Bimbo Banter


BIMBO Nominees for January and February 2019


  • Bimbo
  • February 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image e

Examples galore! This edition of the BIMBO Memo features one of the largest compilations of examples to date. In the Memo, you’ll find BIMBOs from former Governor of South Carolina and outgoing Congressman Mark Sanford, Johnson & Johnson, former FBI Director James Comey, a catholic bishop, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a convicted fraudster (who needed a lawyer) and the (lucky) new sheriff of Florida’s Broward County. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID winner U.S. Rep. Steve King and a “Wrong Thing to Say” from a French DJ, a Wisconsin farmer, Wells Fargo (probably its lawyers) and more. You’ll also find a host of other interesting communication-related examples to learn from like one The New York Times reporter’s take on the hidden agenda of the Davos elite.

THE WINNER

“The man was not operating a harem, or a sex cult, or holding people hostage or anything like that,” said Steven Greenberg, lawyer for singer R. Kelly who is the subject of a six-part Lifetime docuseries that makes sensational allegations about his sexual relations with underage women. (A classic case of trying to deflect anger or blame by claiming things aren’t as bad as they could be. Continuing with the off-tone comments, Greenberg tried to dismiss Lady Gaga’s recent apology for her song with Kelly by claiming she knew about the “rumors” surrounding Kelly when they started working together, and that she is only denouncing Kelly now to curry favor with Oscar voters. Don’t try to dismiss bad behavior by claiming it could have been worse. Do state the individual’s commitment—even if in the future—to be responsible.)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “R. Kelly responds to docuseries through lawyer, denies allegations of sexual abuse,” Jan. 11, 2019

THE RUNNERS-UP

“Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed … This was not a big crime,” said Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and current lawyer for President Donald Trump. Giuliani was referencing former Trump company lawyer Michael Cohen’s admission of paying off two women alleged to have had affairs with the president. (Ouch. Giuliani served with my late husband, Tex Lezar, at the Reagan Justice Department. He’s so smart. Please ... someone tell him—stop repeating negatives! Last fall, he described the Mueller investigation as “…white-collar crime. Nobody’s dying, nobody’s being abused, nobody’s being sexually assaulted.” One of the hardest things to do in an extended crisis is to stay silent or noncommittal. All of the president’s spokespersons, even someone as high profile as Guiliani, should stick to comments about the president working on his priorities like tax reform, criminal justice reform, trade and so on. Notice that like so many of these stories, the negative works its way into the headline. The “no collusion” theme continues with “I never said there was no collusion,” and “If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago.” And Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) tried to help out, in reaction to the story about whether campaign chairman Paul Manafort gave polling data to a Russian suspected of ties to Kremlin intelligence. Burr said, “I don’t perceive it as collusion.” Help! Stop with the “no collusion” denial.)

HuffPost, “Rudy Giuliani Defends Michael Cohen’s Hush Money Payments: ‘Nobody Got Killed,’” Dec. 14, 2018

“I never received any compensation from Nissan that was not disclosed, nor did I ever enter into any binding contract with Nissan to be paid a fixed amount that was not disclosed,” said former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn. (Ghosn is imprisoned without counsel in a Tokyo jail, but this is included as an example of how even an experienced titan of industry needs communication help. All he had to do was replace the negative expression—“never received”—with a positive comment such as, “All compensation from Nissan was disclosed, and all contracts for a fixed amount were disclosed.” As we’ve pointed out in many examples, you would think large companies would understand this—but they don’t.)

Seeking Alpha, “Nissan’s Ghosn claims innocence in first court hearing,” Jan. 8, 2019

“I want to be clear and explicit that I am not likening Trump to Hitler,” said former governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford in a stem-winding Facebook post after losing the Republican primary in which he also warned about the rise of a “future Hitler-like character.” (Of course, this is the guy who, as former South Carolina Governor, went off on days-long love trysts and lied to his wife and staff about walking the mountain trail, so he doesn’t have the best track record. Of course he’s comparing Trump to Hitler, and he’s getting media attention for doing it.)

