So You’re Sean Spicer …

It’s easy to lampoon Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s press secretary. He does it himself every day.

But what would you do?

Your boss tells you that you need to go out and spank the media, be tough like he is, and tell them that the crowd at your inauguration was the biggest ever. Period. It’s your first day on the job. It’s a job you really like and want to keep. So you give the president your advice, that saying this about the crowd will make all of you look foolish. The president asks you “Whose side are you on?” If you won’t go out there and straighten the press out he’ll find someone who will. Trump’s decision is made, and you have your marching orders.

So what do you do? Easy to say, those of us who don’t have such cool apex-predator jobs, that we’d resign rather than say something we know is not true. But would we? Would you? You make your case, you lose, the boss tells you what to do. He’s the boss.

What about something not so black and white. The message to be delivered today as the House tinkers with the Trumpcare bill is that, by removing the requirements in Obamacare that 10 essential benefits be covered, consumers will have more choice and their coverage will cost less. The essential benefits are things like prenatal care, mental health and substance abuse care, therapy and devices to help recovery after injuries or for chronic conditions, prescription drug coverage and six more. An older man, say, could chose a plan that doesn’t cover prenatal care. Sounds good, right?

But by letting people pick and choose, costs will go up for the people who do need things like prenatal care. And, if the costs get too high and a mother doesn’t get prenatal care, guess who pays for the ensuing problems her child has once born? Everybody pays, especially when care is sought through emergency rooms by people who can’t afford the coverage after it’s been cherry-picked.

So, what you’re telling people — that choice is good for everybody — simply isn’t true. At least that’s a reasonable argument. But your job is not to present both sides of a case. It’s to support the case you’re advocating for. If you’re selling soda-pop, it’s not your job to point out that a 12-ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. But it’s probably also not your job to say that soda-pop is healthy.

Spicer today eagerly and strongly asserted that doing away with the requirement that health plans cover these 10 essential services is better for health-care consumers. If you were told to say that, what would you do?

My easy answer #2 is that I wouldn’t work for someone in the first place who has shown his entire career that he sides with the rich and doesn’t give a damn about the little guy, whom he has consistently stiffed. I wouldn’t work for someone in the first place whose values are based on selfishness — I’ve got mine and you’re on your own to get yours, even when mine is crowding out yours.

But Spicer wanted this job. He’s not just some guy who came out of Trump University with a bubble-gum-card diploma. He has a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. He’s worked in communication for Congress and for the Republican Party. He’s not a rube or a dupe. I don’t think.

So … the president tells you to go out and say, for example, that Paul Manafort played “a limited role for a very limited time” in the Trump campaign. That’s nonsense, of course, for a man who was campaign chairman.

What do you do? Chime in here, let us know your thoughts.

— Bruce Benidt

Melissa-McCarthy-Spicer-650x330

 

 

Hillary’s Perfect “How Not To” Crisis Case Study

“Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself.” These are Lanny Davis’s guidelines for crisis communications.

Hillary Clinton has violated all of them. And that’s why the email albatross is still screeching around her neck, making the majority of Americans feel she’s not truthful. Clinton’s email mess and her increasing obfuscation and dodging is the quintessential example of a crisis so poorly handled that it is never allowed to die. She shot herself in the left foot by setting up a private email system, and she continues to shoot off toe after toe on her own right foot with increasingly obtuse loads of bullshit which are crippling her campaign and destroying her credibility.crisis-tales-9781451679298_hr

Lanny Davis helped Bill Clinton through Monica and impeachment, is a partner in a crisis communications firm, and has written a pretty darn good book about handling crises, Crisis Tales. Hillary has been acting for months not only as if she’s never met Davis, but as if she’s never heard the most basic advice a junior account executive in PR would give someone in a crisis — “get the thing over with, get everything out, deal with it and don’t let it drag on.”

Another crisis comm bromide: It you’re explaining, you’re losing. Clinton is still explaining, to Fox News, to the associations of Black and Hispanic Journalists, to anybody who can still stand to listen. Which is almost nobody.

And the final rule in handling crises — have somebody with a finely tuned bullshit detector on your team who will speak truth to power. Somebody needed to sit Clinton down and tell her last week — “No, Hillary, FBI director Comey did NOT say your FBI testimony was consistent with all your public statements. No, Hillary, you did NOT short-circuit your answer with Chris Wallace on Fox, you were NOT talking past each other. What you are saying, Hillary, is NOT TRUE. And people will know it, and they’ll recognize that you’re still spinning and dodging and dancing and they’ll rightly conclude you’re not trustworthy.” Tough stuff to say, but that’s what a smart person needs around her, someone who will tell her the truth. Has anyone? Does she not listen?

As hundreds of observers have said, this whole mess could have been dealt with honestly and openly when the email issue first surfaced and it would have caused much less harm than this dragged-out water torture has.

But what should Hillary do now? I watched Joe Scarborough struggle with this on Morning Joe today, trying to role play what Hillary might say now. It’s not easy. Scarborough stumbled through some straight talk and some obfuscation, went too far, said too much, and ended up promising a Clinton term would be the most ethical in history.

If I were advising Clinton, I’d have her say something like this: “I haven’t been as forthcoming and clear as I need to be about this email mistake I made, and I want to correct that. Having a private server was a mistake in judgment pure and simple, and I’m sorry for it. And how I’ve handled questions about it has caused many people to doubt my honesty, and I regret that. I ask people to judge my character and capability based on my whole record of public service, where my constituents and colleagues have trusted me.”

Something like this could help, even now. What she says has to be short, simple, and has to address head on the elephant in the room — people don’t trust Hillary.

By not stepping up and openly taking the hit, Clinton has caused herself months and months of debilitating atrophy of her reputation and — has increased the possibility that a crude, immature, ignorant huckster might become president. We’re all paying the price for Hillary Clinton’s refusal to deal honestly and forthrightly with a crisis.

— Bruce Benidt

 

 

 

 

You gotta show us you feel our pain

A New York Times story today, about whether the Brexit uprising against the establishment will echo in the U.S. campaign and surprise and hurt Clinton, says, with thundering understatement, “The American electorate has tilted this year toward presidential candidates who make them feel as much as think…”

Precisely why so many of us are fearful that Hillary Clinton could lose what should be a landslide for a compelling Democratic candidate. Clinton conveys all the emotion and warmth of an ATM.

I think her message needs to focus on what the Republicans have been doing that’s harmful and what she and the Democrats have been doing and will do that will help the average American in scary times.

“They’re stealing your money and your future; we’ll help you prosper in a changing, frightening world.”

It takes very little to back up the first assertion — the enormous redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich since Reagan; and the Republicans, owned by fossil fuel moguls, willfully ignoring the global warming that will screw everyone’s children and their children’s children.

Clinton will need to highlight a few specific things she’ll do, and that the Obama administration has done, to back up the second assertion that we’ll help you stay above water as the world changes.

Democrats have to recognize the fear that’s driving people to Bernie and tRump and Brexit. Much of that fear comes from the darkest narrowest places in people — fear of people who don’t look or sound like them. Democrats can’t just dismiss those fears as racist and xenophobic. Those fears are natural, but that doesn’t mean they help the person deal with the world as it is. Clinton has to let people know she knows it’s all scary, but there are ways not just to deal with all that change but to do well amid the change. I don’t know what the policies should be — job retraining, student loans with no interest, federal investment in job-rich industries like solar and wind and rail transportation — Clinton’s the policy wonk, she can come up with a few marquee things that we can all do to ride on the wave of change.

Beyond policy she’s gotta make us feel that she gets why people are scared and that she can lead us through the change to a world where we have work and meaning and safety amid the lively diverse madding crowd.

Frank Luntz, an odious Republican salesman but a smart observer of simple, clear messaging, said Clinton’s “Stronger Together” theme feels bloodless and overly intellectual compared to Brexit’s “Leave” message and tRump’s “Make America Great Again.”

My suggested message is just a first draft — “They’re stealing your money and your future, while we’ll help you prosper in a changing, frightening world.” Smart people, like the readers of this blog, can improve on that. But let’s point out quickly what those other guys are doing to us all and move on to how we’ll help us all keep on truckin’ in heavy traffic.

–Bruce Benidt

 

 

I know, wrong?

i_know_right_-_Google_SearchEvery generation has its annoying catch phrases.  The valley girls and their wannabes famously sprinkled every sentence with “like.”  More recently,  “not so much” has been used ad nauseum to express disapproval or disagreement.

“Whatever!”  It’s not “all good.” Admittedly, often it’s “my bad,” “yada yada.”

I have a house full of teens and young adults these days, so I’m particularly aware of a prevalent catch phrase.  When I assert something that meets with the youngsters’ agreement, a rare event, they invariably respond with “I know, right?”

