Tag Archives: President Obama

Place matteRs

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.

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Obama golfing at Martha’s Vineyard

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?

The PaRlance of Palin

Palin and TrumpThere’s no question that effective use of language is the foundation of good journalism and storytelling. Thousands of colleges and universities around the world teach future journalists the craft of the written and spoken word.

So it’s often painful to see a reporter struggle with syntax, mispronounce words or lose their place while reading. It’s even more disconcerting when a major public figure struggles to articulate the simplest thoughts–especially when that public figure has run for national office, is a former reporter, and holds a journalism degree.

Sarah Palin worked as a TV sportscaster, albeit for a little less than two years, in Anchorage, Alaska. She recently worked as a commentator for Fox News. She was a one-time Alaska governor and ran for vice president of the United States in 2008. Palin also earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism (incidentally, attending five different colleges before graduating).

Tina Fey made comedy history with her spot-on Saturday Night Live impressions of Palin, who has famously and often mangled the language. But little can top the speech Palin gave last week to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy for president: “How about the rest of us? Right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion, and our Constitution,” she protested to the crowd. “Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny, but now, what they’re doing is wailing, ‘Well, Trump and his Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough,’” she noted, and continued by criticizing President Obama with, “And he, who would negotiate deals, kind of with the skills of a community organizer maybe organizing a neighborhood tea, well, he deciding that, ‘No, America would apologize as part of the deal,’ as the enemy sends a message to the rest of the world that they capture and we kowtow, and we apologize, and then, we bend over and say, ‘Thank you, enemy.’”


Palin’s parlance is almost beyond belief. How a major public figure with a journalism background and degree can communicate so awfully is mystifying. Tina Fey, of course, ran immediately back to SNL last night; Palin already wrote the script. Your thoughts?


An aPology would be Right

Ahmed MohamedLet’s review the story: 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed brought a home-made clock to his high school in Texas. He was proud of his accomplishment and showed it to his teachers over the course of the day. Ahmed’s English class teacher saw the clock as well, but suspected it may be a bomb because of its appearance. She contacted the school authorities who then called police. The teenager, who happens to be Muslim, was arrested, handcuffed and put in a jail cell. He was released a few hours later and no charges were filed after the police confirmed the device was, indeed, a clock and not a bomb.

The outpouring of support for Ahmed was nationwide and viral. Many called the arrest an overreaction and blamed racial profiling and anti-Muslimism. On the other hand, some–including noted liberal and political comedian Bill Maher–volleyed back. On his live HBO show Friday night, Maher suggested people “drop the political correctness and consider that maybe being cautious is a good thing.” He said there’s nothing wrong with being a little suspicious when there’s a young Muslim student with something that “looks exactly like a (expletive) bomb” and there are young Muslims “blowing (expletive) up” all over the world.

Meanwhile, Ahmed has since been enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. Hashtags #IStandWithAhmed and #EngineersForAhmed saw hundreds of thousands of posts and tweets. Ahmad was offered internships at Reddit and Twitter. Google reserved a place for him at its science fair. MIT asked him to come to campus. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg posted, “Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed.” And President Obama praised Ahmed’s love of science while inviting him to the White House.

How one sees this case comes from personal attitudes. I believe what’s still missing are apologies from the school and police. Even Bill Maher added that apologies would be appropriate. There’s no embarrassment in making a mistake on the side of caution and a sincere “we’re sorry, we were mistaken” would be good for public relations.   Your thoughts?

The hazards of transPaRency

It has become a public relations practitioner’s role to create content and monitor social media on behalf of their clients. We then encourage transparency by allowing our publics to comment. But it can be a hazardous policy.

Senator Harry Reid

Senator Harry Reid

I was reminded of these risks when Senator Harry Reid had an unfortunate home accident last week. Online news platforms provided a place for comments both sympathetic and downright nasty. Examples: “Anyone really believe a story of this wimp capable of breaking exercise equipment? I think the real story involves a car and a bottle of scotch,” “Maybe it knocked some sense into his liberal head,” and “There is a God.” And these were the more tame comments. Some wished the senator an early death–and worse.

After Robin Williams’ suicide a few months ago his daughter Zelda received numerous “cruel and unnecessary” comments, according to an Instagram post she published. There were also terrible Photoshopped pictures of her father’s death, leading her to shut down her social media pages. “I will be leaving this account,” she wrote, “Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me…is cruel and unnecessary.”

I recalled a 2013 episode of Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time” in which he editoralized (warning: R-rated content) about the culture of hate we seem to have created via the Internet. He observed how when Miss New York, Indian-American Nina Davaluri was crowned Miss America, “Twitter exploded with so much racist hate that you’d have thought President Obama had just made a reasonable remark.” He showed Twitter feeds that fired expletives to innocuous targets–even one directed at a popular restaurant: “F*** you, Cheesecake Factory.” “Who wastes their time telling Cheesecake Factory to f*** off?” Maher added. “Why has hate become the national pastime?”

We often walk the line in America between free speech and nasty, hateful language. PR people must monitor social media for their clients, but they have to tread lightly when deciding to edit or delete comments. Transparency includes allowing voices in, but I often wonder when–or if–it shouldn’t. Your thoughts?


A blown Photo oppoRtunity

Gov. Perry and President Obama last week.

Governor Perry and President Obama last week

It seems President Obama got some bad PR advice this week.  Why he didn’t visit a center housing some of the more than 50,000 children who have crossed our borders in the past several months was, frankly, beyond me.

According to CNN, “Texas Governor Rick Perry and others are lashing out at President Obama’s decision not to tour border facilities overwhelmed by a flood of undocumented children, saying the U.S. leader needs to see with his own eyes what both sides agree is a humanitarian crisis.  ‘The American people expect to see their president when there is a disaster,’ Perry told CNN…citing Obama’s trip to the East Coast to tour damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.  ‘He showed up at Sandy. Why not Texas?'”

Obama later argued, “This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops, I’m interested in solving a problem.”

Rick Perry was right.  President Obama knows, as all national leaders do, that politics IS theater, and how you are seen and what you are seen doing can speak volumes.  By visiting the border or–even better–taking photos with the children–he would have given us a visual representation of how deeply he cares about their awful situation.

This is not to say that the president doesn’t care.  I truly believe that everyone from Rick Perry to Barack Obama to John Boehner want these children to ultimately be happy and safe.  And while they may disagree on solutions to the border crisis and the immediate problem of what to do with these tens of thousands of children, they all care.

Much like his predecessor George W. Bush was criticized for not visiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the days following the killer storm, some are angry at Obama for avoiding the border last week.  I see this as a missed opportunity.  In public relations, photo ops are not only important, they can be essential, especially during a crisis.  The president and his staff knew this–but blew a chance to communicate his concern.  Your thoughts?

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