There are many useful examples this month! More BIMBO comments and examples from all levels of American politics as well as an Italian prosecutor, the usually perfect Bill Kristol and the never perfect Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sen. Rand Paul does a good job at defense despite a snarky headline. Examples of the Power of a Word from the settlement of Hank Greenberg’s litigation with the New York Attorney General, and another where Sen. John McCain should have known better. The debate over fake news continues and the debate over the President’s comment about violence in Sweden is missing the interesting story. The Washington Post picked a new slogan.
Don’t forget to follow us on social media for more communication commentary. Spaeth’s very own Laura Barnett and Sally Ann Moyer recently won the Social Media Correspondents Award during a visit to Facebook headquarters.
THE WINNING BIMBO
“I have never taken a bribe,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. (Atlanta is in the midst of a federal bribery and corruption scandal. Thus far, the scandal has not spread to the mayor’s office but sensational events, like a brick through a dining room window and dead rodents on the front porch of a contractor cooperating with the Feds, have predictably grabbed attention. As frequently happens, the mayor also said, “Day in and day out, I have poured myself into this job. I wanted to be mayor of Atlanta since I was 13.” He should have stuck with that statement.)
The New York Times, “Unease Spreads in Atlanta as a City Contracting Scandal Brews,” Feb. 21, 2017
“There are no barricades here. Nobody says if you’re black or whatever, you can’t move here,” said Westport, Connecticut, resident Bari Reiner while he tried to defend the outcry over a town council sponsored student essay question about “white privilege.” (The initiative was sponsored by the town’s diversity council, which was surprised by the reaction. Westport is a mostly white, wealthy suburb of New York City. The council issued a statement that stated, “Just the fact it says ‘white’ and ‘privilege’ for some people that’s all they need to see, and all of a sudden we’re race baiting.” They are curiously tone deaf. Of course the phrase “white privilege” was race baiting. The phrase has been highly publicized at places like Yale University, also in Connecticut. The council could have sponsored a contest asking students for arguments on the value of diversity or to describe what they’ve learned from friends of another race or ethnicity.)
New York Post, “White privilege essay contest sparks outrage in Connecticut suburb,” Feb. 1, 2017
The U.S. is “not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” said Defense Department Secretary Jim Mattis during talks with Iraqi leaders. (We understand the need for a very senior administration official to formally reassure the Iraqis. We would have been happier if he had said, “We’re here to continue our partnership with the Iraqi people to develop their oil resources and to have a secure future.” Note that the BIMBO comment rose into the headline.)
Reuters, “Trump’s defense chief: ‘We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,’” Feb. 20, 2017
DEMOCRATS STRUGGLE WITH MESSAGE
“We don’t have a party orthodoxy,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about the struggles the Democrats have had when trying to explain what the party stands for. She added “they’re ideological.”
Slate, “The Democrats are Leading From Behind,” Feb.13, 2017
“The thing that we don’t want to do is anesthetize the public with dozens and dozens of press conferences and marquee events,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, expressing concern about the highly-trumpeted protests and disruptive outbursts being organized around the country by groups like Indivisible, or those including former congressional and Democrat campaign staffers. Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro was a voice of reason pointing out that the calls for “impeachment” are “not something you should do on a whim,” adding, “I think our response should be reasonable.”
Politico, “The Democrats face up to their Trump problem,” Feb. 5, 2017
“I am not interested in anarchy,” said Marcel Groen, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Democrats, about the race for DNC chairman. (Groen was speaking about the contest between Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, but his comments go far beyond the just-decided chairman’s vote. Republicans saw very little difference between the two candidates.)
Breitbart, “DNC Chair Race: Progressives’ Aggressive Tactics to Elect Keith Ellison Backfire,” Feb. 18, 2017
REPUBLICANS, TOO, NEED TO FOCUS ON MESSAGE
“I’m not afraid of protestors,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the organized protests at Town Hall meetings. (He continued, “This is an open country; people have an opportunity to come express themselves.” He should have stuck with that.)
Time, “Republicans Brace for Town Hall Protests About President Trump,” Feb. 17. 2017
WRONG THING TO SAY
“I am not taking them away for nothing,” said Roberto Di Bella, an Italian magistrate and president of the minors’ court in the town of Reggio Calabria, a district known as home to one of the most entrenched and violent Mafia families, the Ndrangheta. (Di Bella has started to remove young children, some as young as 11, who had been enlisted as lookouts during murders and send them to foster families in other districts. The depth of the problem is shocking to us outside of Italy. The press reports noted that mothers in the town had approached him to send their children to safety. He should have responded with a reassuring message of safety and a better life for the children.)