The main problem with this, or any catch phrase, is that I know it’s only a matter of time before I hear those words coming out of my mouth.  Catch phrases are contagious that way.

I desperately don’t want to let this phrase into my lexicon, because it particularly irritates me.  It makes no sense to respond to an assertion with a question about whether the assertion is correct.

My mama taught me that it is polite to respond to direct questions.  So, it strikes me that the “right?” part of the response requires a response, which leads to mind-numbing exchanges such as this:

Me:  “The Twins starting pitching is crappy.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  “Right.  That’s why I just said it.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  (stink eye)

I know, it’s not really a question.  But then, why include the “right?” part.

I guess this is the “everyone gets a ribbon” generation that we raised.  Even when they are agreeing with us, they need still more affirmation that agreement is acceptable.

Right?

– Loveland

Ship-for-Brains Kmart

For many of us, our biggest strength often also turns out to be our biggest weakness.  For ad agencies, their biggest strengths often are their creativity and sense-of-humor.  Those wacky guys in the skinny jeans and pointy shoes crack me up!  But when not checked by clients and agency grown-ups, that strength can sometimes manifest itself as a weakness.

Witness K-Mart’s ad agency, Draftfcb.   (You can already tell how hip they are just by the funky corporate name.)  This is the assignment Draftfcb was given:  Promote Kmart as an online shopping outlet, something Kmart is lightly associated with.

But, it’s also critically important that any ad agency also be mindful of the overall brand backdrop for their narrow marketing assignment:   Historically, K-mart has had shitty stores, a shitty customer experience, shitty customer service, and shitty products, and, consequently, a shitty brand image.  Kmart desperately needs to change both the reality and perception of its wall-to-wall shitty-ness.

So, Draftfcb created, and Kmart approved, this gut-buster:

Continue reading “Ship-for-Brains Kmart”

The Silence of the NRA, The Voices of the Children

Only once in my crisis-counseling career have I advised a client to just stay quiet. Say nothing. Don’t return media calls. It was an organization accused of something, and they knew worse was likely to be disclosed. Nothing was going to help — not getting out in front of it, not giving a short, straight explanation, not an apology. They just had to keep their heads down and take a beating.

Usually the communications advice in a crisis is to say something, even if it’s just to say “We’re looking into this and will get back to you.” (I am not one of those who advises people to mouth that empty cliche, “We take this very seriously…” — Well, duh, what are you going to say, “Nah, we don’t really care”?) The advice is usually to get your point of view in the mix as soon as possible.

The National Rifle Association has kept its head down since the shootings in Connecticut. Not a word. Not a reply to reporters’ calls, according to The New York Times. No tweets, no website comment for several days after the shootings. Don’t even return reporters’ calls? That’s a no-no in our business. But, really, what could they say?

Newtown Connecticut shootingNow there is a post on NRA.org that says the organization was allowing time for mourning and that the four million NRA moms, dads, sons and daughters were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” by the tragedy. Then: “The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again. The NRA is planning to hold a major news conference in the Washington, DC area on Friday, December 21.”

Stay tuned. In the week since the shootings, the weather has changed for the NRA. Politicians are starting to find their spines. Some reasonable forms of gun and bullet control, once passed and then rescinded, may return as public horror and anger grow. Brian Lambert’s take on leadership in his most recent post lays out the issues well. Leaders at many levels — city, state, federal — are stirring.

But follow the money. The NRA can stay silent in public but speak with their dollars in elections. That’s their MO. A story in Tuesday’s New York Times shows how they take out legislators who are insufficiently loyal to their view of the Second Amendment.

But money cuts both ways. Pressured by the California teacher’s pension fund, Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity fund that owns several gun companies, is selling them. “The move by Cerberus is a rare instance of a Wall Street firm bending to concerns about an investment’s societal impact rather than a profit-at-all-costs ethos,” the Times reported. Some public employees don’t want their pension money supporting 30-bullet magazines. Way to go.

The NRA has been speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Maybe, this time, at last, their voice, and their money, will be overwhelmed by the voices of little children, eloquent in death.

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from guardian.co.uk)

The Top 5 Best and Worst Things About the Blogosphere

People either love or hate blogs, with little in between. When I first started writing this one, I was definitely a hater. In fact, these were the first words I ever uttered in the bloguverse:

“Blah, blah, blog.  I hate blogs.  Self-centered, self-righteous, self-reinforcing, self-gratification.  Seldom right, but never in doubt.”

Thus began my self-loathing career as a person who writes blogs, but most assuredly is not a “blogger.”  (Those people are pathetic, don’t you think?)

But almost six years later, my take on blogs is a bit more nuanced and ambivalent.  Upon further reflection, this is how the pros and cons of the blogosphere net out for me.

The Worst

Anonymous contributors and the vitriol that brings.  Where blog participants are allowed to be anonymous, conversations get juvenile and shallow in a hurry.   That says a lot about human nature, and it limits the promise of blogs.  For me, this is the worst part of hanging around blogs.

The lack of fact-checking.  When it comes to truthiness, you can trust mainstream news outlets much more than blogs, because there are accountability rules and editors at the ready at mainstream news outlets.  Lots of bloggers don’t care about accuracy, and their readers take them at face value and get deceived.  Even bloggers who care about accuracy make bad mistakes when they are blogging on the fly in the middle of a work day, with no support staff to save them.  All of the inaccuracy in blogs is bad for blog readers, and for the credibility of the medium.

The overwhelming volume of information.  The Google machine tells me that there are currently more than 180 million blogs in existence.  The sheer volume of blogs makes it very difficult to find the worthwhile needles in this cyber-haystack.  That limits the promise of blogs. The “drinking from a firehose” cliche is inadequate here.  Drinking from Niagra Falls?

The echo chamberiszation of the planet.   In the blogosphere, most of us seek out voices that support our preconceived notions.  That balkanizes opinion, insulates us from true contemplation and make us all boorish.

The rush to judgement.  Unlike traditional publications, blogs can be published in the time it takes to click a mouse.  This makes the world move a lot faster.  If bloggers don’t post on breaking news now, they feel like the post will be stale.  As a result, bloggers often bypass education and deliberation, and go straight to pontification.  The world needs more education and deliberation, and less instant pontification, and breakneck speed of blogging aggravates the situation.

The Best

The lack of information gatekeepers.  Pre-Internet, very few of us had the money to start a publication to share our own thoughts.  Very few of us were talented enough to get published.   Even among professional writers, very few were allowed to write whatever they wanted.  Bankers, publishers, and copy editors have historically been among the many powerful barriers to mass unfiltered self-expression.  But free services like WordPress allow anyone to say whatever they want whenever they want.    If their mutterings are interesting or provocative enough, they will get spread around to others, for free.  Blogs have made free speech a little more free.

The lack of money influencing publishing decisions.  Almost no blogger makes money blogging.  That means that blog writing is less likely than mainstream media reporting and commentary to be influenced by commercial considerations, such as “what will the advertisers do if I write that.”   For this reason, there often is more speaking truth to power on blogs than there is in the mainstream news media.

The focus on connecting the dots of the daily news.  Only a relative few bloggers uncover actual news.  The rest of us merely connect the dots of news that is reported by mainstrain news reporters.  What mainstream reporters do is more important than what we do here, because it is a necessary prerequisite of what we do here. But connecting the dots is not unimportant.  News events are not stand alone entities unto themselves.  The interplay of news events matters.  These are  important things for citizens in a democracy to be discussing, and more of that type of discussion is happening because of blogs.

The coverage of previously ignored niches.  Mainstream news reporters necessarily can’t cover every societal niche.  But 180 million bloggers can come pretty close.  For people like me with nichey minds, that’s a good thing.

The lack of editing and style guides.  Many of my English major friends who cuddle up with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and my journalism and PR friends who are slaves to the AP Stylebook, can’t abide the no holds barred nature of blog prose.  They mourn the fact that no editor is used by bloggers to spare readers from the ravages of cliches, clunky phrasing, inconsistent usage, misused-hyphens,  and unconventional word choices (e.g. see “bloguverse,” “nichey,” “The Google machine,” “truthiness”) .  But the raw semantic and syntax anarchy you find in blogs also brings much color, fun, creativity, risk-taking and spontaneity to the conversations.   It makes information exchange a little less stuffy and controlled.  Sorry, Strunk, but I love all of that unsanitized prose.

– Loveland

What We Learned From Four Debates.

1. Say what you believe.
2. Short is better than long.
3. Be specific…
4. But don’t get buried in detail.
5. What you do matters more than what you say.
6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit.
7. Don’t whine to the moderator.

