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  • GE Brings Peashooter to Knife Fight

    On Friday the New York Times carried a 2858-word-long article saying that the General Electric corporation is very good  at dodging taxes.

    The Times reported that in 2010 GE had $5.1 billion in U.S. profits — and not only paid no taxes — but claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.  Pretty electrifying performance, what?  That’s accounting “imagination at work.”

    The Times story goes into enormous detail about GE’s tax strategy, lobbying efforts and more. While GE stockholders might appreciate the company’s bright ideas about how to keep Uncle Sam’s hands off their cash — most taxpayers probably take a dimmer view.

    The Un-Generous Electric company was reportedly unhappy with the accuracy of the Times report and their PR department wanted to push back.  How to do that?  Apparently a light bulb went off somewhere and they decided to do so via Twitter.

    Business Insider  reports that @GEPublicAffairs put out a series of Tweets blasting the NYT for their “misleading” report. But when Business Insider responded with some questions seeking more information, GE’s Twitter folks responded with another tweet telling BI to “stop repeating” the Times’ “misleading attack.” The NYT says it stands by its story — and notes that GE has not asked for any correction.

    As for other media trying to follow up on the story, tweets were tossed around like insults at a WWE wrestling match.  GE succeeded in generating some heat but no light.

    It is hard to craft a tweet on intricate subjects without coming away looking like you have left yourself a loophole or have engaged in spin.

    To make matters worse, after the initial volley of tweet and counter tweet, GE’s spokespeople went silent for a while.  In an update to their earlier post, Business Insider says that GE’s folks now say they are “working on a response” to their earlier questions.

    The lesson here is that when dealing with complex issues — like 2800-word NYT articles about complicated tax issues — you are not going to be able to state (let alone win) your case 140 characters at a time.

    GE needed to quickly and fully respond to the allegations.  The right format for that would be a detailed written statement and making a knowledgeable spokesman available to answer all questions.

    Twitter is very good for summarizing your position or pointing interested people toward a more detailed response — but fighting back tweet-for-tweet on an issue like this is like trying to write the operating manual for your nuclear power plant on a matchbook cover.

    h/t PR Newser
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  • Rather Odd Press Handling

    Media relations tip: Avoid strip searching TV crews coming to interview you.

    Seems like pretty reasonable advice, eh?  Apparently, this approach would be news to some Israeli officials, however.  

    TVNEWSER today invites our attention to an AP report which says that Dan Rather’s TV crew were “harassed and humiliated” back in January by Israeli security officials as they were preparing facilitate Rather’s interview of Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor.

    Rather’s producer reportedly wrote a letter to Israeli officials complaining that Dan’s staffers were forced to drop their pants for a strip search before being allowed near Meridor.

    There have been a series of complaints about how Israeli security types have been making life difficult for foreign media.  Interestingly, AP says Rather and crew were in the country at the invitation of Israel’s foreign ministry.

    It is good to be cautious when strangers (especially those with a lot of gear) want to approach a senior figure. For illustration, see Ahmad Shah Massoud leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance who was killed in a suicide bombing by terrorists posing as journalists two days before 9/11.

    But inspecting Rather’s crew’s bottoms seems a bit over the top.  Especially since they were present at the invitation of the Israelis.

    Oddly, unless we’ve missed it, Rather himself doesn’t appear to have spoken or written about the incident.  It would be interesting to know if this is because he wants to stay in the good graces of the Israelis — or simply because he was holding on to the nugget to include in a report on HDNet, the obscure cable channel for which he now works.

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  • NSC Official Fed To Wolf

    If you get interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, you better bring your “A game.”

    Denis McDonough, a Deputy National Security Advisor at the White House, was on CNN’s “Situation Room” this week and got eaten up.

    McDonough was invited on to respond to questions raised in a letter Speaker of the House Boehner sent to the President earlier in the day asking (among other things) what the goal of the military mission in Libya is, whether the Administration would find it acceptable if Moammar Gadafi remained in power when it was over, and how the operation will be paid for.

    So going in to his interview, McDonough had the advantage of pretty much knowing what the questions would be.  Unfortunately, he didn’t go in armed with very good answers.

    In the video below, you’ll see McDonough get himself wrapped around the axle trying to avoid answering the question of whether the U.S. policy is that the Libyan leader must go — or not.

    When Blitzer catches him in an apparent contradiction with what the President says — instead of finding a way to explain the disconnect — McDonough elected to get snarky:

    BLITZER: Wait, hold on. Hold on, Denis. I’m sorry for interrupting, but you just said something.

    You said there’s — it’s not a policy of regime change.

    MCDONOUGH: Correct.

    BLITZER: But how many times has the president said over the past few weeks, Gadhafi must go?

    MCDONOUGH: Well, I haven’t counted, Wolf. Maybe you have. But he has been very —

    BLITZER: At least a dozen.

    One could fashion a fairly simple answer to the question such as:

    “The foreign policy goal of the United States is for Gadhafi to go but the goal of this particular military action is more limited in scope.”

    For some reason McDonough was unable to come up with a clear answer.

    To make matters worse, McDonough unwisely elected to challenge Blitzer on some facts — not a good option — especially when Wolf was right:

    BLITZER: Who’s paying for all of this? Will — will you ask Congress, Boehner wants to know, if you’ll ask for a supplemental budget request to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars that U.S. taxpayers have already spent.

    Who’s going to pay for this?

    MCDONOUGH: Boy, I’m not sure where you’re getting the number hundreds of millions of dollars, Wolf. I think that’s an exaggeration.

    BLITZER: Well, each bomber —

    MCDONOUGH: But —

    BLITZER: — you know how much a Tomahawk cruise missile costs?

    MCDONOUGH: Well, again, if you can just give me a sense of where you’re getting the hundreds of millions of dollars –

    BLITZER: It’s 160 Tomahawk cruise missiles at $1.4 million each Tomahawk —

    MCDONOUGH: Is that a —

    BLITZER: — cruise missile. That’s already $160 million. (actually $224 million but we get the point, Wolf)

    Our goal at the 15SecondsBlog is not to debate the wisdom of any particular policy, but rather to point out the lack of wisdom of sending out a spokesman ill prepared to defend a policy — no matter what it is.

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