The State, “‘Hitler-like’ strongman could rise ‘if we don’t watch out,’ outgoing SC congressman warns,” Dec. 26, 2018

“It is never our intention to mislead,” claimed Tim Johnson, of Houston-based Land Tejas about a development, Balmoral, featuring a lagoon as a main amenity. Residents were lured to buy with the promise of exclusive usage of the water feature, only to find the company selling passes to non-residents, renting to neighboring communities and charging residents extra for lounge chairs. (Johnson claimed that if he did tell residents the lagoon would be exclusive, he “misspoke.” That’s a pretty big selling point to get wrong. Further complicating his credibility, he said, “From our perspective, we’ve never said one way or another. We’ve always hedged on keeping options open.” And to make this a perfect case study, he totally destroyed his PR people who initially responded to residents’ concerns as rumors by posting on Facebook that it was a “resident only amenity.” Johnson said that the PR folks wrote the post and that it was never approved by the company. We assume everyone in that department is frantically looking on LinkedIn.)

Houston Chronicle, “Lagoon blues: Homeowners say promise of paradise broken,” Dec. 14, 2018

“We did not hide anything. Ever.” said Johnson & Johnson in a full-page ad in response to attacks—and multiple lawsuits—about the fact that the talcum in Johnson’s Baby Powder contains asbestos. (J&J is under existential attack on this issue, and its full-page ads aren’t aligned with the safety message contained in a company statement responding to a Reuters article that reported “that from 1971 to the early 2000s, company officials knew raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.” This is also a classic example of how traditional public relations campaigns—relying primarily on expensive, full-page newspaper ads—are losing to word-of-mouth anecdotes, and what is really junk science, but has gained a foothold in the public’s mind. Like the anti-vaxxers’ unshakeable—but wrong—conviction, people think talcum powder causes cancer. The marketing, advertising and legal departments might not be working together. J&J, if you’re listening, you need to mobilize your employees and your customers and fight back in the court of public opinion using real people.)

Bizwomen, “Johnson & Johnson defends talc products,” Dec. 17, 2018

“That damage has nothing to do with me,” whined former FBI Director James Comey after testifying on Capitol Hill and being criticized for the FBI’s damaged reputation. (We beg to differ. From the get-go, transcribing his confidential conversations with a president and surreptitiously enlisting a university professor to provide them to the media, Comey has come to represent sanctimonious self-dealing. Even though I was just a lowly special assistant at the FBI, I revere the agency and hope to see it restored to its previous reputation for integrity.)

Townhall, “Comey: FBI’s Damaged Reputation Has Nothing to Do With Me,” Dec. 18, 2018

“I’m not a dictator,” said Fort Worth Catholic Bishop Michael Olson in a long, rambling and destructive interview with the local paper. (The article addresses numerous criticisms of the bishop, from closing several churches to the firing of certain popular priests and frayed relationships with parishioners. The article is chock full of BIMBOs—“I’m not a potentate,” “ … I’m not violent,” “ … no crime had been committed, no act against a minor … ”—but the real reason to call this to your attention as a learning and teaching tool for your own top executives is because it demonstrates two things. First, it’s a mistake to treat the media as a neutral, third-party sounding board. There’s a lot of dissention in this parish and the paper covered it. That’s their job. Unfortunately, the repetition of all the complaints just magnifies them and makes them more real. Second, the bishop sounds whiney, dismissive and yes, dictatorial. He continually criticizes and dismisses his own parishioners, calling them the problem, which is never a good way to build relationships.)

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Catholic Leader fires back amid criticism that he’s overbearing: ‘I’m not a dictator,’” Dec. 15, 2018

“I’m not a liar,” said the very angry Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a tense hearing on Capitol Hill about whether the administration was consciously separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D- Ill.) accused her of “com(ing) here and l(ying),” and she took the bait and repeated it back. The conversations read almost like an Edward Albee script. (Nielsen should have said, “That charge is untrue, unfair and unworthy of a member of this body. I have truthfully explained our policy about dealing with families.” Note the sensational denial made the headline.)  