So, from a communications coach who never took a debate class, here’s my view, presented at lower decibel levels than when I yelled at the TV screen over the past weeks.

1. Say what you believe. When Mitt Romney said in the last debate that Putin wouldn’t get more flexibility after the election, as President Obama had told him, “He’ll get more spine,” it was a solid hit. Romney believes that, it’s not just a message point, he believes he’s a tough negotiator. He said it with conviction and it rang true. Not true in an ultimate sense, but true in his voice, in his guts. And when Obama said several times in the second and third debates, “Governor, everything you said is just not true,” he had more color and variety and inflection in his voice than in his other points. “You’re the last person who’ll get tough on China,” Obama said, with a solid ring. Even though that was no doubt a practiced line, the president believes it, and you could tell it in the passion in his voice. The stuff he said before that was just blah-blah and he delivered it to the moderator — then he turned to Romney and said it to his face, “Governor, you’re the last…”

In my coaching, i have people start a talk or an interview with what they most believe. No warm-ups, no preliminaries, get what you care about out right away. It brings out the real person, not the practiced person or the image one has decided to project. Imagine — say what you believe. It comes out more concise, in more conversational language, and with more of the speaker’s personality and passion engaged and evident.

2. Shorter is better. Obama often went on too long. He’d make a strong point, but had to layer on more context, which obscured the original point. Romney’s “He’ll get more spine” was powerful because it was short. So was Biden’s “But I always say what I believe” when Paul Ryan said Biden knows about how words don’t always come out the way one wants them to. Romney looked the worst when he was challenged and would go into a filibuster, flooding the room with verbiage in a faster higher voice that made him sound like a kid trying to explain about the cookie jar.

Say what you have to say and shut up.

3. Be specific… Assertions with no examples or specifics to back them up are just marketing blather. I’ll cut the budget. HOW? WHAT? Obama said Romney’s foreign policy is the same as Bush’s. How much stronger to back up that assertion with “Seventeen of your twenty-four advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration that got us involved in a disastrous war on false pretenses. Why should we believe you’ll do any better with this crowd?”

4. But don’t get buried in detail. When Obama explained for the second and then the third time, in the first debate, how his health care board was constructed and what it would do, you knew he was toast. Too much ‘splainin’. The point is — “Would you rather have insurance companies deciding what gets covered and for how much, or representatives of patients and medical staff?”

5. What you do matters more than what you say. Obama lost the first debate before he had two sentences out of his mouth. As so many have observed, he looked down, he looked pissed, he looked like this whole thing was just too stupid for words. Watch Bill Clinton in his recent talks for Obama — the guy’s alive, having fun, smiling — you want to hear him. In the second debate, Romney walking up to the president and saying, over and over like a petulant kid, “Have you looked at your pension, have you looked at your pension…” looked like a jerk and gave the president an opening for a smartass cutting retort. Which brings us to…

6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit. Obama said “My pension isn’t as big as yours, Governor, it doesn’t take me that long to look at it.” Clever, made his supporters feel good, and probably doesn’t sway anyone. Same with “Horses and bayonets” and “The unraveling of the Obama foreign policy” and all the canned talking points and practiced zingers. They sound canned and practiced. Real people respond to people who sound like real people. Even better if they actually are real people who speak like people in my Point 1.

7. Don’t whine to the moderator. When Romney kept saying to the moderator that the president had the first answer so he should get the next one and that he should be able to finish — he looked like the dweeb running for student council vice president. And when Obama did the same, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man who could run a country or stand up to Putin or Boehner or anyone.

I’ve said many times I’d like to see debates with no moderator. The two candidates in a room, start the camera, see what happens, no rules. And in another debate have a town hall audience, they ask questions, but no moderator, see how these two people handle themselves as human beings.

I believe the more a person is himself or herself — not some practiced line-spewer — the more people respond.

But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from npr.org)

Pre-Gaming the First Debate

I’m not sure if it’s actually possible to 1) have the media invest tonight’s debate with any more importance for the Romney campaign than has been done over the last two weeks; 2) come up with another way to lower expectations for both candidates without reducing all of us to fits of giggles; 3) be any more primed for disappointment than all of us – left, right, center – are right now as we are almost certain to see a debate that is probably not going to deliver a knockout blow to Governor Romney, put President Obama on the defensive and the race back into a dead heat or – for the 11 remaining undecided voters in a swing state – illuminate much about what either client plans to do over the next four years.

It is, of course, possible that I’m wrong on any of these points, particularly #3, but statistics are on my side.  Why are nearly all of the most famous moments from Presidential debates from the 70s and 80s?  Because most of the time these events are not particularly memorable and don’t represent turning points in a campaign.

This reality is particularly true when the participants are Barack “No Drama” Obama and W. Mitt “the Robot” Romney.  While different in many ways, both men are generally very skilled at keeping their emotions in check and their talking points firmly in their forebrains.  Couple that with day…and days…and days…of debate camp and the throw down in Denver has all the suspense of two chessmasters replaying a game from the Fischer-Spassky era.  The image of an unscripted and freeflowing debate is just that; an image and not a reality.

None of this, of course, will prevent me from eagerly watching all 90 minutes and then listening to the post-debate analysis on as many channels as my wife will tolerate me surfing.  Here’s what I think we’ll be hearing after the debate: Continue reading “Pre-Gaming the First Debate”

You Don’t Even Have to Put Pants On

Kal Penn on Tuesday night gave the second-most-important speech of the Democratic convention. The actor and one-time youth liaison for the Obama White House gave a lively, hip speech that aimed at turning young people into voters again.

Because of so-far-successful voter suppression laws, college kids and kids who’ve moved recently will find it harder than ever to vote this fall. It is crucial to Obama’s reelection that young people jump through the suppression hoops and cast their votes.

Penn, 35, laid out what the Obama administration has already done — change that has already happened. Penn cited friends no longer fighting in Iraq, friends who have health care coverage, friends who can marry whomever they choose, friends who can afford college because Pell grants haven’t been entirely gutted — yet.

People vote their self-interests, by and large. As Democratic speakers in Charlotte lay out how RomneyRyan cuts to EVERYTHING would affect regular people, it becomes easier for people to vote for Obama. But are enough not-yet-committed people watching the Democratic convention? Are enough young people?

Nope.

Enter YouTube. Kal Penn’s speech should become a hit on YouTube — that’s where young people will hear his message. That’s where they’ll understand the stakes of this election. Twitter should rocket this thing around the world. Let it rock.

The speech, BTW, was damn good. Fluid, funny, short, punchy, engaging.

Let’s hope the speech has electronic legs.

–Bruce Benidt

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Well, that was different.

I’m not much of a Rachel Maddow sycophant, but I have to agree with her that Clint Eastwood’s 11-minute performance at last night’s RNC was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a major party convention.  Maddow was left speechless – for once – and so was I by the surreal sight of Mr. Eastwood rambling and ad-libbing to an empty chair.  Between the mumbling and the fly-away hairdo, Mr. Eastwood came off less like Dirty Harry and more like the old guy down the block who was pretty normal and neighborly in a curmudgeonly way until the day he started cutting the lawn in his underwear with a katana strapped to his back.

His performance makes two things abundantly clear:

1) Nobody – I mean NOBODY – vetted Eastwood’s remarks.  Not even so much as a “Mr. Eastwood, what do you need with the chair?”

2) Actors without good writers to give them good material are rarely worth listening to.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me on this point, but I am 100% sure that Team Romney counts this as a hot mess that is stepping all over the next-day coverage of what was supposed to be “All About Mitt.” Instead, The Big Speech (which in the words of Fox’s Chris Wallace was “workmanlike” at best) has to contend with headlines like:

  • “After a Gunslinger Cuts Loose, Romney Aides Take Cover” – New York Times
  • “Ann Romney: Eastwood Did “A Unique Thing” – CBS News
  • “Clint Eastwood Riff Distracts From Successful Romney Convention” – Washington Post
  • “Clint Eastwood Speech Backfires on Republicans” – Boston.com
  • “Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange?” – Christian Science Monitor
  • “Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at RNC sparks Internet buzz” – NBC News
  • “Clint Eastwood puts liberals in full panic mode” – New York Daily News
  • “Eastwood mocked for kooky speech at GOP convention” – San Jose Mercury News
  • “Clint Eastwood speech with empty chair upstages Mitt Romney at GOP convention” – Newsday
  • “Eastwood, the empty chair and the speech everyone is talking about” – CNN

And on and on and on.  As of now, Google News is serving up more than 1,500 stories related to the Eastwood speech.  Every one of them distracts, detracts from or otherwise obscures the message Romney and company were hoping we’d be talking about today but aren’t.

