Bimbo Banter


BIMBO Nominees for January and February 2020


  • Bimbo
  • January 31, 2020
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image e

There are a variety of classic BIMBO comments this month, examples of statistics, the power of bad words from an article about Southwest Airlines– and we solicit your opinion of our analysis– and The New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman created his own sensational story. Read also how golfer Patrick Reed defended himself with a comment that could have been significantly improved by rehearsal, an article examining why negatives are so much more powerful than positives, a good article to show your general counsel and HR director about the trove of internal Boeing employee emails and two examples that qualify as “how to look stupid.”

THE WINNING BIMBO

“We did not lie,” insisted Iran’s government spokesman, Ali Rabiei, when it became clear that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had indeed shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. (The government stonewalled for three days, claiming that the plane had suffered a technical failure. This tragedy generated mass protests, but unusually, the protestors weren’t shouting “death to America.” Instead, they chanted that their leaders are the enemy. Use this as an example to remind leaders that everyone is a reporter today—it was an online video that proved the Iranian government had shot down the plane. If there is bad news, tell the truth and report it in a timely manner. Never lie.)

USA Today, “‘Our enemy is right here!’ Videos show Iran protesters fleeing tear gas, live bullets as protests grow,” Jan. 13, 2020

THE RUNNERS-UP

“This is not a concentration camp,” said Victor Gao, a Chinese international-relations analyst responding to growing awareness and criticism of China’s forced detention of an estimated one million Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang. (Gao was rebutting claims made in documents leaked last month that appear to serve as an “‘operations manual’ for ‘the largest mass internment of a minority since the Holocaust.’” One lesson here: pick your battles. Gao may have an argument about the agenda for the “camps,” but in his next breath, he defended China’s actions in Hong Kong. Note the phrase “concentration camp” made it into the headline.)

Deutsche Welle, “’This is not a concentration camp’: Analyst Victor Gao on China’s Uighur prisons,” Dec. 18, 2019

“I don’t hate anybody,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when asked if she “hated” President Trump. (This is a classic BIMBO comment. The reporter initially verbalized the word; Pelosi bit, repeated and denied it and then kept at it saying, “I was raised in a Catholic house, we don’t hate anybody – not anybody in the world. So don’t you accuse me of any (hate) … As a Catholic, I resent you using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me.” Her emphasis of the word ensured it would become a story. As with many examples like this, all she had to do was acknowledge the question by saying, “That’s not accurate,” or “On the contrary.”)

The Hill, “Pelosi lashes out at reporter: ‘Don’t mess with me,’” Dec. 5, 2019

“I don't think it's a death threat. I don’t think he’s encouraging a death threat,” said Sen. James Lankford, defending President Trump’s tweet complaining that Rep. Adam Schiff “‘has not paid the price’ for ‘what he has done.’” (Wrong, wrong, wrong. Lankford should have said something like, “The media hasn’t done their job reporting what Schiff left out.” Instead, Lankford inadvertently sparked negative stories about Trump by using a sensational phrase, which looks to have been planted by a reporter.)

The Hill, “Republican senator: Trump’s Schiff tweet not a ‘death threat,’” Jan. 26, 2020

STATISTICS

"But I’m not surprised by those numbers. And I’m not surprised because sexual violence is just much more pervasive in society than I think most people realize … We do four million rides a day. That's 45 trips per second. And when you're operating at that kind of scale, thankfully, 99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever," said Uber’s chief legal officer, Tony West, announcing a statistics-filled report of the number of sexual abuse complaints made to the company in 2017 and 2018. (Interesting story. Uber should receive high marks for transparency and for being forthright about the problem. They are taking a leadership position, and West had an excellent quote saying, “Each of those incidents represents an individual who has undergone a horrific trauma.” However, he fell into the trap of what we refer to as the law of exceptions when he said, “99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever.” By claiming that something happens rarely, one simultaneously minimizes the effect of the incident and confirms that it happens. The audience thinks, “that 0.1 percent could be me.”)

