Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. (This was a classic BIMBO comment, particularly given Sen. Reid’s behavior in the past. Sen. Reid should have tried to align his message with the administration’s: a 4-4 split holds many decisions hostage.)
The Washington Post, “Senate Democrats won’t hold spending bills hostage to protest GOP Supreme Court blockade,” Feb. 24, 2016
WRONG THING TO SAY
“He did not yell at SNL staff,” said source close to rapper Kanye West following his Saturday Night Live tantrum. (The statement came after video leaked showing West ranting at the staff of SNL in no delicate language. The lesson we can note from Kanye’s experience is that everyone is a reporter these days. If you’re going to rant at the staff of a popular TV show, it’s not surprising someone will start recording and leak the footage. The source should have said, “Kanye has apologized to the staff and looks forward to continuing his positive relationship with SNL.”)
Billboard, “Kanye West Name-Checks Taylor Swift in Leaked ‘SNL’ Backstage Rant: Listen,” Feb. 17, 2016
“Worse than animals,” was how Filipino boxer and senate candidate Manny Pacquiao described gay people when asked about same-sex marriage. (Pacquiao then elaborated, generating headlines. He followed it up with a mealy-mouthed apology, “I’m sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals.” Illustrating the power of the Wrong Thing to Say, the comment immediately cost him his lucrative Nike endorsement.)
The Associated Press, “Manny Pacquiao sorry for saying gays ‘worse than animals,’” Feb. 16, 2016
POWER OF A SINGLE WORD
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tried to encourage former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run for president but worried he was “too meek” to win. (In a wide-ranging interview, Cuban called Hillary Clinton “technologically illiterate” and Donald Trump “a breath of fresh air.” The word “meek” dominated the headlines. In the spirit of damage control, perhaps Cuban meant to say that Bloomberg was too thoughtful for this election cycle.)
Observer, “Mark Cuban Begs Mike Bloomberg to Run for President (But Says Too Meek to Win),” Feb. 16, 2016
Davidson County Election Commission Chairman Ron Buchanan got angry with a TV reporter who was pressing him about credit card charges made by another commissioner. Buchanan seized the camera and called the reporter a “b***h.” Predictably, the word made headlines and got repeated. Buchanan resigned, claiming his decision had nothing to do with the subject matter of the exchange but rather the altercation. Our favorite part is his non-apology: “I said it. I meant it. I still mean it…I should not have used that terminology, but as the media has the freedom of press, individuals have the freedom of speech. And I can tell her what I think about her. And I did that, and I don’t apologize for it. There are people that don’t think I should have done it and that it hurts politics in this area, and so be it.” (We’re running out of ways to say don’t use bad—negative—words. If you do, they will dominate the news. In this case, the County Election Commission needed to use the opportunity to stress their commitment to transparency and accountability, and that the issue had been examined and found compliant.)
The Tennessean, “Nashville election chairman calls reporter ‘b----,’ quits,” Feb. 1, 2016
“This is hard for you because you think of students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies… put a Glock to their heads,” said Simon Newman, the now-former president of Mount St. Mary’s University, to faculty about his plans to change retention plans for struggling students. (Newman made the inflammatory comments while firing a tenured faculty member who had complained about the new policy, accusing the professor of disloyalty. What was he thinking? First, another example of the value of practicing and rehearsing remarks before spouting them; second, highly quotable lines with words like “drown the bunnies” and “put a Glock to their heads” are sure to get repeated. As usual, they distract from what we presume was his point: the school admitted students not prepared to handle the work.)
Inside Higher Ed, “Purge at the Mount,” Feb. 9, 2016
CAMPAIGN BIMBOs, BLUNDERS AND OTHER COMMENTS
We’ve been tweeting campaign blunders and awarding “Campaign BIMBO of the Day” on @SpaethCom. In case you missed them, here’s a refresher of some of the head-scratching moments:
- Responding to CBS’s Scott Pelley’s question “Have you always told the truth?” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton replied, “I have always tried to.” Pelley then described this as, “wiggle room.”
- “I think there’s an underlying question that maybe is really in the back of people’s mind, and that is, you know, is she in it for us or is she in it for herself?” Clinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
- “There’s no sense of panic,” said a Democratic official about Clinton’s campaign after the New Hampshire primary. (This kind of comment always means they’re panicking.)