Check out the New York Times‘ story this morning on who was responsible for this clusterfuck:

Clint Eastwood’s rambling and off-color endorsement of Mitt Romney on Thursday seemed to startle and unsettle even the candidate’s own top aides, several of whom made a point of distancing themselves from the decision to put him onstage without a polished script.

“Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”

Finger-pointing quickly ensued, suggesting real displeasure and even confusion over the handling of Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which was kept secret until the last minute.

A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.

But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said.

Mr. Stevens, in an interview, said he would not discuss internal decision making but described Mr. Eastwood’s remarks as improvised.

There’s some profiles in courage there. I can hardly wait for a Romney presidency in which the aides race one another to their iPhones to rat out their colleagues – anonymously of course – when real decisions go wrong.

Couple last  night’s mess with everything else that went wrong or off-message in Tampa (cancellation of Day 1, the Christie keynote (aka “It’s All About Me”), the cult of Paul Ryan, the peanut tossers, being upstaged by his wife and Condeleeza Rice, the untruths of the Ryan speech, the Ron Paul distractions) and this was NOT a good convention for Romney. Anne Romney, maybe, but not Mitt.

Yes, the GOP talking points would have us believe otherwise, but the reality is that Mitt Romney got less out of this convention than almost anyone. Instead of a bounce, I’m expecting more of a post-convention “thud” in the next set of polls.

Oh well, there’s still the debates.  Governor Romney was pretty good in the Republican debates where he could play Snow White to the Seven Dwarfs but I’m not entirely sure he’ll come across so well in a one-on-one comparison with Obama.

– Austin

 

Vikings’ Jerry Burns Reminds Us How Badly PR Has F-ed Up News Viewing

The field of public relations has sucked nearly all the emotion, candor, color and sincerity out of news programming.

I haven’t done formal research on this, but my sense is that all of this started in the political world.  After the political handlers got done “training” their bosses and clients, the politicans became rhetorical robots.  As a result, they are now less likely to say anything politically perilous, but they are also unlikely to say anything remotely thought-provoking or candid.

The Sunday news shows are living proof.   Virtually no intelligent life can be found there.  It’s not because the guests aren’t intelligent.  It’s because the guests have all been trained.

About the same time, the burgeoning class of media trainers started to suck out what little color and candor ever existed in the world of corporate communications.  PR pros taught their bosses and clients to stay emotionally flat, avoid unflattering questions, and stay “on message” at all costs.  That is sound advice for the client, to a point, but it is absolutely lethal for audiences hoping to learn anything about a businessperson’s actual personality, insights, or intentions.

Increasingly, this rhetorical neutering reached, sigh, the sports world.  Listen to current Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, in all his emotionally flat, cliché-ridden blandness.  “One game at a time,” “everyone do their jobs,” “you take what they give you,” “stick with our game plan.”  Blah, blah, blahtedy blah.  Like white noise, Frazier interviews numb the ear drum.

The ever-programmed Coach Frazier will never begin to hold a player publicly accountable.  For instance, when wide receiver Percy Harvin recently spent a week acting like a spoiled brat, Coach Frazier, who had to be absolutely livid, instead looked like he had been lobotomized.  I can assure you, he had been, by media trainers.

As a result of all this training, I am no more likely to watch an interview of the Vikings’ verbal Vulcan than I am to watch an interview of Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi.  I have learned from experience that none of them will ever say anything remotely genuine or unscripted.  After all, they have been trained.

If you doubt me about how bad sports interviews have become from a spectators’ standpoint, treat yourself to a walk down memory lane with former Vikings Coach Jerry Burns.

Warning:  Do not watch this with the volume up within earshot of  the kiddies, clergy or your mother:

And mind you, this was a game the Vikings won.

Put that Burns interview alongside a contemporary Leslie Frazier interview, and you will see why the NFL is now rightfully called the “No Fun League.”  Burnsy wasn’t afraid to let his real emotions out, provide somewhat frank analysis and bring his cartoon character personality to the screen.  Burns was employed in the entertainment business, and he entertained unabashedly.

If the Vikings hired me to media train Jerry Burns, I supposed I’d feel obligated to put him through Charm School.  And you know what?  F*#k me for doing it.

– Loveland

Programming note:  Thanks to a West Coast Rowdy reader for passing along the vintage video.

“Legitimate Rape”

Missouri Congressman Todd Akin is the GOP’s nominee seeking to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.  Today, in an interview with the Fox affiliate in St. Louis, he was asked about the legality of abortion in the case of rape,  an option the Congressman opposes:

Host: “What about in the case of rape, should it be legal or not?”

Akin: “Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of the things as in, ‘How do you slice particularly tough sort of ethical question?’ It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.  But, let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something…”

You can watch the whole interview here.  The exchange is in the second segment about 4 minutes in.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the number of police-recorded rapes in the United States from 2003-2010 are as follows:

  • 2003:   93,883
  • 2004:   95,089
  • 2005:   94,347
  • 2006:   94,472
  • 2007:   92,610
  • 2008:   90,750
  • 2009:   89,241
  • 2010:   84,767

Remember, of course, that many rapes go unreported.

Not surprisingly, Democrats have jumped all over this comment.  I just got an e-mail from DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the subject and Senator McCaskill was Tweeting about it within a few minutes of it airing.

The Congressman, of course, tried to walk his statement back as a misstatement: ” In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”

Unfortunately for the Congressman, this is not a case in which someone “misspoke” in an inartful way the way Obama and Romney and Biden (and – sooner or later – so too will Ryan) have done several times.  This was a mistake in the sense that Congressman Akin erred in telling us that his world view includes the beliefs:

1) The incidence of  rape – non-consensual sexual intercourse – is rare thus implying that the vast majority of those reports above are made up.

2) If a woman was indeed raped her body would somehow reject the rapist’s sperm to prevent fertilization.

Both of these beliefs are objectionable in the extreme and cannot be forgiven as misstatements.

The second one reminds me of the Dark Ages’ test for witches: tie a stone around a woman and throw her in the river. If she survives, it is a sign of witchcraft and she should be burned at the stake immediately.  If she doesn’t survive, well, at least she went to her heavenly reward with an unsullied reputation.

Amazing.

– Austin

Five Good and Bad Sideshows At Target Field

Since the Twins aren’t much to watch on the field these days, the sideshows start to take on more significance.  Target Field itself remains a draw.  Witness the fact that we still feel compelled to post Facebook photos of ourselves making the scene at games.    But beyond the overall venue are the sideshows, both the good and the bad:

The Bad

Mascot Race.  For some reason, almost all pro sports teams feel compelled to feature some sort of cartoon figure race.  Whatever charm they once initially had is long gone.  While Target Field’s mascot race is slightly better than Metrodome’s cartoon tire races, it is still very, very lame.  And does anyone else think it’s just a little crooked that Target’s corporate mascot has won more races at Target Field than Babe the Oxe, Squita,  and the others?  The corporate fix is obviously in.  Are you seriously telling me a mosquito can’t move faster than a bull terrier?

Every Day is Veteran’s Day.  Before I get hammered for this, please know that I’m extremely thankful for people who serve in the military, especially when they serve in places and ways the politicians should never have authorized.  Overall, we don’t thank them enough.  Still, the cynic in me wonders if the fact that pro sports corporations honor veterans every single game has something to do with “patriotic by association” brand building.  I hope I’m wrong, but that suspicion eats at me. I’ve worked in PR and marketing long enough to know that such crassness is a distinct possibility.  Yes, honor veterans on Memorial Day, July 4th and other special days.  But when the honoring is done every single game, several times per game, it starts to feel forced, cheapened and self-serving.  I’m sure I’m the minority on this issue.  But there, I said it.

Interlude Music.  I’m very, very old, but even I find myself longing to hear music at the game from the current decade.  Not only am I sick to death of 70s and 80s classic rock staleness, but the songs themselves just don’t fit the Minnesota venue.  “Just a city boy, growing up in South Detroit…”  Hello, can you say “hated division rival?”

The Wave. From a very young age, my kids learned that if they participate in The Wave, it will make them ineligible for 7th inning ice cream, and they will be suspended from attendance to the next game.  Sometimes parenting requires tough love.  The Wave is never acceptable at a baseball game, but the worst is when it is done when the home team is getting hammered.   Serious fans do not participate in expressions of “Yay, we’re so euphoric about being 10 runs down that we’re going absolutely bananas here at Target Field!”

Applause Signs.  The electronic scoreboard prompts to “ make some noise” also brings out my grumpy.  Call me old school, but I feel like fans themselves should decide when they feel like cheering.  And if fans aren’t feeling it – perhaps because the home team is hitting .150 with runners in scoring position – electronic begging comes across as just plain pathetic.