NBC News, “'I am not a liar': DHS chief Nielsen defends immigration policies in heated hearing,” Dec. 20, 2018

“We are not the party of bigots,” said State Republican Executive Committeeman J.T. Edwards who led the argument before the county party to vote down a motion to get rid of the local Republican party vice chair because he is a Muslim. (We are pleased to report that Edwards carried the day, and the local GOP resoundingly voted to keep Dr. Shahid Shafi as vice chair. Not, however, before the motion to remove him had made national news. Alas, the results of the vote to support him got no attention.)

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Texas Republican on Tarrant push to remove Muslim: ’We are not the party of bigots,’” Dec. 1, 2018

“ … no intention of committing fraud,” was Jody Sheffield’s explanation in response to being convicted and sentenced for defrauding a program designed to provide benefits to veterans. (Oh good Lord, where are the lawyers who understand crisis communication when you need them? This was a very complex and sophisticated case that illustrates the incredible savvy of people who undoubtedly could have made an honest living—but didn’t and were caught. Apparently Sheffield cooperated with the prosecution, and later in the article, he said, “It hurts my heart that no one got helped.” He should have used his second quote to apologize and thank the judge and the prosecutors for allowing him to make partial recompense for his behavior.)

The Dallas Morning News, “Prison time for another man who ripped off health insurance program for troops,” Dec. 14, 2018

“I am not here for any type of political grandiose agenda,” said newly-appointed Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, taking the reins of a troubled and grieving county following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. (Tony was appointed by new Governor Ron DeSantis following the uproar over how the county and school district mishandled the shooter, as well as law enforcement’s immediate response. Tony also said, “I’m here to serve,” which the media did him the favor of including in the story’s headline. We wish him continued luck.)

South Florida Sun Sentinel, “‘I’m here to serve’: New Sheriff Gregory Tony says he’s a cop, not a politician,” Jan. 11, 2019  

WRONG THING TO SAY – AND STUPID, STUPID, STUPID

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in a broad-ranging interview with The New York Times. The interview included the topic of immigration, about which King said he was against illegal immigration but did see a need to “defend American civilization.” (Predictably, this triggered a controversy and was made worse when King stood up in Congress to protest that he was not an advocate for white supremacy or white nationalism. Besides leading the “Wrong Thing to Say” category—maybe for all time—this falls into the “STUPID, STUPID, STUPID” category. The House leadership issued statements disapproving of King’s comments and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) wrote an eloquent op-ed for The Washington Post explaining why King’s views have no place in the Republican Party. The real tragedy here is that by lumping “white supremacist” with “Western civilization,” King ended up undercutting a very real discussion going on about what the now-derided “Western civilization” means to our future.)     

The Hill, “Steve King faces new storm over remarks about white supremacy,” Jan. 12, 2019

“Do you know how to twerk?” asked the moronic co-host of the prestigious Ballon d’Or soccer awards ceremony in Paris of Ada Hegerberg, the first female winner of the award signifying that she’s the best female soccer player in the world. (The event host, French DJ Martin Solveig, was criticized and ridiculed for using precious stage time to ask such a demeaning question—but not enough! Too many people laughed. The next step to real equality isn’t just recognizing that such a question is disrespectful and stupid, it’s not laughing at it when it’s asked.)

The Dallas Morning News, “With a twerking question, sexism took the spotlight from exceptional women like Ada Hegerberg again,” Dec. 6, 2018

“I’m not going to say that what we do on the surface can’t have an impact,” said fifth-generation Wisconsin dairy farmer Lee Kinnard about the growing controversy over dairy farms’ expansion and the contamination of ground and drinking water from manure and fertilizer. (In a remarkably balanced and thoughtful piece, Kinnard shares his views about why his farm needs to expand and what he is already doing to improve his environmental impact. However, we would have counselled him against the quote here. Instead, he should have said, “We are aware of our impact and are committed to being leaders in improvements and solutions.” This is actually what he was trying to say because he even noted, “My family lives next to these fields also.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “Farms, More Productive Than Ever, Are Poisoning Drinking Water in Rural America,” Jan. 18, 2019

