P.T. Rove

Karl Rove (photo: Time magazine)

Karl Rove (photo: Time magazine)

Karl Rove has been a political consultant since leaving the White House in 2007, working for the Republican Party and serving as a commentator for various media organizations.  He is often credited with engineering George W. Bush’s victories, including two elections for Texas governor and two for U.S. president.

Phineas T. Barnum was a showman (and a former politician!) best remembered for creating international hoaxes and for founding a circus.  He famously directed what public relations guru Fraser Seitel calls “pseudo events” — happenings and curiosities that sold tickets to a gullible public.

Last week, Karl Rove unleashed a firestorm of discussion among political pundits at Fox News and other media when he speculated that Hillary Clinton “may have brain damage” resulting from a 2012 concussion.  He later stood by his “concern,” telling Fox last Sunday, “I’m not questioning her health. What I’m questioning is whether or not it’s a done deal that she’s running. And she would not be human if she did not take this into consideration.”  He told the Washington Post that he believed she suffered “a serious health episode” and would “have to be forthcoming”  and “cough up her medical records” if she runs for president.

P. T. Barnum

P. T. Barnum  

Top Republicans from John McCain to Michael Bloomberg blasted Rove, calling his comments “disgusting” and “outrageous.”  But the news organizations were all over the story, and it became central to political conversations this week. Mission accomplished, Mr. Rove.

In this blog I previously compared Donald Trump with P.T. Barnum in light of Trump’s relentless media campaign regarding whether Barack Obama was born in the United States.  He honed in on people’s prejudices to help create a prolonged and silly public discussion.  Like Trump, Karl Rove is P.T. Barnum revisited.  By raising a false issue, he created a pseudo event that was and will be talked about.  And like Barnum, Rove doesn’t care what’s true, as long as doubts about Hillary’s health will be raised if and when she announces her candidacy.  Your thoughts?

6 responses

  1. Even though I do not agree with what he did in terms of exaggerating her health, I think it is brilliant how he brought up her health and now it has become a key issue in her running for president. Yet the information he gave was incorrect people are all of a sudden concerned for her health.

  2. agoddessintraining22 | Reply

    I think there is a serious ethical lapse when it comes to pseudo events. The objectivity and truth that is supposed to be in the media goes down a slippery slope that could set a bad example for future public relations professionals. If people like Karl Rove think like this, and I’m sure there are more out there, then what will happen to the integrity of the world of media?

  3. It’s interesting to see how political consultants can focus in on things, whether true or untrue, and exploit them to benefit their political agenda. As we discussed in class, there is something to be said about having personal ethics as a PR person. I would argue that Karl Rove is expressing questionable ethics with comments he most likely knows to be untrue. Many in the public look to the media for political guidance. When the media picks up comments like the ones made by Rove and runs them in segment after segment, in article after article, public opinion is often swayed by these comments that originated from thin air. As an ethical PR person we must abide by some sort of guidelines to avoid promoting messages we know to be untrue.

  4. dansantosspeaks | Reply

    It’s interesting, and hopefully coincidental, that you’ve compared Barnum to two Republicans, bypassing Democrats like affable and clownish Joe Biden and would be Machiavellian Elijah Cummings. The parenthetical exposure of the circus man as also a politician might point to the redeeming thought that all politicians, regardless of party, might share Barnum’s undeserved shaddiness. Your thoughts?

    1. My blog was not meant to be political; it was designed to highlight the effectiveness of the “pseudo event.” Rove has a history of such work and he is quite good at it. I’m hard-pressed to put Joe Biden in this mix, however, being unable to recall when he might have spoken un-thruths to create a pseudo event. But you’re right: politics is made of the same stuff of show business. Some, if not many, put the “show” before truth and ethics.

      1. dansantosspeaks | Reply

        Unfortunately, politics is closely related to most human events, and vice versa. As for good ole’ Joe, I clearly recall when he counseled ladies who were afraid for their safety to get a shotgun and fire off a couple of rounds into the air. I believe he’s still trying to live that down. LOL

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