The Good

Kiss Cam. Though I’m strongly opposed to public displays of affection, I confess I’m a complete sap for the Kiss Cam.  From the “awww”-inducing octageneraian pecks to the twenty something’s scandalous tonsil ticklers, that old Kiss Cam always makes me smile, in spite of myself.

Hecklers.  Thousandaires lighting into gazillionaires with a string of creative insults — “I’ve seen snakes with better arms!”  — also brings a smile to my sourpuss face.  I don’t heckle, because my momma brought me up right.  Plus, I genuinely feel like the guys are usually doing their best.  But the fact that the powerless can feel free to let loose on the powerful, without fear that they will be punished for it…  Aint that America?

Kid Preference.  When ball players flip a ball into the stands, it’s almost always to a young kid.  When an adult fan kills himself to haul in a foul ball, they often give it away it to a kid, often a kid they never met before.  This is us at our best.  Would that our  collective fiscal decisions were borne of such magnanimity.

Candid Sales Pitches.  I always bought from the beer vendor who called out “Beer here, fifty-one dollars per six pack,” until he mysteriously disappeared.  I also love “Free Root Beer!  $4.75 delivery.”  Thankfully, that guy is still on the job.  I appreciate candor in the face of thievery.  If only the banksters were that transparent and self-effacing.

Take Me Out To the Ball Game.  I never tire of it.  I always sing it, badly.  That quote “a bad day at the ballpark is better than a good day at the office” must have been conceived during the sentimental singing of baseball’s national anthem.  “I don’t care if I never get back” indeed.  Bring us home, Buck:

– Loveland

The Power of a Summary

Hospitals generate reams of patient safety-related data.  But that alone doesn’t make them accountable.

There is power in that data– the power to arm patients and purchasers with the information they need to demand better.  But in the unorganized, unsummarized aggregate, the data are not so powerful. Not to patients anyway.  Obviously, individual patients don’t have the time, inclination or expertise to decipher, organize, summarize and promote the hospital data on their own.  Therefore,  the hospitals’ data are effectively invisible to them.

The hospital data only realizes its potential power in the marketplace when boiled down into something that can be understood by patients at-a-glance, because a glance is all that most of us are willing to give the subject.  Only when boiled down will the hospital data be accessible enough to drive purchasing decisions.

And that is what a national patient safety group called Leapfrog did this week when it summarized hospitals’ patient safety data into school-like grades.  Casting judgements about hospitals is perilous business, because hospitals are fiercely defensive institutions that understandably prefer to promote their miracles over their mistakes.  Though Minnesota hospital leaders were very courageous a few years back to begin publicly disclosing their medical errors, hospital advocates in Minnesota pooh-poohed Report Card Day:

“It’s really a repackaging of what’s publicly available,” (Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) data expert Mark) Sonneborn said.

I really should have tried that one when I was a lad.  “Chill mom, that “D” in Social Studies is actually just a repackaging of information that has been available to you all semester.”

Yes, the data behind the grades is available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  So, if I understood which measures were most meaningful, and I don’t, it would have been technically possible for me to construct the spreadsheet that the Leapfroggers did, and make some kind of a comparison on my own.

But the practical reality is that I never did, and never would.  Life is just too busy to summarize all the data impacting my life.  And even if I was geeky enough to do my own little patient safety data research project, the effort would only benefit me, and not the rest of the country.

MHA is correct that Leapfrog’s methodology is just “repackaging.” But the grades will drive quality improvements much faster than the status quo way of managing the data.  Because whether a hospital got an “A” or a “F” grade, the minute hospital leaders know that easily understood grades are going to be regularly appearing in the hometown news media and competitors’ marketing materials is the moment they start investing more effort, thought and resources into patient safety improvements.    With the advent of publicized grades, they now know that consumers and purchasers will use their new found knowledge to vote with their feet, and their pocketbooks.

Markets work if consumers are informed, and the beauty of the grades is that they are simple enough to do that.  Lifesaving work is most often done by the miracle workers in hospitals wielding scalpels, microscopes, medications, lasers, gauze, latex, disinfectants and needles.  To be sure, these folks are heros.  But lifesaving work can also be done, indirectly, by data jockeys wielding spreadsheets and press releases.  Leapfrog, I give you an “A.”

– Loveland

Online Brainstorms Overcome Many Problems of Traditional Brainstorms

The other day, I highlighted research showing that face-to-face brainstorming meetings are not as effective at generating ideas as quiet contemplation. It’s important to note one partial exception to that rule: online brainstorming.

E-brainstorming.
The research is very supportive of online brainstorming. With face-to-face brainstorming, the larger the group, the worse the performance, both in terms of quantity and quality. With online brainstorming, however, the bigger the group, the better the performance, according to the research.

Why? I’d say it is because online brainstorming fosters what introverts particularly need to excel, time for quiet contemplation and self-vetting. Online brainstorming – a prolonged email-based discussion, for instance – removes many of the problems associated with the ubiquitous face-to-face brainstorming sessions so many organizations adore.

First, online brainstorms remove many of the distractions inherent in face-to-face brainstorm sessions. In face-to-face brainstorming sessions, our minds are racing from irrelevant subject to irrelevant subject: “The facilitator is not as funny as he thinks he is…do people think I’m talking too little, or too much…why Snickers…bad hair day, dude…why does she always work the word “synergy” into every monologue…if I had pointy shoes like that guy, would people conclude that I’m creative…wouldn’t white boards be more environmentally sustainable than giant Post-it notes…is the facilitator on happy pills?”

When you’re back at your keyboard, those environmental distractions are removed, so you can focus on the task at hand. Sure, distractions still exist in your office, but nothing like the wild sideshows happening in Cirque du Brainstormsession.

Second, the problem of “evaluation apprehension” – the fear of looking moronic in front of colleaugues — is mitigated online. After all, with online brainstorms, you have ample time to self-scrutinize and research your argument before expressing it, which builds confidence in the value of the contribution. When allowed sufficient time to develop the idea, you are much more likely to share it, and it is likely to be a better developed idea. Not so with the spontaneous blurting required in face-to-face brainstorming.

Third, the problem of “production blocking” – where thoughts are lost as you’re waiting for others to express their ideas — is nearly eliminated during online brainstorms. With online brainstorms, thoughts can be written down, and fully developed, as you have them.

In short, online brainstorms allow for uninterrupted contemplation, while still taking advantages of the “wisdom of crowds” phenomena.

In the book Wisdom of Crowds, author James Surowiecki sings the praises of the decisions crowds jointly make. But Surowiecki also stresses that crowds are capable of making very bad decisions. He says that a primary factor that leads to poor crowd decision making is when members of the crowd are so conscious of the opinions of others that they start to emulate each other and conform, rather than thinking as individuals.

Face-to-face meetings are much more apt to generate this kind of blind following of vocal group leaders than large groups of people sitting at their keyboards thinking independently.

Granted, online brainstorms are far from perfect. For instance, the problem of social loafing – sitting back and letting others do the work – arguably could be aggravated with large online groups. And tragically, there is no junk food supplied at e-brainstorms. But online brainstorms do avoid many of the problems associated with face-to-face brainstorms, and research indicates that they produce better results.

– Loveland

Brainstorm or Braindrain?

All wet?
Those of you in the PR, advertising and marketing business are probably very familiar with the brainstorm model of idea generation, but I know it is also used in many other industries.

For those of you who have been left out of the brain rain, here is a crash course: During brainstorms, a group of colleagues closes themselves into a room and spontaneously blurts out ideas on the given topic. The ideas are excitedly written on giant Post-it notes adhered to the walls by a perky brain storm facilitator.

“There is no such thing as a bad idea,” the facilitator, pacing around the room frenetically, continually reminds us, usually after someone offers a particularly bad idea. “The wilder the idea, the better!”

The group is urged to generate a large quantity of ideas, and rapidly build off ideas with supplements or variations. Toys and treats are often offered, to foster creativity. A few people usually sit quietly looking at their watches, and looking idealess, while a relative few dominate the airwaves. The session ends with the chirpy facilitator congratulating the participants, pointing to all of the giant Post-it Notes on the walls as evidence of the world changing ideas that the brainstorm precipitated.

Brainstorming, which was particularly promoted by legendary BBDO ad man Alex Osborn, is the operational and cultural building block of many creatively oriented businesses. The brainstorm session is to PR and agencies as the assembly line is to a manufacturer. It’s the place where the company’s talent synergistically comes together to create MAGIC.

Or does it?

