June 2015: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 30, 2015 – 11:14 am

Joe Biden’s oldest son, Beau, died of brain cancer on May 30. It was the latest blow in a life of tragedies for the vice president, whose first wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972. 

In response to the news, politicians on the opposite side of the aisle suspended partisan attacks on Biden and expressed their sorrow. It was heartening to watch as political rivals put their humanity above their politics. 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—a presidential candidate and longtime critic of Mr. Biden’s—struck the perfect tone with a beautifully crafted statement, which he released on his website three days after Beau’s death.Ted Cruz Biden Statement

If Mr. Cruz meant those words, his sentiment was short lived. At a GOP dinner the following day, Cruz decided to take a swipe at Biden and use him as a cheap punch line.

“You know the nice thing? You don’t need a punch line. I promise you, it works. The next party you’re at, just walk up to someone and say, ‘Vice President Joe Biden,’ and just close your mouth. They will crack up laughing.”

While Cruz was gleefully mocking his political opponent, Mr. Biden was preparing to bury his son. Contrast Mr. Cruz’s words with this agonizing photo of a grieving father, taken at Beau’s viewing a few days later.

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Political attacks are nothing new. Candidates of both parties engage in them. And Cruz’s attack is consistent with the fact that some politicians are particularly juicy targets. Former vice presidents (or VP candidates) Al Gore, Sarah Palin, Joe Biden, and Dick Cheney all come to mind as occasional political punch lines; a simple mention of their names, uttered at the right time to the right audience, is almost certain to draw groans or laughs.

But regardless of which party you support or what ideological beliefs you hold, some things should be sacred in American public life. One of them is that politicians should place a moratorium on personal attacks during a time of profound personal grief.

That I have to write such a thing seems absurd—it’s a truth so obvious it shouldn’t have to be stated—and yet, some public figures clearly need to be reminded of it. And that Ted Cruz—a father of two young daughters—needs to be reminded of this makes him this month’s worst video media disaster.

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Was Hillary Clinton’s Email Press Conference Effective?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 10, 2015 – 5:27 pm

Hillary Clinton faced reporters for 20 minutes this afternoon to answer questions about the personal email account she used while serving as Secretary of State.

Secretary Clinton repeatedly came back to the same talking points: She had operated within the rules of the State Department and opted to use a personal account (and her own server) due to the convenience of carrying one phone instead of two.

But a key question continues to hang in the air, and today’s press conference did little to answer it: If Clinton’s team decided which emails to keep and which to delete, how can anyone know whether something work-related but embarrassing was deleted?

Clinton answered that, in part, by saying that State Department rules make it incumbent upon the employee to differentiate between personal and professional emails.

But Clinton also said she wouldn’t allow an independent investigator to review the content on her server—and that it wouldn’t matter anyway, because she recently deleted all of her personal emails on topics such as her daughter’s wedding and mother’s funeral.

That, more than anything, strikes me as odd. Other than preventing other people from ever being able to see them, why delete those emails? Could she not have reached an agreement with a trusted third-party—such as a reporter or respected former government official—to review the personal emails with a guarantee of confidentiality for all emails that truly contained no work-related content?

It’s possible that Clinton’s experienced team considered and rejected that idea, calculating that the potential risk of those emails becoming public was greater than the risk of being perceived as secretive.

Several people pointed out to me that her body language—specifically her lack of eye contact—was telling. I noticed her lack of eye contact too, but due to “Othello’s Error,” am reluctant to speculate on its cause. What seemed obvious, though, is that she didn’t exactly forge a warm connection with her interrogators. 

Hillary Clinton Email Press Conference

Just like Mitt Romney found out after his refusal to release several years’ worth of tax returns, narratives can be difficult things to reverse. In 2012, I wrote the following for Politico:

“Mitt Romney has already lost the tax debate. By not releasing additional returns, he has allowed his opposition to paint the worst case scenario onto him — that there are years he failed to pay any taxes whatsoever.”

Clinton is fortunate that it’s early in the campaign. This story is unlikely to stop her seemingly inevitable march to the Democratic nomination. But she must know that any future stories appearing to confirm a lack of transparency will take hold—and that her Republican opponents will be doing everything possible to exploit that. 

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 


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Every Male Candidate Should Watch This Media Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 3, 2015 – 1:07 pm

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a possible 2016 presidential candidate, gave an interview to CNBC yesterday that may eliminate his chances of winning the Republican nomination before his campaign even gets under way. 