NBC News, “Uber reveals extent of sexual assault problem: thousands of abuse reports a year,” Dec. 5, 2019

“These types of events are extremely rare,” said Vincent Sapienza, New York City Department of Environmental Protection (D.E.P.) commissioner, about a pipe break in Queens that sent raw sewage coursing through over 120 homes and forced the eviction of nearly 160 residents. (This is another example of the law of exceptions and offers more good learning opportunities. D.E.P. initially claimed the homeowners likely had poured grease down their kitchen sinks and therefore caused the accident. An investigation proved the cause was the collapse of a major pipe under the city’s jurisdiction. Sapienza compounded the mistaken argument by listing a number of statistics, “We’ve got 7,500 miles of sewers, 95 pumping stations, 14 plants …” Like so many of these examples, he had a good quote, “D.E.P. accepts responsibility,” buried in the other text. It also illustrates the risk in trying to assess blame before knowing the facts, which infuriated the homeowners and guaranteed critical quotes and empathy-inducing anecdotes from affected families.)

The New York Times, “Raw Sewage Flooded Their Homes. They Finally Know Why.,” Dec. 19, 2019

LEARNING EXAMPLES

The word “boring” became the focus of a lengthy article on Andrew Watterson, Southwest Airlines’ new chief commercial officer. The article is worth reading to see the power of a word, excellent audience targeting, good quotes overshadowed by the “boring” quote and – for our taste – too much personal information probably shared in an attempt to appear approachable. (Watterson introduced the “boring” topic when he said, “Our growth next year is going to be quite boring.” It turned out what he meant was that they weren’t planning to introduce any new, headline-prompting routes, but his choice of words was suspect: “Everyone’s going to glaze over, and that’s fine.” Interestingly, he did an excellent job deploying the technique we call targeted messaging, or naming your audience, when he said, “Our investors won’t glaze over. They’ll be pleased with the results. Our employees will be very pleased with the results because our schedule will look really nice.” When pressed about whether Southwest Airlines would start behaving like other carriers that are nickel and diming passengers, Watterson unnecessarily said, “Our CEO says, ‘We never say never.’” In the spirit of unnecessary information, we also learned in the article that he was a “wayward youth” and that he didn’t graduate from high school on time. We’re interested in your reaction. On one hand, it makes him seem very human; on the other, the key messages to investors, employees and customers were overshadowed by the “boring” quote – which also became the headline)

Dallas Business Journal, “Why Southwest Airlines’ new CCO hopes for a ‘boring’ 2020,” Jan. 21, 2020

The value of thinking through and verbally rehearsing your quote plus how technology has impacted reporting were on display in a report over a dispute about whether golfer Patrick Reed cheated during the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas by swiping the sand behind his ball before taking a shot. (Reed maintained that he didn’t intend to violate a rule and take two strokes, but his quote was muddy: “At the end of the day, whenever you’re out there, if you do something unintentionally that breaks the rules it’s not considered cheating.” Fans thought that was arrogant, and we agree. It would have been better to stick with, “I take the rules and etiquette of golf seriously as well as my responsibility to be a role model. My actions were unintentional, and I’ll do better in the future.” We understand his annoyance because commentators pointed out that in 1974 Gary Player appeared to do the same thing during the British Open at Royal Lytham but escaped penalty and criticism. The difference? Cameras and cell phones are always on and out today, with every fan able to capture personal footage as evidence.)

The New York Times, “Patrick Reed’s Club Hit the Sand. Now There’s a Dust-Up.” Dec. 12, 2019

The power of sensational bad words was on display in a suggestion by The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman that his computer had been hacked and used to “download child pornography.” Krugman brought the publicity on himself by musing – in a now-deleted tweet – that this might be a “Qanon” attack. (Fox News helpfully explained that “Qanon is a reference to the group of conspiracy theorists who in recent years spread incriminating myths against many high-profile Democrats on social media.” The other funny thing about this story is that the Times did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment. One would think that the newspaper of record would have something to say about security.)

Fox News, “NY Times columnist Paul Krugman says hacker ‘compromised’ his IP address to ‘download child pornography,’” Jan. 8, 2020

If you’ve been in one of our training or coaching sessions, you’ve heard us rail against “bad words” and talk about how negative words crowd out positive ones. This article is an academically rigorous examination of why negatives are so much more powerful than positives. It also explains the “Rule of Four: It takes four good things to overcome one bad thing.” We would say the potential damage is actually much more powerful. High-velocity words – like “layoffs” – race through an organization, are very hard to counter and impossible to recall. This advice is also useful for personal relationships as well as corporate communications. A nasty or critical comment is likely to be remembered for years.

