“Because I Said So…”

Paul Wolfowitz believes that words speak louder than actions. He carefully negotiated the wording of the statement announcing his resignation from the World Bank last week as if he truly believes that the language of a press release can obscure the reality of the wreckage he’s standing in.

If you say it loud enough and often enough, maybe people will believe it. Propagandists have stood by this principle, and too often it works.

I get the sense that Wolfowitz endlessly diddled the words of the World Bank announcement for an audience of one — himself. Maybe he believes it. Nobody else does.

“He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believes were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that,” the bank’s statement said. To get rid of Wolfowitz, the bank probably would have accepted a statement that said Wolfie was leaving to become Pope. Wolfowitz’s hypocrisy, certainty that he’s right and absolute unwillingness to hear or see any point of view but his own brought him down at the World Bank, the way it brought America into a hopeless and misguided war in Iraq. But he’s making sure that the words spoken at his funeral say night is day.

It reminds me of Richard Nixon’s resignation statement: he resigned the presidency because he’s lost his base in the Congress, not because of anything he’d done — those pesky little high crimes and misdemeanors.

Does mouthing naked-emperor words that everyone but you giggles at really make you feel better? I guess.

Also reminds me of my mentor Dennis McGrath, who got a client to say what actually happened when a top executive left a company — Cray Research, if I recall. The exec didn’t leave “to pursue other interests” or “spend more time with his family.” He left because he disagreed with the direction in which the chairman was taking the company, and he said that. How refreshing. A little truth. And it didn’t bring the company down, and the exec (and Dennis) could sleep at night. And nobody laughed.

Let’s be careful that we write statements and releases that can be believed by an audience larger than one.

— Bruce Benidt

4 thoughts on ““Because I Said So…”

  1. GH says:

    Still, though. One must marvel a bit at the task Ray Price had, clacking away in the late August night within the White House, trying to to figure out what most of us, at some level, have had to to figure out: “Now what am I going to do with THIS?”

    “Let’s see,” I can imagine him thinking, “key messages: 1) Nation needs a full-time president. 2) Nixon is right and COULD clear himself but is putting the nation ahead of self-interest 3) cutting and running like this runs counter to his heroic persona. OK, yeah. I think I can work with that….”

    Guessing the pipe helped: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/prestapes/slide03.html

    “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.”

  2. The alternative to Price’s language, Mr. Hornseth the Nixon Scholar, would be something like, “Here I am, having first attained, after huge disappointment and scorn, the office for which I’ve lusted all my life and that I’m quite sure God appointed for me, staring in the face of the fact that the shortcomings of my character caused me to screw up my dream and I am now a failure of heroic proportion.” Who among us could face that?
    Better to say, “I don’t like the curtains in the Lincoln bedroom, I can’t stand them any more and I’m out of here.”

  3. Yes, but says:

    Wolfowitz clearly blew it by promoting his luv thang to a cushy job. But his transgressions pale in comparison to, say, the food-for-oil corruption of Kofi Annan’s son.

    The feigned outrage by the ‘world community’ at Wolfowitz is a bit much.

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