Disarming or Arming Humor?

Humor can be a terrific PR tool for disarming a controversy. Artfully done, it can show the world that you don’t take yourself too seriously and possess humility. It is mea culpa lite, still bringing closure with half the defensiveness of a direct apology. And it can make subsequent criticism seem humorless.

Last night on Jay Leno’s show, Senator Clinton used this time honored tactic in an attempt to disarm criticism of her inaccurate memory of being under fire on an airstrip in Bosnia during a foreign policy trip.

This controversy actually seemed to have died off on it’s own prior to the Leno appearance. This is a very good thing for the Senator. The more you think about her error, the more inexplicable it seems. We all forget things, but being shot at tends to be a pretty memorable event. Still, her opponent wasn’t hitting her on it, and the story didn’t have a lot of legs.

Given all of that, is this use of humor disarming, or arming? (Note: Only the first minute of this clip is relevant.)

– Loveland

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8 thoughts on “Disarming or Arming Humor?

  1. Is there a substantial, clear explanation of how exactly Sen. Clinton “had a lapse”? Has this actually been explained? Something like “I was shot at when I landed here, but I misspoke and said it happened there, and video footage proves otherwise…”?

    I mean, this particular appearance isn’t bad, but I can’t help but feel as though I’m missing something or she’s skating on this issue or something.

  2. GH says:

    It was pre-emption, don’t you think? Leno was probably going to ask about it, so she just threw it out there to deal with it her way.

    Awkward, though. So long as there are U.S. soldiers under actual sniper fire, it’s strange to see a candidate make light of her mistaken claim to having had the experience.

  3. jloveland says:

    MK, I think her explanation has been that there was sniper fire in the hills around the airport and she misremembered how close it was to them. That’s lame enough, but I think other people on the trip don’t even remember sniper fire in the hills.

    Great point GH. I just wonder if the proactive humor approach was any more effective than the reactive answer might have been. Some things just don’t lend themselves to disarming humor. “Well Jay, I was almost late because I stopped at my church to ask God to damn America, yuck, yuck.” If the reactive and proactive approach are equally ineffective, I guess I’d forgo the proactive approach and hope Jay sticks to soft balls. Tough call.

  4. Did Bill Clinton make jokes about keeping his fly zipped while on the phone in the Oval Office? Probably, but not on the Tonight Show.

    Tasteless. Wooden. Practiced. Boneheaded. As real as Disneyland, and as funny as cancer.

    Were I advising Hillary — well, I’d shoot myself. But, theoretically, I’d say to her… I’d have nothing to say.

    This is one of the times when there is no PR spin that can help. No tactics. This is one of those times you can’t help Exxon by suggesting they give to Ducks Unlimited or make jokes about how oil and water can mix.

    I’d have told her to stay off Leno.

    And then I’d shoot myself.

  5. jloveland says:

    And just when you thought the controversial had finally died down on it’s own, President Clinton is out raising it again on the trail.

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