The Wall Street Journal, “For the New Year, Say No to Negativity,” Dec. 27, 2019

For your general counsel or HR director, this report on Boeing exemplifies two important principles. A trove of internal, highly-inflammatory emails between company employees were made public after Boeing sent Congress more than 100 pages of documents regarding the 737 Max airplane. Boeing is in the throes of a full-blown business and culture crisis over whether its software and flight simulators for its 737 Max airplanes caused two significant crashes that killed hundreds of passengers. Naturally, the mocking and incriminating emails made headlines, and they will cause immense legal and HR problems as they call into question Boeing’s values and mission. Phrases like, “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year,” and “Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” were included in employees’ communications regarding interactions with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulators. Aggravating the situation, Boeing concealed the messages from the FAA after they discovered them and only shared them with lawmakers about two weeks before Former Boeing Chief Executive Dennis A. Muilenburg was scheduled to testify in front of Congress. The episode is relevant to both legal and HR because it illustrates the need to set up internal communication so that management hears what it needs to hear and not just what people think management wants to hear. We attribute that management philosophy to Judge William Webster, former director of the FBI. More companies should pay attention.

Austin Business Journal, “Boeing employees mocked FAA and flouted safety in internal messages,” Jan. 10, 2020

Our think before you speak lesson comes from Rep. Doug Collins, who wondered whether Democrats are “in love with terrorists” during a segment with Lou Dobbs on Fox Business Channel reacting to those critical of the Trump administration’s decision to kill Iranian General Quassem Soleimani. Collins later retracted his charge, “Let me be clear, I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists and I apologize for what I said earlier this week.” (The problem with this apology is that it crowded out the other four tweets part of his apology that highlighted his personal experience serving in Iraq in 2008 and totally buried his real message, “I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and with my fellow citizens to keep all Americans safe.”)

RealClear Politics, “Rep. Doug Collins Apologizes For Saying Democrats Are ‘In Love’ With Terrorists,” Jan. 10, 2020

This example proves that the mic is always on and that “he said/she said” allegations are battles to avoid fighting in the press. We’re speaking, of course, of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s charge that her opponent in the presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, told her during a 2018 meeting that a woman couldn’t be elected president. We think they’re both telling the truth from their own point of view. Warren and Sanders disagreed publicly during a Democratic Party presidential debate, and afterwards, Warren dashed over to Sanders and said, “I think you called me a liar on national TV.” We know this because the mics were hot! Call us conspiratorial, but we’re pretty sure Warren would know that, so maybe this was designed to be overheard. Now, to the “he said/she said” nature of the exchange. We believe Sanders when he said that anyone who knew him would know Warren’s allegation was ridiculous. So, is Warren lying? Not necessarily. We’re betting that if audio of the 2018 meeting surfaced, we’d hear Sanders musing about various candidates’ strengths and challenges, and that one of those challenges would certainly be gender.

CNN, “Bernie Sanders told Elizabeth Warren in private 2018 meeting that a woman can’t win, sources say,” Jan. 13, 2020

This example qualifies as “how to look stupid.” An investigation notes that the NCAA handbook lists as “impermissible” casinos, beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages and works to ensure casinos and alcoholic beverages aren’t associated with college football bowl games. Why, then, is the Las Vegas Bowl sponsored by Bud Light and casino companies? Why does the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl list hard liquor manufacturers as “Chairman’s Club” partners? If you expected a coherent explanation, no luck. Why is this contradiction allowed? NCAA spokesman Chris Radford said it was a “fair question.” Shane Lyons, chairman of the NCAA’s Division I Football Oversight Committee, observed that the NCAA’s governing handbook language “probably could be cleaned up a lot more.” Lyons continued his inarticulate response, “A lot has changed. I’m not even sure when this [handbook] was written and last updated.” What to learn from this debacle? Make sure there is some independent third party to audit what your enterprise is saying publicly and what it’s actually doing. And, if you have vision or mission statements reduced to writing, and no one can remember when they were last reviewed and updated, it’s probably time to take a look at them.

USA Today, “NCAA asserts collegiate values for bowls, but leaves room for liquor, casino sponsors,” Dec. 20, 2019

This example also qualifies as “how to look stupid.” A videographer working for the New England Patriots was caught video recording up-close footage of the Patriots’ upcoming opponent Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline. He couldn’t credibly claim anonymity, as he was wearing Patriots clothing, but he tried to claim it was no big deal when he said to a Bengals security person, “I can delete this right here for you.” Surprisingly, the videographer continued arguing with the Bengals security person!

USA Today, “Opinion: Patriot Way is not just winning as latest rules scandal reminds,” Dec. 16, 2019      

 

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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