Consider the possibility that Bill Cosby’s public image could ever recover from the charges of rape leveled against him, a suggestion made by one of my students. I pondered that the only way this might happen is if he was first found innocent in a court of law, and added that Cosby has probably been permanently damaged because of the huge number of credible accusers. It seems he’ll never be able to regain his positive public image under any circumstances.
This could now be the case with Donald Trump. The revelation of a 2005 conversation in which he bragged about sexual aggression and assault may doom any reasonable chance of his election to the presidency. His team took nearly 13 hours to produce an online videotaped statement in which Trump acknowledged wrong-doing, apologized, and ended with an attack on Bill and Hillary Clinton. It remains to be seen how damaging this latest bombshell will be, and whether more damaging video and quotes will surface before Election Day.
The images of other entertainers and politicians have recovered following their illicit or illegal acts. After Michael Vick served jail time for animal abuse, he focused on rebuilding his life and public image through charity work and a renewed, successful football career. A post-Watergate Richard Nixon, although never able to fully shed his crooked public persona, earned a measure of redemption after apologizing on television for the scandal and becoming a best-selling author of thoughtful books on public policy. Bill Clinton, after being impeached in the Senate for lying about a White House affair, completed his presidency with a Gallup poll approval rating of 65%, higher than that of every other departing president measured since 1953.
This latest controversy encircling Donald Trump may not only cost him the election; it’s likely to scar the Trump brand and hurt his businesses. If he loses next month, it will be fascinating to observe if the damage is permanent or fades after a few months or years. If he wins, he’ll still need to spend a lot of his “stamina” repairing his public image–from within the Oval Office. Your thoughts?
Hofstra University is abuzz with debate fever and awash in media this weekend. While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their fans and committed voters, conventional thinking says the vote may hinge on their performances in THIS debate. And with the first of three presidential debates happening on the campus Monday, September 26, the grounds are swarming with reporters, producers, technicians, cameras, equipment, photographers, Secret Service and other law enforcement officers, plus thousands of miles of cable.
Dozens of temporary stages are being built with plywood and two-by-fours, ready to be dressed for their close-ups. All of this is in preparation for a 90-minute showdown between the two most disliked candidates in modern history, according to polls. Hundreds of Hofstra employees and students are being deployed to assist in the effort, working alongside the aforementioned media and support to make history happen on Monday. Estimated costs totaling four to five million dollars makes one wonder and debate: “Is it all worth it?”
One could argue that the time, expense and overall drain on campus resources suggest the answer is “no.” A minor but annoying controversy created by third party candidate Gary Johnson’s supporters on Facebook–calling for Hofstra not to host the debate because Johnson was not included, was unwelcome. The temporary inconvenience of shrinking numbers of parking spaces, loss of some athletic facilities, cancellation of Monday classes, and closed roads are also negatives.
I say of course it’s worth it. Most if not all of the expenses are being covered by huge donations from two Hofstra alums. If you were to estimate the value of the publicity Hofstra will receive based on what advertising would cost for an equivalent number of mentions, views, and on-camera presence both nationally and internationally, it would reach hundreds of millions of dollars. The prestige this event brings to Hofstra is immeasurable, and the opportunities this brings to our students–to work alongside New York media pros, to be involved with political discourse and discussion, and to be a part of history–is an incomparable life experience.
So, debate the debate’s value to Hofstra. Your thoughts?
There are predictions that the first 2016 presidential debate, airing on September 26 live from Hofstra University, will be one of the most-watched TV programs in television history. It’s almost certainly not because Americans want the details of Hillary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s fiscal, military or social policies. The true reason for the steroidal level of interest is our fascination with and desire to see potential fireworks between the two candidates. Will Trump resort to the nastiness he’s directed toward his opponents in past debates? Will Hillary try to take the high road or rather test Trump’s thin skin by insulting him? Will either say something that’ll significantly damage their campaign? And who will “win” the first debate?
In public relations we know that respect for our colleagues and our audiences are essential to successful communication. On his HBO show Real Time, comedian/political observer Bill Maher lamented the lack of respect among those in the political world. “Trump and Hillary are the first two candidates in memory NOT to call and congratulate each other when they won their respective races,” Maher noted. He pointed out that until recently, members of Congress would address each other as “my friend.” They showed mutual respect for their colleagues and opponents despite their political differences.
