Say You're Sorry
This one is just too obvious, but I
couldn't let the John Kerry gaff go by without
commenting. As you know, the former presidential
candidate messed up a joke that was supposed to poke fun
at President Bush. It was obvious to anyone not wearing
politics-shaded glasses that his target was his former
opponent, and not the troops serving our country
(disclaimer - I am not a Kerry fan)
-haven't these people learned the basics of PR? Kerry's
biggest mistake was his reaction to the criticism. His
reaction made a minor story a major story.
"You know, education, if you make the
most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you
make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you
don't, you get stuck in Iraq.” That was on Monday,
October 30. The Republican machine quickly jumped on the
comments - accusing the Senator of insulting our
soldiers. Never mind that it was obvious that the joke
was aimed at the President - the media had a story and,
as usual, it was going to run with it until it was dead.
Kerry (D-Mass) spent the three days
defending himself and refusing to apologize. Instead, he
blamed the Republicans - and kept the story alive for
the rest of the week! It was front page, lead story, and
the most popular topic on the radio talk shows for four
have just stood up and said "I'm sorry." As usual, I'm
going to defend his PR people. I'm sure their advice was
the same as mine. Why do these people pay us so much,
then just ignore everything we say?
The story could have lasted a day or two
as the sidebar it should it have been
- but not four or five as the top story in the nation.
The apology would be the beginning of the end of the
story, so the sooner it gets out, the quicker the story
goes away. But it wasn't until late Wednesday that he finally issued an
"apology." By that time, the media had gone beyond the
original story and was hunting up all his past comments
about the military. So his refusal to apologize not only
kept the story on the front page, it made the story
bigger and better.
When he finally decided to apologize, he didn't help
matters much by issuing a defensive and stiffly worded
statement on his website, not in person before the
media. His statement didn't even include the words "I'm
sorry." In fact, he never actually apologized for what
he said, he only expressed "regret" that his statement
was "misinterpreted." He could have just as well said
"I'm sorry some people are too stupid to understand us
intelligent people." Then he went on to blast the GOP.
"As a combat veteran, I
want to make it clear to anyone in uniform and to
their loved ones: my poorly stated joke at a rally was
not about, and never intended to refer to any troop.
"I sincerely regret that my words were
misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative
about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to
any service member, family member, or American who was
"It is clear the
Republican Party would rather talk about anything but
their failed security policy. I don’t want my verbal
slip to be a diversion from the real issues. I will
continue to fight for a change of course to provide
real security for our country, and a winning strategy
for our troops."
The lessons to learn from
When you mess up, get
out in front of the story. Issue the apology right
looks for conflict, so if you want to keep a story
alive, keep the conflict alive. If you want to kill
the story, kill the conflict.
Be sincere. All he had
to say was, "I'm Sorry. I messed up a joke, and the
result was offensive. I feel bad about it and hope all
the troops and their families will forgive me."
If you're not good at telling jokes,
don't tell them! Especially in a high-risk situation
like a political campaign, humor is more likely to get
you into trouble.
You don't have to
follow the formula of opening with a joke!
I suppose another lesson
is that the media, and America, really needs to get a
life! This was a minor gaff in the middle of an
important campaign with real issues we should be talking
about. But then, that's really asking for a lot in this
day and age.
way, here is the way the joke was supposed to go:
"I can't overstress the
importance of a great education. Do you know where you
end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if
you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us
stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."
That's pretty lame as far
as jokes go. Was it really worth it?