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The 15-Seconds Blog

  • Honeymoons Aren’t Forever

    The Columbia Journalism Review carries a lengthy article by David Cay Johnston about what he sees as poor performance so far by the Obama White House press office staff.

    According to Johnston, press office staffers don’t answer the phone, don’t return calls, balk at giving their names and titles, and seem not to understand the basics of journalism — such as who can declare something “off-the-record.”

    The single most basic and essential rule about media relations — is answer the damn phone and don’t fool around!

    No doubt there are tons of callers to the press office these days but it is essential that the White House assign enough experienced, competent people to to give the national press corps the sense that they are not being ignored.

    An outsider might think that the new Administration has a lot more important things to do than devote precious resources to answering silly questions from reporters.

    But how will the public know what those important issues are that the White House is working on and how well it is handling them? Through the national media.

    If David Cay Johnston is right, the Press Office staff is getting off on the wrong foot. No honeymoon lasts forever — but if the story is accurate, the Obama honeymoon could be shorter than some of Britney Spears’ marriages.

    On the other hand, the Obama press office aren’t the first to decide that they would rather not take calls from the press:

  • Some People Can Do Things Other People Can’t

    When speaking publicly – whether to a large audience or a single reporter, one of the best ways of making your point is through the use of humor. But beware. You need to be absolutely sure you know the sensitivities and sensibilities of your audience.

    More than that, you need to know yourself. Some people — given their age, status, or past track record — can get away with things that others cannot.

    For a perfect illustration of that point, take a look at this clip of former Presidents Bush (41) and Clinton.


  • …And the Horse You Rode In On

    Governor Rod Bagojevich is the poster boy for foot in mouth disease. The Guv seems hell-bent on providing daily examples of how not to deal with the media.

    In today’s episode, Bagojevich held a press conference at which he rolled out a convoluted metaphor comparing the heap of trouble he is in with the fix of an innocent movie cowboy accused of cattle rustling. The rant has to be heard to be believed. No, on second thought, we’ve heard it and we still don’t believe it.

    The lesson Rod inadvertently gives us is that metaphors are supposed to make complex things more simple. If you find yourself rambling on…and on..and on…like Cowboy Rod, just reach for the sky and give up.

    If you have trouble believing the video as we did, here is a partial transcript:

    Governor Blagojevich: Now, I like old movies and I like old cowboy movies, and I want to explain how these rules work in a more understandable way. There was an old saying in the Old West: There was a cowboy who was charged with stealing a horse in town and some of the other cowboys, especially the guy whose horse was stolen, were very unhappy with that guy. One of the cowboys said “Let’s hang him.” And the other cowboys said, “Hold on. Before we hang him, let’s first give him a fair trial, then we’ll hang him.”

    Under these rules, I’m not even getting a fair trial; they’re just hanging me. And when they hang me under these rules that prevent due process, they’re hanging the 12 million people of Illinois who twice have elected a governor.

    Now, they may be for or against me, they may like me or not, but the people of Illinois have every right to expect that the decision they’ve made when they’ve chosen a governor, if he or she is going to be removed from office, that the process ought to at least have fundamental fairness and have all the safeguards that our Constitution guarantees to all of our citizens.

    Under these rules, Rule 15F and Rule 8B, under that fact pattern I just gave you, if the cowboy who’s charged with stealing a horse was charged with doing that in town, but in fact on the date and time that he apparently stole the horse in town, he was on the ranch with six other cowboys herding cattle and roping steers.

    And then he expects that when his day comes to go to court he can bring those six cowboys to say it wasn’t him because he wasn’t in town, he was on the ranch herding cattle, even if he could bring those cowboys in to say that, under these rules, under 8B, it wouldn’t matter.

    The complaint that charged him with stealing the horse would convict him because you can’t challenge it and you can’t have a chance to be able to contest it. Again, not fair, in fact worse: trampling on constitutional rights.