Bimbo Banter


How Not to Answer an Accusation


  • Crisis
  • January 28, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Wsj-logo

A version of this article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal Opinion section.

Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri is in trouble thanks to an allegation that he had an affair with a hairdresser. He didn’t do himself any favors with his emphatic denial: “I have no plans to resign. There was no blackmail, there was no violence, there was no threat of violence, there was no threat of using a photograph for blackmail.”

This kind of denial leads listeners to believe the opposite. Words like “blackmail” and “violence” grab much more attention than “no” or “not.” At my firm we call such comments “bimbos,” after a comment from a young woman in a 1980s sex scandal: “I am not a bimbo.”

In 2013 General Motors CEO Mary Barra characterized her message to employees: “No more crappy cars.” A reporter followed up and repeated the word “crappy” three times. Sometimes reporters are the ones who introduce the words in the denial. New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie was once asked: “Are you a bully?” Answer: “I am not a bully.”

I write this with regret because my late husband, Tex Lezar, wrote the speech into which President Nixon inserted the memorable assertion “I’m not a crook”—the best political example until President Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” These days social media, particularly Twitter , picks up negative words like a vacuum cleaner and spews them out.

What’s a better approach? When the Greitens story broke, the governor and his wife issued a joint statement saying “it was a deeply personal mistake” and they had “dealt with this together honestly and privately.” He should have stuck to that. He’ll be criticized, and he should be. He ran on a family values platform. But by repeating all the negative words—threat, blackmail, violence—he keeps them in the headlines.

The governor’s attorney, James Bennett, made a similar error when he issued a statement saying: “There was no blackmail and that claim is false.” Really? Does that mean the other claims are true? It’s like the comedian who was the target of multiple claims of sexual harassment who said, “Some of the allegations are true.”

Does this analysis have implications for members of the Trump administration? Of course. Let’s hope they‘re reading.



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