Much of the media coverage about the interview focused on Paul’s dangerous insistence that vaccines should remain voluntary because of “freedom.” But another part of the interview is the focus of this post. And every male presidential candidate—particularly the Republican nominee who will almost certainly be male and will almost certainly face Hillary Clinton—should watch it to avoid making the same mistake.

During his interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans, Paul “shushed” Ms. Evans, told her to be “quiet” and “calm down a bit,” and interrupted her before she could “get going” again. 

Rand Paul Shush

The questions Ms. Evans asked weren’t unusual—it was Paul who reacted peevishly and created a controversy where none existed. He had the right to refute premises he thought were incorrect, of course, but acted surprised by questions that could have been swatted away with ease.

The interview below is an edited “highlights” clip; you can watch the full exchange, which is worth watching, here.

But there’s another key issue here: Gender. That Mr. Paul is man and Ms. Evans is a woman changes the political calculus for interviews such as this one. Male politicians who are viewed as condescending to women often pay a political price for their dismissiveness, as the four examples below show. 

 

1. Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama (2008)

After winning the Iowa caucus, Senator Barack Obama was widely expected to win the pivotal New Hampshire primary and cruise to an easy nomination. But after taking a gratuitous swipe at Senator Clinton’s likeability in a debate held just days before the vote, female voters handed Ms. Clinton an unexpected victory, helping to extend her campaign for months.

 

2. Hillary Clinton vs. Rick Lazio (2000)

During a New York Senate debate, Republican candidate Rick Lazio approached Ms. Clinton’s lectern aggressively. He handed her a paper pledge to refuse any soft money to the campaign – but the move was widely seen as inappropriate and boorish. Mr. Lazio lost the once-close race by double digits.

 

3. Geraldine Ferraro vs. George H.W. Bush (1984)

During the Vice Presidential debate, Vice President Bush took a patronizing tone with Rep. Ferraro when discussing foreign policy. Ms. Ferraro used her razor sharp tongue to let him know she didn’t appreciate it, earning her the applause of the audience and him the enmity of many opinion writers. In the end, it didn’t matter – Mr. Bush was part of a winning ticket that won 49 states.

 

4. Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren (2011)

Then-Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) fell into a predictable gender trap when he slammed Elizabeth Warren’s figure. As background, in 1982, Mr. Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan Magazine. During a Democratic primary debate, Warren was asked how she paid for college, given that Mr. Brown stripped to pay his tuition.

“I kept my clothes on,” Ms. Warren quipped, to the delight of the audience.

During a radio interview shortly thereafter, Sen. Brown responded:

Hosts: “Have you officially responded to Elizabeth Warren’s comment about how she didn’t take her clothes off?”

Scott Brown, laughing: “Thank God.”

With that broadside, Mr. Brown stepped into a gender minefield that threatened to alienate many women voters. To be sure, Ms. Warren’s swipe was unnecessary and gratuitous—and the question itself was sophomoric. But regardless of whether or not Ms. Warren opened the door to Mr. Brown’s response (she did), the political price was paid almost solely by Mr. Brown.

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Hillary Clinton Needs A New Message, Stat!

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 25, 2014 – 5:47 am

Hillary Clinton has been talking about her wealth—or relative lack thereof—a lot lately, and her responses have done more to raise eyebrows and encourage additional follow up questions than to satisfy the questions and put a close to the issue.

The topic came up during an interview with Diane Sawyer earlier this month, and Secretary Clinton fumbled the answer:

DIANE SAWYER: “It has been reported you’ve made $5 million making speeches, the president’s made more than $100 million.”

HILLARY CLINTON: “Well, if you — you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education, you know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard and it’s been amazing to me. He’s worked very hard, first of all, we had to pay off all our debts which was, you know, we had to make double the money because of obviously taxes, and pay you have at debts, and get us houses and take care of family members.”

Mrs. Clinton may be right on the facts—but no one is likely to relate the struggle of the average American family to a former U.S. president and first lady exiting the White House with enormous future earning potential.

And did she say houses, plural? That tone-deaf answer is stupefying given that John McCain famously committed the same gaffe (he couldn’t remember how many homes he owned) and that Mitt Romney infamously said his wife drives two Cadillacs.