In the book “Quiet: The Power of Intoverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain examines the heavy workplace emphasis on consensus and teamwork generally, and the brainstorming work model specifically. Cain cites research done by University of Minnesota psychology professor Marvin Dunnette in 1963. Dunnette asked ad executives and 3M executives to do a set of tasks. Some worked alone, and some in groups. Cain writes:

The results were unambiguous. The men in 23 of the 24 groups produced more ideas when they worked on their own than when they worked as a group. They also produced ideas of equal or higher quality when working individually. And the advertising executives were no better at group work than the presumably introverted research scientists.

Since then, some forty years of research has reached the same startling conclusions. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases…

‘The “evidence from science suggests that businesspeople must be insane to use brainstorming groups,’ writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. ‘If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.’

…Psychologists usually offer three explanations for the failure of group brainstorming. The first is social loafing: in a group some individuals tend to sit back and let others do the work. The second is production blocking: only person can talk or produce an idea at once while the other group members are forced to sit passively. And the third is evaluation apprehehsion: meaning the fear of looking studid in front of one’s peers.”

So, why is brainstorming still such a big part of business operations?

Because we’re all afraid to protest, for fear we will look like killjoys who can’t appreciate all the giddy merriment and free Snickers bars?

Because all of those Post-it notes on the wall feel more like tangible evidence of productivity than the evidence offered by peer reviewed scientific research?

Because the extraverted leaders that tend to lead organizations personally are attracted to the energy such sessions gives them?

Quick, someone get some giant Post-it Notes, colored markers, beanbag chairs and Cheetos. We’ll get to the bottom of this in no time!

– Loveland

Silver Parachutes and Super Pacs

In the blockbuster dystopian movie and novel The Hunger Games, when contestants are near death, wealthty sponsors are allowed to intervene by sending a silver parachute containing the life-giving substance they need to survive long enough to kill others. These powerful sponsors watch the bloody show stealthily from the sidelines until they are moved to use their wealth and power to save or waste lives. They play God.

In politics, we now have a remarkably similar system. The contemporary silver parachutes contain hundreds of millions of dollars in messaging for candidates near death. The sponsors are stealthy puppeteers possessing the power of political life and death. We call them Super PACs and 527 groups.

In Minnesota, gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer had a 527 group funded by Target, Best Buy and other corporations spending millions to fund his anti-gay crusade.

Nationally, Newt Gingrich has been near death countless times during the Republican primaries. But timely life-giving silver parachutes keep arriving from a billionaire Super PAC pupetteer, allowing Newt to continue to bloody his opponents.

Now, Mitt Romney, staggering from wounds inflicted largely by fellow conservatives and himself, has a D-Dayesque number of Super PAC silver parachutes lofting into his lap. This morning’s news advises that as much as $200 million in Super PAC money will be arriving to heal what ails him. The size of that number had me choking on my Cheerios. The money, a consultant cooly explains, will be used to “dislodge voters” from Barrack Obama.

President Obama will also have his own silver parachutes arriving to do his own “dislodging.”

A handful of powerful sponsors playing God in a game where lives are saved and lost. There are many problems here. The lack of limits. The lack of disclosure. The granting of individual rights to corporations.

Lord Acton warned, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The silver parachutes possessed by a relatively small club of powerful sponsors are drowning out the voices of those who are supposed to have an equal voice in a democracy. Are the silver parachutes corrupting? Absolutely.

– Loveland

Paul Douglas: Sh*t Storm Chaser

Seen in same room at same time?
I’ve always thought WCCO-TV meteorologist Paul Douglas looked like Pee Wee Herman, comedian Paul Reubens’ brilliant character who famously responded to insults by using every elementary student’s favorite plaground rebuttal: “I know you are, but what am I??” Works every time.

Well, Paul the weatherman might be tempted to use Paul the comedians’ cathartic line over the next few weeks, as conservative climate chaos doubters get wind of his recent Huffington Post essay “A Message From a Republican Meteorologist on Climate Change.”

In contrast to KSTP-TV weather man Dave Dahl, Douglas has long been a believer in climate change. But he really provoked the anti-science crowd in this tour de force. It’s a long piece, but worth the read. Here are a few excerpts:

I’m going to tell you something that my Republican friends are loath to admit out loud: climate change is real.

I’m in a small, frustrated and endangered minority: a Republican deeply concerned about the environmental sacrifices some are asking us to make to keep our economy powered-up. It’s ironic. The root of the word conservative is “conserve”. A staunch Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, set aside vast swaths of America for our National Parks System, the envy of the world. Another Republican, Richard Nixon, launched the EPA. Now some in my party believe the EPA and all those silly “global warming alarmists” are going to get in the way of drilling and mining our way to prosperity. Well, we have good reason to be alarmed.

My father, a devout Republican, who escaped a communist regime in East Germany, always taught me to never take my freedom for granted, and “actions have consequences”. Carbon that took billions of years to form has been released in a geological blink of an eye. Human emissions have grown significantly over the past 200 years, and now exceed 27 billion tons of carbon dioxide, annually. To pretend this isn’t having any effect on the 12-mile thin atmosphere overhead is to throw all logic and common sense out the window. It is to believe in scientific superstitions and political fairy tales, about a world where actions have no consequences — where colorless, odorless gases, the effluence of success and growth, can be waved away with a nod and a smirk. No harm, no foul. Keep drilling.

Thems fightin’ words. Hang on, Paul, a violent storm front is rolling into your neighborhood.

– Loveland

“Vacation, Vacation, Vacation” Trumps “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” At Minnesota Legislature

Republican politicians love to cite private sector experiences as their guiding compass in legislative matters. They puff out their pin-striped draped chests and declare (feel free to use a Foghorn Leghorn voice if you’d like):

“In the private sector, we do audits and cut the fat we identify.”

“In the private sector, we know how to create jobs by golly.”

“In the private sector, we demand accountability from our investments.”

These kinds of private sector references got a lot of traction with voters in the 2010 elections. To voters, the private sector expertise seemed key to producing the “jobs, jobs, jobs” that Republican candidates were promising, promising, promsing.

For now, let’s put aside the question of whether the private sector really is more lean, efficient, and accountable than the public sector. For today, I pose a different question. Can you ever imagine private sector fans making this boast:

“In the private sector, we set a goal of punching out super early with major projects unfinished, so we have more time to be at home.”

That’s not one I hear a lot. Yet according to an article in yesterday’s Star Tribune, those in the Minnesota Legislature who are most likely to start sentences with “In the private sector” are…

…edging toward a historically early end to the legislative session, potentially ditching dozens of prized initiatives in their determination to head home and hit the campaign trail.

The tulips are up, the bushes are budding and it’s time to go home,” said Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, amid buzz that next Friday’s targeted start for spring recess could instead become a final adjournment.

Senjem has been cajoling lawmakers into adjourning by the end of the week, more than a month before the constitutionally mandated end.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, would prefer to go till the end of April. That would still be the earliest adjournment in 14 years.

No jobs bill because of...
Really? When the going gets tough, the tough gets…gardening?

I ask you, do you hear old Bill Cooper, the CEO at TCF Bank, declaring to his Carlson School cronies, “The tulips are up, boys, so let’s punch out early and head to our respective mansions?” Hell no, Bill the Bankster makes sure they all stay until every last bank fee is raised. That’s the way they do it “in the private sector!”

But among the private sector’s champions at the Capitol, it seems their goals are mighty modest.

“As far as I am concerned, if we can block a whole bunch of spending in a bonding bill and get the photo ID bill done, that’s enough,” said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who faces his first re-election.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see them stay in session into the summer, like last year. As Will Rogers said, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.”

But I have to say, with all the issues Minnesota faces — schools that need to be paid back, chronically unemployed workers who need jobs, structural deficits that need fixing — the earliest adjourment in 14 years seems pretty lame to many of us “in the private sector.”

– Loveland

Republican Spin Doctors Misdiagnosing Obamacare

Republican spin doctors are emboldened by public opinion polls that consistently find that a majority of Americans disapprove of Obamacare. For instance, this morning’s Star Tribune carried a New York Times News Service story that was typical of the superficial poll coverage you usually see in the news. The headline read:

“47 percent disapprove of health care law, poll finds”

That headline is perfectly accurate, and Republicans think those findings are, as the Vice President would say, a “BFD.” They conclude that Americans oppose Obamacare because it is an overly radical “government takeover of health care.”

But it would behoove GOP spin doctors to probe more deeply into recent public opinion research. Because a more thorough reading of polls shows Republicans are on shaky ground with their promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with some kind of a scaled back alternative.

For example, a March 2012 Pew Research poll found 45% disapprove of Obamacare. Romney wins, right?

Not so fast. The same Pew poll also probed why people disapprove, and it turns out that 53% of Americans either want to do as Democratic candidates suggest, “leave it as is” (20%) or “EXPAND IT” (33%), while only 38% want to do what the GOP field wants, to “repeal it.”