The New York Times, “Breaking Up the Family as a Way to Break Up the Mob,” Feb. 10, 2017
The usually super-articulate and politically savvy Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol called American workers “decadent,” “lazy” and “spoiled.” Kristol was speaking at an American Enterprise Institute conference titled, “It Came Apart: What’s Next for a Fractured Culture.” The discussion was about immigration and Kristol was arguing that immigrants stimulate competition. He did add that he hoped the session wasn’t “being videotaped or ever shown anywhere. Whatever tiny, pathetic future I have is going to totally collapse.” Not surprisingly, the sensational words made it into the headline.
The Daily Caller, “Bill Kristol Says ‘Lazy White Working Class Should be Replaced by ‘New Americans,’” Feb. 8, 2017
“And then we smash his face into the table,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie tough guy was referencing President Trump’s unnecessary comments about Schwarzenegger’s capabilities of hosting Celebrity Apprentice. (What could have an experienced public celebrity and elected official like Schwarzenegger been thinking? Note the phase made the headline. He should have used the opportunity to promote his new TV gig.)
“Most loyal stooge,” was what New York Magazine called Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. He fought back saying, “The evidence is quite to the contrary, I am probably one of the most independent senators on the Hill.” Sen. Paul did a good job responding to the snarky story. It’s a shame, but probably expected, that the “loyal stooge” phrase made it into the headline (and subsequent tweets).
The Hill, “Rand Paul rejects label of ‘Trump’s most loyal stooge,’” Feb. 23, 2017
POWER OF A WORD – GOVERNMENT OVERREACH
This editorial provides an example of the power of a word, the current dereliction of the media in doing more than repeating sensational charges and how misleading statistics can be. After a multiyear lawsuit by the New York state attorney general against Hank Greenberg, former CEO of AIG, the current AG Eric Schneiderman settled for a $9 million fine after mediation. That is much less than Greenberg had previously offered to settle with before the trial started--$7.5 million less. To put this in context of the charges and the original amount of damages claimed, Greenberg agreed to give the AG a box of Girl Scout cookies. The AG still sent out a press release claiming Greenberg admitted to “fraudulent” activities. He hadn’t. He had agreed to admit to two accounting errors. A big part of the problem is the expansion of government’s powers. Called the Martin Act in New York State, it allows prosecutors to prove fraud without showing intent to deceive. With thousands of pages of criminal and civil law violations, as another CEO recently wrote in the Journal, every CEO is violating laws every day.
The Wall Street Journal, “Hank Greenberg’s Vindication,” Feb. 13, 2017
“That’s how dictators get started,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, setting off a furor when he told a reporter that a free press was important but injected a powerful negative word. The comment was made to NBC’s Chuck Todd after Sen. McCain stated that that the Trump administration “is in disarray” at a military conference in Europe. (We respect Sen. McCain’s service but he should be savvy enough to resist letting himself be used. Predictably, the negative word made the headline.)
Liberty Headlines, “McCain Warns: Trump Attacking Corp Media May Lead to Dictatorship,” Feb. 18, 2017
WHAT’S FAKE NEWS?
Paris Dennard defended President Trump’s travel schedule and associated costs, calling reports about it “fake news.” CNN’s Don Lemon took appropriate offense and said, “Fake news is when you put out a story to intentionally deceive someone and you know it’s wrong.” Although the media is undoubtedly gleefully writing about the topic, it’s a legitimate news topic that pops up regularly no matter who’s in office. In this case, Dennard tried to say that the topic was irrelevant given the important challenges facing the country. Republicans hurt their own position when they make these types of charges.
Talking Points Memo, “Don Lemon Cuts Off Guest After He Calls Story ‘Fake News,’” Feb. 18, 2017
A much more important example, both of the president’s habits and media coverage recently occurred. While watching Fox News, President Trump saw an interview by Tucker Carlson with documentary filmmaker Ami Horowitz about crime caused by immigrants in Sweden. In remarks the next day, the President continued his comments about immigration and cited terrorist attacks across Europe; he added “you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden.” Since presidential comments spread around the globe like the proverbial wildfire, the Swedes reacted immediately to say nothing had happened the night before. The mainstream media immediately trumpeted the comment as another example of the President’s invention of his own facts. While Sweden had not experienced a recent terrorist attack, there is more to the story. The White House staff immediately (and predictably) went into damage control, as the story unfolded. After Trump made his initial comments, there was an isolated incident with police in a small Swedish suburb. The broader story is a lesson in clarity. While Trump referenced a legitimate story on Fox News, his audience is now global since he is the Commander in Chief. The first question we ask all our clients to answer is “Who is your audience?” If you mention Sweden, the Swedes are bound to pay attention. Be prepared to deal with the fallout if you don’t choose your words carefully.
The New York Times, “‘Last night in Sweden?’ Trump’s remarks baffle a nation,” Feb. 8, 2017
WE ARE STAYING TUNED
The Washington Post has a new slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Stay tuned for the fallout and how long this subhead sticks around.
The Hill, “The Washington Post: ‘Democracy dies in darkness,’” Feb. 22, 2017
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