Hillary Clinton Diane Sawyer

Mrs. Clinton doubled down in an interview with The Guardian this week:

“With her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue [income inequality] when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?

“But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she protests, “because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off.”

Is she saying that with their millions of dollars, the Clintons aren’t truly well off? That’s a subjective claim. If she’s comparing her family to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, she has a point. But I’d guess most Americans are comparing her to themselves, not to the Buffetts of the world.

(In fairness, that quote could also be read another way: that she’s saying she is well off, but unlike others in her economic class, her family pays income tax. If that was her intent, the ambiguity of her statement is her responsibility.)

What should Mrs. Clinton say?

She should stop the phony pose of pretending she’s just like the average American. She’s not, and I can’t imagine many potential voters expect her to be. Instead, she should simply say: “My husband and I have done very well financially since Bill left the White House. But I understand firsthand the challenges that families face, and I support policies that will make it easier for them to succeed in this economy.” That’s it.

She should also look at the tape of her husband’s 1992 town hall presidential debate, during which a woman asked: “How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives? And if it hasn’t, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in what’s ailing them?”

Mr. Clinton didn’t discuss his own financial situation—even though it was presumably much less impressive at the time. Instead, he discussed his personal experience with people who were hurting and described how his policies would help them.

I wouldn’t be opposed to Mrs. Clinton describing her modest upbringing. But describing their obvious wealth as anything less is a bad strategy destined to backfire.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

 


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Is Hillary Clinton “Too Old” To Become President?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 30, 2013 – 8:24 pm

Some Republicans have hatched a new plan to defeat possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — by saying she’s too old and “out of touch” for the job.

According to Saturday’s New York Times, some Republican politicians, strategists, and media figures are already trying to weaken the former Secretary of State. Here are some of their noteworthy comments:

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY): He “ridiculed the 2016 Democratic field as “a rerun of ‘The Golden Girls.’”

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA): “The reality is, when you look at the Democrats, they’ve got old, tired ideas being produced by old, tired candidates.”

Rush Limbaugh (Radio host): “Asked his audience in April whether the American people ‘want to vote for somebody, a woman, and actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?’”

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Now, I may surprise you by saying this, but questioning Hillary Clinton’s age is appropriate, and doing so isn’t necessarily sexist. (Rush Limbaugh’s quote, however, is a good example of going way over the acceptable line.)

Older men have faced identical scrutiny—in fact, Mrs. Clinton’s husband used similar attacks to win the presidency against George H.W. Bush in 1992 and to win re-election against Bob Dole in 1996. John McCain’s age was also a factor in his campaign, as was his health record (like McCain, Mrs. Clinton recently had a rather serious health scare).

If men’s age often becomes a campaign issue, it seems acceptable to make a woman’s age a campaign issue as well.

 

But Is It Smart?

Republicans may be able to credibly defend themselves against charges of sexism for making Mrs. Clinton’s age an issue. Nonetheless, I suspect their strategy will backfire, and probably badly. As any smart man should know, few women respond favorably to negative comments about their looks or age. And even though the attacks may be “valid,” attacks on a woman’s age have a different potency than similar attacks on men; I suspect that even many Republican-leaning independent voters will bristle at them. 

There’s a history here. Women resent men acting condescendingly toward a female candidate.

 

1984

In 1984, for example, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro ripped George H.W. Bush, the incumbent Vice President, for his patronizing tone:

 

2000

During a New York Senate debate, Republican candidate Rick Lazio aggressively approached Ms. Clinton’s lectern. He handed her a paper pledge to refuse any soft money to the campaign—but the move was widely seen as inappropriate and boorish. Mr. Lazio lost the once-close race by double digits.

 

 

2008

After winning the Iowa caucus, Senator Barack Obama was widely expected to win the pivotal New Hampshire primary and cruise to an easy nomination. But after taking a gratuitous swipe at Senator Clinton’s likeability in a debate held just days before the vote, female voters handed Ms. Clinton an unexpected victory, helping to extend her campaign for months.

 

Playing Into Clinton’s Hands

Republicans are playing a dangerous game, and I can’t help thinking that the Clinton people will welcome this attack. As the 2008 example shows, Mrs. Clinton is adept at using public sympathy for her personal political gain.

Plus, she has one convenient fact in her back pocket: She’d be 68-years-old when sworn in for her first term. Conservative hero Ronald Reagan was 69.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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