That doesn’t exactly look like Americans rising up against “government takeover of health care,” as GOP candidates continually portray it. According to that poll, most Americans want Obamacare as is, or supersized.

Likewise, a March 2012 Bloomberg poll finds that 57% either agree that the Affordable Care Act “may need small modifications, but we should see how it works” (46%) or “it should be left alone” (11%), while only 37% who think “it should be repealed.”

And then there is a March 2012 Kaiser poll. It finds that 41% of Americans support the Republican solutions of either “repeal and not replace” (23%) or “repeal and replace with a GOP alternative” (18%), while a larger group of 47% supports the Democratic solutions of either “keep law as is” (19%) or “expand the law” (28%).

Finally, Republicans who conclude that those top line Obamacare disapproval numbers indicate that Americans prefer to have Republicans fixing health care in the post-Supreme Court ruling world may want to read further into that Pew poll. Pew found a large plurality of Americans saying that Democrats would “do a better job dealing with health care,” with 49% preferring Democrats and just 35% preferring Republicans.

In other words, be careful what you wish for, Tea Partiers. If the Supreme Court blows up Obamacare, voters may very well prefer to elect Democrats to come up with Plan B.

Reading the top line Obamacare disapproval numbers without digging more deeply into voter research is spin doctor quackery. It’s like a physician concluding that a patient with a headache has a brain tumor, without first digging into detailed diagnostic scans and lab results.

– Loveland

The (Propaganda) Road We’ve Traveled

Unlike a lot of liberals, I don’t just tolerate President Obama. I don’t just like him better than the dismal alternatives. I admire him more than any other President in my lifetime. Not because he is black, a Democrat and articulate, as I my conservative friends charge. I admire him because he had a breathtakingly difficult economic, political and foreign policy assignment that he has done better than I imagined anyone could. Not perfectly by any stretch, but, given the difficulty of the tasks, very well.

So because of my man crush, I recognize I’m not an objective observer. But trying my best to judge it as a communications professional rather than an Obama admirer, I have to say the video the Obama campaign released yesterday tells the story of the Obama first term better than any communications tactic I’ve seen from Team Obama.

Love Obama or hate him, this is extremely good story telling, or propagandizing, depending on your point-of-view. It sets a context that makes an objective swing voter feel better about only having 8.5% unemployment and one sunsetting war.

Seeing this took me down another road I’ve traveled. I vividly remember despising every second of President Reagan’s masterful Morning in America ad, because it was so effective. Twenty-eight years later, I still hate watching the propaganda film that cemented President Reagan’s reelection, and his version of history.

President Obama’s film isn’t nearly as good as Reagan’s, mostly because it is 16-minutes longer, which severely limits the audience that will see it. But if I were a conservative, I would hate watching this film as much I hated watching “Morning in America” back in the day.

Maybe this isn’t saying much, but Obama’s film is the best political storytelling I’ve seen a Democrat do in a very long time. Base, if this won’t rally you, I don’t know what will.

– Loveland

Mitt’s Mutt Matters

Impactful issue?
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin advise us that about 46% of Americans self identify as dog people, 12% as cat people, and 28% as both dog and cat people. In all, an overwhelming three-fourths of Americans are down with the dogs.

I share this market segmentation because it may explain why first Newt Gingrich and today Rick Santorum are bringing up the bizarre tale of Mitt Romney reportedly strapping his crated Irish Setter Seamus onto the top of the family vehicle for a lengthy family trip at highway speeds. Reportedly, when Seamus relieved himself mid-trip, due to fear, stress or bursting bowel, Mitt hosed the mutt, and put him back on top.

Grrr, say the dog lovers. Ruff stuff.

Most political consultants will tell you that “Who would I rather have a beer with” really is a relevant political metric. So, is this also a relevant political metric: “Who would I rather have dog sit my little snookems?”

In all seriousness, this will end up costing Governor Romney votes. At best, it makes him look like an oddball, and makes you wonder what other weird ideas lie beneath the hair gelled facade. At worst, it makes him look completely heartless. For a guy struggling mightily to connect with ordinary families, 74% of whom are dog people, this story just can’t be helpful.

Many issue wonks dismiss these kinds of human interest-type controversies as irrelevant. But in an election where the issue positions of the GOP candidates are very similar, and, at this stage, very familiar, these water cooler topics will impact voter opinions on a gut level, both now and in the General Election.

In politics, spouse abuse has long been verboten. It is very difficult for wife beaters to get elected. In this groundbreaking 2012 election, we will soon see whether dog abuse has an impact.

– Loveland

Reframing Minnesota’s Moronic Ballot Questions

Reframing.
The good news is that the Minnesota Legislature pledges to adjourn earlier this year than they did last year. The bad news is that they are pushing their lawmaking responsibilities off to voters. Legislators are passing the buck on policy decisions about legislative rules, labor law, voting limitations, and marriage law.

And so now, we’re going to have a little taste of California coming our way. Not balmy weather and trend-setting, but endless ballot initiative campaigns.

Because Republicans are controlling the Minnesota Legislature, they get to write the bills that put these amendments on the ballot. As such, they get the first crack at framing the issue, and reporters largely mimick their framing (though the Star Tribune does now put quotation marks on the term “right-to-work”).

Then, the job of opponents will be to try to reframe the issue. Overwhelmed voters facing a lengthy ballot aren’t likely to dedicate a lot of frontal lobe bandwidth to these decisions, so the battle will be over what soundbite voters are hearing in their heads as they read the amendments on Election Day.

One bloggers’ lightly informed thoughts about reframing:

Supermajority Amendment” should be reframed as “Supergridlock Amendment.” Tagline: “If you like gridlock, you’ll love the Supergridlock Amendment.”

Strategy: Tap into the powerful post-government shutdown sentiment that is driving the 72% disapproval rating for the Minnesota Legislature among Independent voters.

Right-to-Work Amendment” should be reframed as “Right-to-Leech Amendment.” Tagline: “Because we all love That Guy who drinks the beer, but is nowhere to be found when the bill arrives.”

Strategy: Make the argument personal instead of about abstract notions of “pro- or anti-union.” That is, make it about the fundamental unfairness of some benefiting, but expecting others to pay for their benefits.

Photo ID Amendment” should be reframed as “Voter Red Tape Amendment.” Tagline: “A bureaucratic solution in search of a problem.”

Strategy: Frame this as something independent voters are very wary of – more unnecessary bureaucratic red tape making life more complex. About half (47%) of independent voters say regulation usually does more harm than good.

Same Sex Marriage Amendment” should be reframed as “Marriage Ban Amendment.” Tagline: “Who is government to say who someone can and can’t love?

Strategy: Frame it as the government overreaching by appointing itself The Love Police.

As is my custom, I’m operating 100% fact free here. I haven’t seen any of the relevant voter research, or findings from other states. But right now, all of these amendments look like they could pass, so even ignorant brainstorming from the peanut gallery probably can’t hurt.

– Loveland

A Pox On The House (and Senate)

In the past year, Republicans and Democrats have offered Minnesotans clear and divergent visions.

GOP leaders in the Minnesota Legislature proposed no new taxes, a cuts-only approach to budgeting, and a focus on loading up the ballots with constitutional amendments on issues that poll well for them, such as gay marriage, tax limitation and photo ID.

Meanwhile, DFL Governor Dayton proposed a budget with both painful cuts and tax increases on the most powerful Minnesotans, and has tried to broker solutions on a series of contentious issues such as environmental permits, Obamacare implementation and the Vikings Stadium.

It would seem as if the GOP set the more savvy political course. After all, opposing tax increases is always popular, and “let the voters decide” is reliable crowd pleaser. Score for the Republicans, right?

At the same time, Dirty Job Dayton’s work on environmental permits and cutting social services for vulnerable Minnesotans is extremely unpopular with his liberal base. Obamacare promotion and tax increases are the two most unforgiveable sins in the eyes of conservatives. And Vikings Stadium subsidies are controversial across-the-board, including with the all-important Independents. The Governor has stepped on a lot of toes.

With those two competing policy agendas, you might expect that Governor Mark Dayton would get politically pummeled.

But so far, it’s not working out that way. According to a new Survey USA survey, Dayton’s approval rating is 50%, while the GOP Legislature’s is an astoundingly low 17%.

An approval rating of 50% for one side and 17% for the other doesn’t represent a “a pox on both of your houses” verdict. Clearly, Minnesotans are aiming their pox.

For context, Richard Nixon’s disapproval rating when he resigned in disgrace in August 1974 was 66%. The Republican Legislature’s disapproval rating is a statistically identical 65%. Even conservative Minnesotans don’t favor the GOP-controlled Legislature over Dayton (26% approval for Dayton, 25% for the GOP-led Legislature).