“If you wanna know why our country is so tense and our government doesn’t work, it’s because society functions on some basic rules of conduct and they’re all going away,” Maher said. “The infectious disease that’s threatening our election isn’t pneumonia–it’s a total lack of class.”
Skillful public relations professionals understand that good communication is knowing what to say and how to say it. Courtesy and tradition have societal and practical impact. Here’s a personal example: When a student only refers to me as”Morosoff” when addressing me, it sounds disrespectful. The convention of speaking a title before a name (Professor, Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.) is a courtesy that’s, sadly, disappearing.
“Civility is nearly dead in this country and we need to return to some basic level of bipartisan decency and respect for our opponents,” Maher lectured. Your thoughts?
Conventional thinking says that when then-Vice President Richard Nixon debated then-Senator John F. Kennedy, those who watched the debate on television thought Kennedy had “won” while those who listened to it on radio thought Nixon had been the victor. It’s often noted that while Kennedy looked young, vigorous, well-dressed and handsome, Nixon’s crumpled suit, recent weight loss, and perspiring face made for such a visual contrast that Kennedy appeared more presidential in people’s minds. However, if you read the transcript of the Kennedy-Nixon debates, you might be hard-pressed to discover which of the candidates was more qualified and well-prepared.
Appearance matters in public relations and visual media, and no less during presidential debates. In 1976 and 1980, 5’9 Jimmy Carter stood on a step to make him appear the same height as President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan, who were both over six feet tall. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush was roundly criticized when the camera caught him checking his watch during a town hall-style debate against Bill Clinton. Al Gore’s constant sighing at George W. Bush’s responses hurt his performance.
While they’ll appear together when Hofstra hosts the first debate September 26th, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were interviewed separately at a “Commander in Chief Forum” on NBC last week. Trump came under fire after the program for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, and also his seemingly insensitive answer to the issue of sexual assaults in the military. Conversely, much of the criticism directed at Clinton regarded her appearance; she didn’t smile and may have came across as harsh or even angry. As a result, many pundits believed Trump “won” the forum.
In presidential campaigns and just about everything else, people too often base their opinions on style rather than substance. So here’s a challenge: Read the transcript of the “Commander in Chief Forum” and try not to visualize the candidates’ appearance or style. Review their words for content and substance:
Then, share your opinion. Who”won” the forum based on their words? Why is appearance so important and influential? Does content alone really ever matter? Your thoughts?
I first heard the satiric term “weapons of mass distraction” when former New York Congressman Gary Ackerman in 2004 criticized a Congressional bill raising the fines the FCC could impose for broadcasting indecent materials. “It is a weapon of mass distraction to keep us away from the real issues at hand,” he was quoted in the Washington Post.
Of course, the term is a play on “weapons of mass destruction,” a phrase often used by the Bush Administration to justify the war in Iraq. It’s since been used as a movie title, a rock band’s name, a blog, and a headline for numerous articles.
That said, have you noticed how quickly the Associated Press report on Hillary Clinton’s meetings with Clinton Foundation donors–while she ran the State Department–disappeared from the headlines? It happened because she and Donald Trump got into a heated exchange about prejudice; Trump called Hillary a “bigot,” adding during a speech last week, “She’s going to do nothing for African Americans. She’s going to do nothing for the Hispanics.” Clinton delivered a planned response quickly, devoting a major speech to Trump’s campaign of “prejudice and paranoia” and accusing him of “taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.” Trump responded by doubling down, repeating his attacks on Clinton as a bigot with no regard for minority communities.
The GOP presidential candidate’s history of questionable racial policies in his real estate dealings, his rebuking the citizenship of America’s first black president, and his numerous verbal attacks and seemingly prejudiced comments targeting Mexicans, women and other minorities, have given the Clinton campaign good political fodder. They’ve used the issue very cleverly as a weapon of mass distraction; for the last several days Trump, the media and subsequently the public aren’t talking about the AP’s (now much-debunked) story on Hillary’s perceived conflicts of interest.
Some view “weapons of mass distraction” as a pubic relations tactic–superficial but sometimes highly effective. One has to wonder if it’s a savvy PR technique or an unethical method which PR professionals–and presidential campaigns–should avoid. Your thoughts?