- The phrase “super predator” and “we have to bring them to heel” came back to haunt Clinton at a South Carolina event. An activist repeated the phrases from a 1996 speech that Clinton gave as First Lady campaigning for then-President Clinton’s criminal justice initiative. The activist, Ashley Williams, complained that she wasn’t a “super predator” and wanted Clinton to apologize, which Clinton declined to do. The incident was, predictably, captured on video.
- “I am not a natural politician,” Clinton told Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough. Just another example of a BIMBO getting repeated. This one generated scores of repetitions.
- “I’m not going to tell people that I will raise your incomes and not your taxes and not mean it,” said Clinton criticizing Sanders.
- “I am not ashamed to like Hillary,” wrote a columnist in The Huffington Post. She did no favors for the candidate with this kind of quote and headline. Hardly the kind of excitement that Bernie Sanders is generating.
- “I don’t care if no one approves: I’m a leftist feminist and I’m not voting for Clinton, Sanders or anyone in 2016,” wrote a columnist for Salon – who didn’t apparently coordinate with her counterpart at The Huffington Post. She added, “I’m not lazy. I’m not apathetic.”
- Rapper Killer Mike stumped for Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, and drew criticism for quoting a feminist who said, “A uterus doesn’t qualify you to be president of the United States.” The comment generated predicable criticism from women’s groups.
- “I love the poorly educated,” Donald Trump said after winning the Nevada primary with 44 percent of the vote.
- Trump called Sen. Cruz a “p****.” We are no longer surprised by much.
- “I’m ‘not dead,’” said Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush following the New Hampshire primary. Classic BIMBO comment: after South Carolina, he was.
- In response to a question about whether Bush was running away from his last name, he replied, “I wasn’t running away in ’94, ’98 or 2002, not at all.” We hate to say this, but his last name was a huge part of the problem – not only because there have already been two Bush presidents but because he was saddled with the same advisers. None of them picked up that his record as governor wasn’t what voters wanted to hear. They wanted a vision of what was to come.
- “I’m not gonna sit there and be a marshmallow,” said Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio. We think he was trying to say he could stand up to Donald Trump’s attacks.
- “How did I get elected to the legislature? I didn’t have anybody for me. We just got an army of people who, and many women who left their kitchens to go out and to put yard signs up for me.” Commentators pointed out that Kasich was talking about 1978, when times admittedly were different but the comment sounded out-of-touch. The big problem is that the comment crowded out other messages.
- “I am not a scripted candidate,” Kasich said after the kitchen comment backlash.
“Hello Twitter! Regarding #RIPTwitter: I want you all to know we’re always listening. We never planned to reorder timelines next week,” wrote Twitter founder Jack Dorsey quelling rumors that the social media phenomenon was moving from its sequential feeds. (Although this is a repetition of a negative, and how to deal with rumors is always a challenge, we think this is a good example – or at least a successful one. It seemed to put the rumors to rest.)
Engadget, “Twitter says your timeline isn’t changing (update: details),” Feb. 6, 2016
Meryl Streep, who chaired the prize jury for the Berlin Film festival, was asked about the judging criteria and if she, as a white American woman, could understand entries from the Arab world and Africa. Streep replied, in part, “We’re all from Africa originally.” She also spoke movingly about the importance of a “compassionate heart.” She was roundly criticized, but we think she did a fine job. (We were not happy with the festival’s spokesperson who said, “We don’t consider Meryl Streep’s comments to be in any way insensitive.” They should have stuck to the second half of the comment: “She underlined that we’re all the same, all equal.”)
Variety, “Meryl Streep on Diversity at Berlin Film Festival: ‘We’re all Africans,’” Feb. 11, 2016
It’s no secret that the oil and gas industry is having tough times. Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, gave his annual state of the industry speech with giant cans of ping pong balls to illustrate a point. The balls represented more than 1 billion barrels of excess oil supply worldwide. Briggs held up can No. 1 and dumped it into can No. 2, only to see a number of balls escape out into the ballroom of the New Orleans hotel. His point was that excess oil was the reason oil prices crashed, and why Louisiana has seen large job layoffs. To make matters worse, there is no way to know how long it will take to get rid of the excess. The message? Briggs took a depressing report and gave it energy and visual interest. Watch the video in the link to see for yourself.
The Times-Picayune, “Global oil glut pushing Louisiana into ‘survival mode’ industry group says,” Feb. 17, 2016
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