This has become the regular "pick on Wells Fargo" story, but here we go again: during the government shutdown, many financial service companies proactively reached out to customers affected by the government shutdown with offers to defer payments, waive fees and provide other life lines. (Full disclosure: one of our clients, United Consumer Financial Services (UCFS), was one of the first to instruct the representatives of its forty-or-so industries to let customers know UCFS was ready to help, which included making sure no customer’s credit rating was affected.) Wells Fargo, late to the act, made news—because it didn’t reach out. Instead, it’s offering up a few sentences on its website that say that the bank will “work with” affected federal employees and that some borrowers “may” qualify for forbearance. Now, most people hear “forbearance” and they wonder why Smokey is involved. In this case, the bank’s overly-lawyerly responses only triggered a stinging article that listed all the misdeeds of the bank in the past. Doesn’t anyone at Wells Fargo speak English?)

The New York Times, “Wells Fargo Should Be More Generous With Federal Workers.” Jan. 4, 2019

“ … we’re gonna impeach the motherf---er,” shouted newly elected Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) on her second day in Congress. (Goodbye message discipline. At least it’s nice to see Democrats furious over the intemperate remarks by one of its newest members. Interesting though, her remarks received far less attention than the hapless Steve King’s remarks. Tlaib compounded the problem when she refused to apologize and claimed she was only “passionate.” That’s a mistake because it gives cover to people with other outrageous things to say.)

Politico, “Dems livid after Tlaib vows to ‘impeach the motherf—er,” Jan. 4, 2019

“ … the reason (for) forming this village is to keep people like you out of this neighborhood,” said president of Airmont Civic Association, Inc., James Filenbaum, about Jews in a 1987 legal testimony. This is a reminder that your words live on for a long time. (This article, by the General Counsel to First Liberty Institute, was sent to us by a reader who noticed the quote contained here and sent it as a reminder of why it’s important for lawyers to be communication-savvy. The article titled “How zoning can be a subtle kind of bigotry" is enlightening, as it both explains why limited government is a cherished ideal of conservatives as well as why one of the things that does make America exceptional is that there is a national law firm like First Liberty Institute devoted to defending religious freedom. Disclosure: First Liberty Institute is an organization Spaeth works with—and we can confirm that they are at the top of the communication game as well as the legal advocacy practice.) 

New York Post, “How zoning can be a subtle kind of bigotry,” Dec. 14, 2018

NO COMMENT NO HOW

And our example of "no comment" comes from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talking about President Trump’s comment that he would press for an additional middle-class tax cut. Will he or won’t he? “I’m not going to comment on whether it is a real thing or not a real thing,” said Mnuchin. (We understand the difficulty of being a cabinet secretary for someone like President Trump who likes to throw out ideas, thoughts or possible policy changes, sometimes of enormous, global significance. In this case, Mnuchin could have said, “It’s too early to predict.”)

Bloomberg, “Mnuchin Backs Off Trump’s Promise of 10% Middle-Class Tax Cut,” Dec. 18, 2018

MORE EXAMPLES

We’re always asking, "Who’s the audience?" as did The New York Times reporter covering the annual meeting of the elites in Davos. His report began, “They’ll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible.” He said he knows this because he’s “noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.” He outlined the words used around reporters and lay audiences versus what the CEOs say in front of tech audiences. “Replace” becomes “released.” “Laying off workers” becomes “undergoing digital transformation.” He also carefully noted the CEOs’ predictions of how many of their workers they aimed to release: Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou estimated 80 percent in the next five to 10 years, founder of the Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, Richard Liu, estimated a stunning 100 percent in the future. This is a must-read-must-save article for your senior executives, legal and HR folks. My only quibble is the reporter said a backlash is coming. Actually, it’s already here.)

