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?
“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?
All summer long I’ve avoided posting anything about Donald Trump. Like many, I haven’t taken his candidacy for president seriously. Ignoring him has been difficult, given how the news and entertainment media have been somewhat obsessed with every word the billionaire utters.
I feel badly for the other Republican candidates. I’ve blogged about the GOP’s efforts to re-brand the party and how it was reaching out to women, young people and Spanish-speaking voters. Trump has effectively undermined this agenda with his brash and careless comments. And the unprecedented 17 other Republicans running have been unable to effectively get their message out because Trump is literally sucking up all the air. He has become a ratings winner, so media programmers are devoting more time to him than all other candidates combined. Could you name most of the other 17 running? I couldn’t.
Conversely, the Donald Trump Show has worked to Hillary Clinton’s advantage. While we don’t know how serious the investigation of her email will become, without Trump, Hillary’s issues would be receiving far more attention. It’s attention she doesn’t want; she’s still the front-runner and she’ll need far more positive coverage to stay ahead. As public relations students and practitioners understand, grabbing an audience’s attention and making positive impressions is crucial to success whether for a candidate, product or cause.
When I teach PR history, I talk about P.T. Barnum, the shameless 19th century promoter of his circus. The National Review’s John Fund recently wrote, “(Trump) is the P.T. Barnum of American politics, a brilliant self-promoter who knows exactly what he’s doing and who changes his opinions constantly to match what he thinks audiences want to hear, much as Barnum used to switch out circus acts between towns on his tour.” Now Trump is out-Barnum-ing Barnum; as a presidential candidate, his domination of the news so early in the race is unprecedented.
There are PR lessons to be learned here, both good and bad, as the Summer of Trump is sure to be found in case studies textbooks someday. I wonder what the final chapter will look like. Your thoughts?
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.
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?
Since Mitt Romney’s loss, the GOP has hired experts to help move the public opinion needle and re-cast itself as more mainstream and in-touch. Perceptions held by many as a white, male-dominated, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-science, anti-et cetera organization has repeatedly hurt the party’s chances to win presidential races (it has done so twice in the last six elections).
So one has to wonder how more moderate Republicans feel about the latest slap in the face to a very large demographic: women. It came to light recently that a former member of the Bush Administration is quietly heading a nonprofit group called The Hillary Project, dedicated to stopping a Hillary Clinton presidency. On its website is a game which invites the user to hear sound bites of Mrs. Clinton, and then use an animated hand to slap her as she speaks. Created by the “SlapHillary Team,” the Hillary Project site features other amateurish animated games including “Dancing Hillary” and “Street Fight: Obama vs. Hillary.”
While this juvenile stuff may appeal to certain members of the GOP fringe, it has the opposition really angry. Charles Clymer wrote in the online site Politics, “It was only in February that 22 senators and 138 representatives (all Republicans) voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that it protects gays, Native Americans living in reservations, and undocumented immigrants.” He went on to note, “No Republican leader has denounced the game, which leads one to believe they’re testing the waters to see how it pans out with the public.” A group called Left Action wrote on its site, “This ridiculous behavior is why no amount of ‘re-branding’ is going to help Republicans win over women voters — they just don’t get it. Violence against women isn’t a ‘game.’ Slapping a woman for speaking isn’t actually a joke. It’s just gross.”
I surely agree. The GOP’s re-branding efforts have to start with a denunciation of such things, or a White House victory will surely elude it again. Your thoughts?