I know, I know. The election is still nine months away, executives tend to be more popular than institutions, and institutions can be unpopular while individuals still get reelected.

Still, these numbers are LOW, and trending in a very bad direction for Republicans. Republicans played what they felt was their best political hand in 2011, and Dayton played a very risky political hand, and somehow Dayton is getting more popular as the Legislature is getting much less popular.

You can’t chalk this up to superior communications skills. Dayton is widely considered to be a below average bully pulpeteer, while legislative leaders are pretty solid and aggressive communicators. So far, Minnesotans just seem to prefer Dirty Job Dayton’s governance approach.

– Loveland

Media Pulls Metaphorical Condom Over GOP

Who needs protection?
To state the obvious, any policy position that causes a candidate to lose more political support than they gain constitutes a politicial liability. For instance, any policy position that causes 23% of Americans to say they’re more likely to support you, while almost twice as many (40%) say they’re less likely to support you is a significant political leg iron in a close election.

Those are the recent findings of a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of Americans on the issue of the Obama Administration’s policy requiring employees to provide health insurance that covers contraception.

But despite such findings, the news coverage of the issue leads you to believe that it is President Obama, not Republican critics of the policy, who is suffering mightily from the issue. If you search Google News with “Obama contraception controversial,” you get 1,100 stories. The USA Today headline screams “White House to address controversial birth control policy.” Politico says “Obama tries to quell birth control firestorm‎.” The Seattle Post Intelligencer notes “Obama contraceptive mandate has a price.”

It sounds like Obama is getting destroyed on this issue. But the polls suggest his opponents are more endangered.

GOP frontrunner du jour Senator Rick Santorum had this to say about the issue:

“Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Senator Santorum sounds like he is talking about the most deviant of sexual practices, but he is talking about something that 99% of sexually active American women, and 98% of Catholic women, use or have used. Why aren’t political reporters questioning the political exposure this creates for him and his party?

In GOP caucus echo chambers, maybe this works as a proxy for the claimed “war on religion.” But in the General Election, the polling shows that banning access to contraception constitutes an extremely dangerous politically transmitted disease.

– Loveland

Ron Paul: The Black Eyed Pea of Politics

Where's the love y'all?
Yesterday GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul drew 1,800 mall walkers to his Mall of America (MOA) speech.  It’s tempting to characterize this public outpouring as a sign of political viability.  But drawing 1,800 drive-by gawkers at MOA is not especially difficult, as the agent of many a fading boy band star could tell you.  Moreover, Paul’s winless performance in the first several GOP contests would have driven any reality-based candidates from the race by now. 

But still, it’s kind of amazing that the libertarian leprechaun is still drawing anybody, much less twenty-something hipsters.  But he is.

Robert California, James Spader’s character on the NBC TV comedy The Office, said this about another celebrity popular with Generation Whatever We’re Calling This One:

I’m so tired of the Black Eyed Peas.  It’s rock and roll for people who don’t like rock and roll.  It’s rap for people who don’t like rap.  It’s pop for people who don’t like pop.

That, my friends, is Ronald Ernest Paul. 

To the Black Eyed Peas (BEP) generation, Ron Paul is a conservative for people who don’t like conservatives.  Like a good conservative, he promises to strip your obligation to help pay for Grandma’s meds. BUT he doesn’t want to criminalize sex and drugs, as other conservatives do. 

And he’s a liberal for people who don’t like liberals.  Like a good liberal, Ron Paul promises to end America’s costly wars on drugs and phantom WMD. BUT he doesn’t want spend the savings on rebuilding our infrastructure, as other liberals do.

The Paul platform leaves less in taxes for us to pay, and consequently more money in our pockets to spend on newly legalized sex and drugs. Nice.

In this manner, Ron Paul wins the support of Snoop Dogg.  And Barry Goldwater, Jr.  Can the fergalicious lead singer of BEP be far behind?

– Loveland

Minnesota Media Sides With Anti-Union Forces By Adopting “Right To Work” Framing

On the abortion issue, one group of advocates says “Right to Life,” the other side says “Pro-Choice” and the news media usually opts for the more neutral term, calling it a debate over “abortion rights,” or describing the protagonists as being “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion rights.” Fair enough. On that issue, reporters have done a pretty good job of striking a balance on the language they use.

But on the top labor issue of the day, one side says “Right to Work,” the other side says “Right to Work for Less” or “union busting.” The media goes with “Right to Work.”

Pioneer Press headline: “Republicans set stage for right to work fight in Minnesota”
Star Tribune headline: “State Republicans launch right-to-work amendment”
MPR headline: “One on One: The Right to Work Amendment”

In other words, the news media is framing the issue exactly how pro-amendment spin savants want it framed.

As reporters know, there is a reason why amendment proponents deliberately chose the words “right to work” for their propaganda. Extensive market research told them swing voters felt supportive of the notion of having the “right to work,” and are opposed to someone taking that right away from them. Who wouldn’t? So, they invest in millions of dollars worth of marketing and PR trying to make that wording stick.

At the same time, amendment opponents’ market research told them that “Right to Work for Less” was helpful to their cause. Those words bring attention to the fact that the typical employees in states with this union restriction make about $5300 less per year than employees in other states, a fact that is extremely helpful in selling their point-of-view.

To be fair, perpetually PR-challenged unions don’t do themselves any favors on this front, as they continually use their opponents’ “right to work” framing in their own communications, making that label seem normalized and mutually acceptable.

Still, as with the abortion debate, reporters should avoid both side’s carefully focus grouped labels, and go with more neutral language. For instance, they could call it a “union limitation amendment,” or some such poker-faced pabulum.

Minnesotans are going to be exosed to a lot of news coverage about this amendment over the next nine months, so it’s a good time for editors to have earnest conversations about fair rules of engagement. Reporters need to get a lot better at covering the issue in a balanced way.

– Loveland

Oops

On paper, Rick Perry entered the race as arguably the strongest contender to get the GOP Presidential nomination.

• Governors do better than members of Congress in presidential politics, particularly in a year when Congress has record-low support. Perry was a long-serving Governor who had never worked in DC.

• Southerners tend do better than northerners in a Dixie–dominated GOP party. Perry was arguably the only southerner in the field. (I think Newt feels more DC to most.)

• Republicans are seemingly more obsessed than ever with the Reagan mystique. Perry’s swagger and look was arguably the most Reaganesque.

• The economy is the paramount issue in 2012. Perry had been running a state doing relatively well economically.

• Presidential campaigns require lots of money. The darling of the Texas corporate class and national political opportunists had more money than most in the field, both for his own campaign and for pro-Perry Super PACs.

• Republican activists are very intolerant of political compromise. Perry had governed in a state so conservative than he rarely had to compromise (unlike Romney and Pawlenty, for instance).

• Being a white male Protestant conservative is a key political asset in the Republican Party. Post-Pawlenty, Perry had that advantage to himself.

Because Perry was so strong on paper, I originally thought he would win the nomination, and had the best shot against Obama. He had the longest list of important political assets.

But at the end of the day, Presidents are not picked on paper. You have to execute, and Perry just was never able to execute on a communications level. Oops.

– Loveland

Minnesotans Shouldering Hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax

This week the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) announced that its member hospitals paid $226 million in “charity care” last year. The MHA is referring to instances when uninsured and underinsured patients are unable to pay their hospital bills, and the hospitals get stuck with the expenses.

While the term “charity care” is used by hospitals, hospitals don’t end up bearing the whole burden. They make up for the bills substantially by charging more to their insured patients, and insurance companies subsequently shift these higher costs to insurance premium payers.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either the hospitals or the insurers. They would go out of business if they couldn’t shift costs.

Supporters of preserving the Anti-Obamacare Tax.
But it is meant to be a criticism of Obamacare obstructionists. The MHA numbers are a reminder that those who have been aggressively blocking efforts to reduce the number of uninsured and underinsured through Obamacare are responsible for maintaining what is akin to an enormous annual tax on premium payers. An Anti-Obamacare Tax.

Given that a fully implemented Obamacare is predicted to reduce the uninsured rate from today’s 50.7 million people to about 18.7 million, and the number of underinsured people by about 70%, leaders opposing Obamacare in Congress, state legislatures and federal courts are effectively blocking the elimination of a huge annual burden on American households. If the anti-Obamacare obstructionists win, we all keep paying this Anti-Obamacare Tax.

And it’s not a small tax. In Ramsey County, taxpayers are up in arms over a proposed $10 million per year tax for the Vikings stadium. This hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax is much more painful. The Center for American Progress finds “on average, 8 percent of families’ 2009 health care premiums—approximately $1,100 a year—is due to our broken system that fails to cover the uninsured.”

– Loveland