I Am Not A Gay Lesbian Crook

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 12, 2014 – 6:02 am

I’ve written before about the dangers of uttering “quotes of denial,” in which the word “not” is placed immediately before a negative noun or adjective.

The problem is that the defensive-sounding negative word or phrase tends to linger longer in the public memory than the word “not.” So when Chris Christie uttered the phrase “I am not a bully” during his marathon press conference on Thursday, I knew it would be used against him.

Sure enough, here’s the cover from this weekend’s USA Today Weekend:

Chris Christie Not a Bully

Christie should have known better, as history has provided us with numerous examples of bad—or downright disastrous—quotes of denial.

Here are eight memorable examples:

Richard Nixon, 1973: “I am not a crook.” President Nixon’s unfortunate phrase, uttered at the height of the Watergate scandal, became the five most famous words he ever spoke.

Bill Clinton, 1998: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” President Clinton stood by his denial for seven months until he finally admitted that he had, in fact, had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.

Kenneth Lay, 2001: “We’re not hiding anything.” The CEO and chairman of Enron knowingly misled the public about his company’s woeful financial condition. The company filed for bankruptcy shortly after his untruthful claim.

Larry Craig, 2007: “I am not gay.” After being arrested for lewd conduct in an airport men’s bathroom, Idaho Senator Larry Craig denied the accusation by telling reporters, “I am not gay. I never have been gay.” (I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being gay, only that if Craig’s intent was to deny it, he chose the worst way to do it.)

Larry Craig I Am Not Gat

John Edwards, 2008: “I know that it’s not possible that this child could be mine.” The Democratic presidential hopeful denied having a child with his mistress, Rielle Hunter. He later admitted that he is, indeed, the father.

Christine O’Donnell, 2010: “I’m not a witch.” Christine O’Donnell, the Republican Senate candidate from Delaware, had to do crisis control after a tape emerged of her saying a decade earlier that she had, “dabbled into witchcraft.” She took her critics on by releasing an ad that began with the words, “I’m not a witch.” The ad backfired, and she became fodder for the late night comics. She lost.

Oprah Winfrey, 2010: “I’m not a lesbian.” When the talk show host was asked about her relationship with close friend Gayle King, Ms. Winfrey tearfully denied the relationship was sexual. Her quotable quote was splashed across front pages worldwide. (I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being lesbian, only that if Winfrey’s intent was to deny it, she chose the worst way to do it.)

Chris Christie, 2014: “I am not a bully.” Considering that Christie has made a career of incidents like this and this and this, his denial will only serve to reinforce his bullying nature.

How To Avoid The Language of Denial

In this video, I offer a tip for avoiding these types of “quotes of denial.” 

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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