The New York Times, “The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite,” Jan. 25, 2019

In the great movie Invictus, Matt Damon’s character warns the other members of South Africa’s rugby team that cameras are on them at all times. British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn forgot that advice during a recent heated exchange with Prime Minister Theresa May. He returned to his seat but a camera went in close on him and caught what appeared to be him enunciating the words “stupid woman,” which predictably went viral and generated lots of debate. Worth noting is the measured responses of Speaker of the House of Parliament John Bercow who was urged to reprimand Corbyn and replied, “I cannot be expected to pronounce upon that which I did not see,” and the equally placating response by May, “I think that everybody in this house, particularly in this 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, should be aiming to encourage women to come into this chamber and should therefore use appropriate language in this chamber when they are referring to female members.” Gee, do you think they could give lessons to some of our members of Congress?)

The New York Times, “Did Jeremy Corbyn Call Theresa May ‘a Stupid Woman’?” Dec. 19, 2018    

And words don’t always translate … German Chancellor Angela Merkel found that out while delivering a speech in English when she used a word—in English—that’s a direct translation from a German word with a much, much milder meaning. She was describing an incident where she was mocked for making a comment about the internet years ago and said, “It generated quite a s--tstorm.” In German, the word means “storm of outrage” as opposed to a vulgarity. And again, it generated a lot of attention!

The New York Times, “Some Words Defy Translation. Angela Merkel Showed Why.” Dec. 5, 2018

Speaking of communication savvy lawyers, where was one when actor Kevin Spacey did a bizarre, three-minute video called “Let Me Be Frank”? The video was an apparent reference to his character on “House of Cards,” as he delivered his remarks using the same southern accent he famously contained on the popular television show. We cannot fathom the purpose of the video. To confirm Spacey is not in full possession of his faculties? The actor, for anyone who has been hiding out is one of the latest entertainment celebrities to be caught up in sensational charges of sexual harassment or assault, in this case with young men and teenage boys. What do you think?

The New York Times, “Kevin Spacey Faces Felony Charge in Misconduct Case,” Dec. 24, 2018

Worth reading if you missed it, is the story about star German reporter Claas Relotius found guilty of making up facts and sources in over one dozen articles. The revelation is shocking to journalists but exemplifies why so many ordinary people distrust the media. One of his stories ostensibly reported on a several-week visit to a small town, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, where the reporter encountered the real Trump voters who were, predictably, racist. The townspeople have been seething about the story since its publication because there were so many clearly identifiable errors of fact. Also amusing is CNN’s pathetic effort to distance itself from Relotius despite naming him the 2014 “Journalist of the Year.”

CNN, “Germany’s Der Spiegel says star reporter Claas Relotius wrote fake stories ‘on a grand scale,’” Dec. 21, 2018

A happy ending on the trend of re-interpreting everything—statuses, history and now popular songs—that is, according to today’s standards. After one radio station decided to pull the classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from its playlist, and others followed, a public outcry defending the song written by Frank Loesser to sing with his wife at parties, resulted in reclaiming it and a healthy debate about what the lyrics and teasing delivery mean. Are we headed back to sensible debate?

Quartzy, “‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Isn’t About Rape—But The Song Hasn’t Aged Well,” Dec. 6, 2018

Is email obsolete? Here’s an interesting article about how several companies are finding email is a much better way to communicate with key audiences. The trick seems to be to send emails to those friends, customers or individuals truly interested in what you have to say. Targeting your audience makes a lot of sense to us. Our BIMBO Memo goes to people who sign up.

The Wall Street Journal, “The Hot New Channel for Reaching Real People: Email,” Jan. 19, 2019

To invalidate the perception that Luxembourg is a “microstate,” one reddit user created a visual to demonstrate that “it’s still bigger than Singapore, Andorra, Malta, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, and the Vatican combined.” Though the image was posted one year ago to reddit, it resurfaced when Brilliant Maps tweeted a link to the article and proclaimed: “Luxembourg Is Not A Microstate!” A good example of the power of a visual plus a good example of how online platforms permit individuals to join national conversations.


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.



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