The value of a home is related to its place; proximity to a major city, good schools, recreation, and shopping ultimately determines its worth. Tourists flock to places which possess historic landmarks, treasured art, beautiful beaches, and ease of travel. People choose to live in place where there are employment opportunities, accessible transportation, housing choices, and lifestyle options.
When it comes to public perception, place matters, too. Take flood-ravaged Louisiana for example. This week, where our top politicians chose to go–or not to go–made headlines. President Obama was criticized for playing golf instead of touring the state’s flooded region where 40,000 homes have been damaged and 13 people died. An editorial in the Advocate, Louisiana’s largest newspaper, suggested that Obama end his Martha’s Vineyard vacation early, saying the president should “pack his bags now” and “(show) his solidarity with suffering Americans.” The White House announced the president is going Tuesday.
Meanwhile, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump visited the region last Friday while Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton announced she wouldn’t go, posting on Facebook, “My heart breaks for Louisiana, and right now, the relief effort can’t afford any distractions.”
Americablog.com noted, “It is common knowledge that immediately after disasters you don’t want presidents — or anyone else with serious security needs — visiting, lest they disrupt the disaster response by sucking away resources for their political photo opp.” While many praised Trump for going and have been critical of the president’s and Secretary Clinton’s decisions, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards stated he preferred that Obama stay away. “Quite frankly, that’s not something I want to go through right now,” he said. “I would just as soon he wait a week or two.”
On the other hand, what was a PR gain for Trump last week may have been lost when he was roundly criticized for his speech addressing the problems of the African-American community. Why? Because the speech took place in a nearly all-white community and was delivered to a nearly all-white audience. As often happens, place “trumped” the message.
In life and politics, especially when you’re courting public opinion, place matters. Your thoughts?
Compare and contrast Donald Trump with Irene McPhail.
I had just begun my career a public relations practitioner when I attended a charity event with my new boss, Irene McPhail. Cablevision, the large company we worked for, sponsored many nonprofit organizations and charitable causes, which was good PR for the business and a model of corporate social responsibility. During a raffle drawing near the end of the event, Irene’s name was picked and she won several hundred dollars. She came to the podium and announced she was giving her winnings back to the organization as a donation, because its mission deserved Cablevision’s continued support.
Not only was this a terrific PR move on behalf of the company, it showed me how selflessness could be so beautifully reflected by Irene’s simple action. It was a memorable life lesson for this 23-year-old.
Last week during a campaign appearance, a military veteran handed his Purple Heart medal to Donald Trump. The presidential candidate responded by saying, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.” He took the man’s medal and put it in his pocket.
In spite of his daily onslaught of insults, exaggerations, fabrications, inappropriateness, narcissistic pronouncements, and downright nastiness, for me no other single act has shown Donald Trump’s true character more than this incident.
According to purpleheart.org, “The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.” Democratic congressional candidate Sean Barney, himself a Purple Heart recipient, commented, “I can tell you, no one should ever ‘want’ to get a Purple Heart.”
A smart, empathetic leader would have handed back that medal and thanked that veteran for risking his life for his country. Trump instead reacted with pure selfishness and disrespect. He could certainly learn something about good PR–and leadership–from my PR mentor Irene McPhail. Your thoughts?
“Words matter,” often notes GOP strategist Frank Luntz, and they certainly did these recent, tragic few days.
In Orlando, following the murder of rising pop star Christina Grimmie and the heinous killing of 49 people at gay bar Pulse, was the two-year-old who wandered too close to the water at a Disney World hotel and was dragged under by an alligator. Just days before, it was reported the Pulse gunman had scoped out Disney World as a possible target. Disney’s PR people scrambled to reassure the public that its theme parks are safe.
Professional communicators and politicians scrambled for the right sympathetic tone in light of the Orlando massacre, while many used the horrific event to push their anti-terrorism and anti-gun agendas. However, the right tone was not a priority of presidential candidate Donald Trump. He used the murders to praise himself for predicting the terrorism, and then falsely warned that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment. He later added that patrons of the club should have been armed so they could have killed the gunman, whom he referred to as a “son of a bitch” on live TV.
