March 30, 2007

PR LESSON #2: Sometimes the Best Rapid Response in None at All

All press flacks learn an expensive lesson regarding blogs.  Sometimes the best rapid response is none at all.

This lesson is courtesy of Rich Galen at

A Rapid Response Story
By Rich Galen Commentary
March 30, 2007

* A feature of the modern political campaign is the Rapid Response Team.

* There was a time when it was considered unseemly for the frontrunner in a campaign to respond to a negative story because, back in the day, it was seen as giving credence to the charge and stature to the person (or organization) making it.

* Bosh! Was the preferred attitude.

* Then came the Internet and, more precisely, Google, where nothing written ever goes away. A charge made must be a charge answered -- whether it makes any sense or not.

* Big time -- and even small time -- campaigns now have a dedicated group of people who do nothing but scour the Internet looking for negative stories -- either about their opponents (which they will forward to their e-mail list of friendly bloggers and reporters) or about themselves (which will cause them to erupt into a projectile sweat and frenzied meetings).

* Hence, today's story (which is pretty long, but worth the read).

* On Wednesday, in a column pointing out where I thought the various campaigns stood, I wrote the following about Rudy Giuliani: "When Giuliani declared he was not in favor of a pardon for Scooter Libby, I suggested to one newspaper that was one more straw on the back of the Conservative camel and it appeared to me that the camel's knees were beginning to buckle."

* Pretty good line, but not much more than a one-timer. Actually, the big news out of that MULLINGS was the fact that I had spotted Romney's media guy, Alex Castellanos, sitting with Fred Thompson at a restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia.

* At the Giuliani campaign, that line about Scooter generated a DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Rapid Response alert.

* At 8:50 Thursday morning I got an e-mail from Giuliani press person Maria Comella -- who is held in pretty high regard in GOP campaign circles -- which said: "Hi Rich - I was reading your column in Mullings and noticed that you may have misstated the Mayor's position regarding Scooter Libby. He has not said he is against a pardon, but has indicated that this is a decision best left to the president."

* To which, I responded at 8:53 AM: "Right. That's like Hillary (when asked about General Pace's comments on the morality of homosexuality) saying: "I'll leave that for others to decide." When you want to be President (and Commander-in-Chief) you ARE the President and you ARE the C-in-C and you have to make those decisions. If you are running for President you can't duck difficult questions because you're not there yet."

* To which, Ms. Comella responded at 9:04 AM: "I understand your point and would admit that it would be fair for you to say that the Mayor did not answer the question, evaded it or insert whatever your editorial comment might be. My only issue was that you made the assumption that he does not support a pardon, when in fact the Mayor did not say that was the case. Anyway, appreciate you listening. Maria"

* To which I responded at 9:05 AM: "What's the answer? Does he or doesn't he support a pardon?"

* To which Ms. Comella responded at 9:45 AM: "The Mayor has said that we need to see what happens in the appeal process as this is an ongoing criminal case. This is quite similar to what Senator McCain has said on this issue."

* McCain: "That's a judgment that only the president of the

United States

can make ... The presidential pardon is a very, very serious thing that cannot be abused." (Henry C. Jackson, "McCain: Gonzales Should Not Be Forced Out," The Associated Press, 3/15/07)

* Neither statement can be characterized as opposition to a pardon.

* Which, in big-time politics is known as the "When in Doubt, Look to McCain for Cover" fandango.

* Moreover, it proved to me that this was being generated by the Rapid Response Unit which can pull up McCain quotes (or, I assume, Buster Keaton quotes) at will, because I am very comfortable in claiming that Ms. Comella had not previously memorized that McCain quote, nor the citation from whence it sprung.

To which, I responded at 9:52 AM: "I know that's what he's said. My question -- based upon your requirement to quote his position -- is: If he were President today would he pardon Libby?"

* To which there has been no reply as of this writing.

* Those of you who know me understand that by this time I was way, WAY over the whole thing and would have been perfectly happy to move onto pointing out that Nancy Pelosi has an approval rating only slightly higher than George W. Bush.

* But, then I got an e-mail from some guy named Jonathan at (which had carried that edition of MULLINGS) at 1:08 pm: "The Giuliani camp is claming an inaccuracy in your column today. How would you like to proceed? Would you like to issue a correction, soften the language, or stand by the assertion? If you leave it as is, the Giuliani folks will probably ask for a editors' note registering their disagreement with the statement."

* Which I took to be a weak, stupid, and amateurish attempt to intimidate me, thereby elevating the whole thing to the equivalent of World War IX.

* I responded (this is approximate, as I was on my Blackberry and didn't send a copy to myself):
"Do whatever you have to do. I've had an e-mail exchange with the campaign and I'm standing by what I wrote."

* Which led to a phone call from a higher-up at at about 2:30 PM asking if we could talk "off the record."

* I said, if he was calling about the Giuliani thing, we could absolutely NOT be off the record but (as I had written to Jonathan) should do whatever it thought necessary.

* Jonathan, not knowing I had just talked to his boss, sent me an e-mail at 2:38 pm: "I assume by "the email exchange with the campaign" that you had a email exchange with the campaign yourself and weren't planning on quoting me."

* To which, I responded: Maybe. Maybe not.

* I lied. By this time there was no question in my mind that I was going to quote Jonathan.

* Frankly, I like Giuliani. If he wins the nomination, I would have absolutely no problem aggressively supporting him.

* But, if his Rapid Response Team is going to get its collective panties into a twist every time they come across something which isn't exactly as they would have written it, they are in for a very long and uncomfortable time between now and February 5, 2008.

* What I wrote was a throw-away line. No one would have noticed. Now they will.

* I hope the Giuliani campaign learns the lesson: Sometimes the best Rapid Response is no response at all.

Copyright 2007 Barrington Worldwide, LLC

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