Trump’s consistently poor choice of words when attacking his opponents while thrilling his supporters was the topic of Bill Maher’s remarks on his HBO show, Real Time. “Why, for so long, was there one set of rules for everyone who’s ever run for president, and then suddenly a completely new set for this Donald Trump person?” Maher showed gaffes by candidates over the years which are highly trivial by Trump standards, such as George Bush checking his watch and Al Gore repeatedly sighing during their respective debates. “I seem to remember (former Vice President) Dan Quayle being declared ‘unfit for office-dumb’ because he misspelled potato,” Maher noted.”But Trump can say ‘John McCain isn’t a war hero?’ If Hillary Clinton said that, they’d be burning pantsuits in effigy.”
Maher believes that Trump’s recent drop in national polls may be because the larger electorate doesn’t like “un-presidential” behavior from its candidates and Trump’s words are wearing thin. I wonder. Your thoughts?
It’s generally accepted that politicians–from your local council member to the nation’s president–occasionally bend the truth to make a point or a promise. Getting votes by telling people what they want to hear, or avoiding controversy by not telling people what they should hear, is a sad reality of political life. As in public relations, truth is a valuable commodity and those who tell it are usually rewarded with the people’s trust and support. That’s why it’s so important for voters to seek the truth about what they’re told.
This couldn’t be more important than now in this toxic presidential election year. Aside from name-calling and personal attacks, we’re witnessing a massive assault on facts, with truth taking a back seat like never before. That’s why it’s helpful to look to the fact checkers among us. There are quite a few unbiased, non-political resources we can easily use to explore who’s telling the truth.
My favorite of these resources is politifact.com, a Pulitzer prize-winning website featuring a “Truth-O-Meter” with a simple rating system: “True,” “Mostly True,” “Half True,” “Mostly False,” and “Pants on Fire!” You can browse through specific candidates, elected officials, issues, and media. Not surprisingly, the site has come down especially hard on Donald Trump.
The New York Times’ Timothy Egan wrote last week, “Professional truth-seekers have never seen anything like Trump, surely the most compulsive liar to seek high office. To date, the nonpartisan PolitiFact has rated 76 percent of his statements lies — 57 percent false or mostly false, and another 19 percent ‘Pants on Fire’ fabrications. Only 2 percent — 2 percent! — of his assertions were rated true, and another 6 percent mostly true. Hillary Clinton, who is not exactly known for fealty to the facts, had a 28 percent total lie score, including a mere 1 percent Pants on Fire.”
The public relations profession is sometimes linked to “spinning” the truth, but ethical practitioners eschew such tactics. Politicians are less circumspect. That’s why we need to be aware of false statements and outright lies, and support candidates who deal in truth and facts. This election year, it’s clearly more important than ever. Your thoughts?
If you believe polls, Tuesday’s New York presidential primary this Tuesday will see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump emerge as winners. Both New York residents will have what is typical of most primaries: victories in their home state.
New Yorkers can only cast a vote for a candidate in the party in which they are registered. Republicans will decide if they support the controversial GOP front-runner Trump or one of his remaining rivals. Registered Democrats must choose between Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the former New Yorker who has surprised pundits by giving Hillary a run for her money.
Sometimes the decision on who to vote for isn’t based on a “favorite” candidate; rather, it’s a pragmatic determination. If you’re a Democrat, you might consider who has the best chance of beating Trump or whomever the GOP nominates at its convention. If you’re a Republican, you may reflect on whether you’re happy with Trump as our potential president, or whether you should support Ted Cruz or John Kasich if they have the better shot at beating the Democrat.
You also could base your decision on who most closely reflects your own political views, or the candidate who you simply find more likable. Trump and Sanders supporters seem to favor their candidates’ tendency toward blunt talk and how they often avoid “political correctness.” In Trump’s case there’s no such thing as political correctness, and a lot of people find this appealing. Many find it appalling, not only because much of what he says is outrageous on many levels, but because he is a public relations nightmare. One can only imagine how his lack of a PR filter would be perceived and interpreted on an international stage.
Despite public relations debacles that would have sidelined any other candidate, Donald Trump is leading his primary battle. But blunt, unfiltered words are likely to become damaging to national policy and politics. I’ll base my vote on whose words and positions–and whose PR filter–will effectively lead us for the next four years. It’s a choice not to to be taken lightly. Your thoughts?