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Watching Debates? Think LC and the Troublesome Past
September 24, 2012
If you are the expert communicator, counseling the leader, how significant is the leader's past communication record? If EKE — everybody knows everything — is generally true, if anybody with a way to roam the internet can find out just about anything about anybody including anything that anybody has ever published, said, blogged or — watch this — thought, how in the world do you counsel the leader today? Do you go back and scrub the record (don't know how that's possible), ignore it, try to explain it, overcome it with current reality, overcome despairing record with current optimism?
Believe us [that is, your faculty if you're in the Georgetown University group of students probing the state and the restatement of leadership communication], anybody who's been anywhere with any leader trying to do her or his best to lead — which doesn't happen without communication — asks questions like these a lot.
So, on the day of the first in the series of Presidential debates, here is an excerpt from the October 3, 2012 online commentary by an active observer of Washington politics, Politico.com (highly read in DC at least, associated with the daily newspaper, Politico).
This coverage centers on two videos, one by President Obama in 2007, when he was still Senator Obama, and one by Rep. Paul Ryan in 2011, before he was the Republican VP candidate.
Your faculty/communicator point: Read this, thinking leadership communication and our classroom discussions on the language of leaders — context, content and tone — with special knowledge of the troublesome past.
Here is the first video, which Politico.com picked up from, and gives credit to the online daily of Matt Drudge, who in turn credits a broadcast from Fox News (ah, everybody's in the act, and you can be too):
VIDEO 1 - Drudge banner, "OBAMA'S OTHER RACE SPEECH 'UNSCRUBBED' OBAMA  VIDEO"
— Sean Hannity, at the top of his 9 p.m. "Hannity," on Fox News: "On the eve of the first presidential debate, a bombshell is about to be dropped on the 2012 race for the White House. Because tonight, you will hear from Barack Obama like you have NEVER heard from him before. A video has been uncovered from a campaign event [at Hampton (Va.) University on June 5,] 2007 of then-candidate Obama speaking before an audience of African-American ministers, including the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
"It contains some of the most divisive class-warfare and racially charged rhetoric ever used by Barack Obama. This is further proof that the mainstream media has been in the pocket of Barack Obama since the day that he arrived on the national stage. Now let's take a look at what the left-wing press has been hiding since 2007. Obama injects a heavy dose of racially charged rhetoric into his remarks. This is what so-called unbiased journalists have been trying to hide A glimpse into the mind of the real Barack Obama It's pretty explosive stuff."
— SEN. OBAMA: "I've gotta give a special shout-out to MY pastor — the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. [Laughter] He's a friend and a great leader So, please, everybody give an extraordinary welcome to my pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr. [Thunderous applause.] Where's he at? There he is. That — that's him. That's him right there. You're wearin' a suit today!
"I just want to give you one example, because this steams me up. This wasn't in the prepared remarks. ... Down in New Orleans, where they still have not rebuilt 20 months later, there's a law — federal law, when you get reconstruction money from the federal government, called the Stafford [Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance] Act, and basically it says: When you get federal money, you gotta give a 10 percent match. The local government's got to come up with 10 percent. Every $10 federal government comes up with, local government's gotta give a dollar. Now here's the thing: When 9/11 happened in New York City, they waived the Stafford Act, saying; 'This is too serious a problem. We can't expect New York City to rebuild on its own. Forget that — that dollar you gotta put in. Well, here's $10.' And that was the right thing to do. What's happening down in New Orleans? Where's your dollah? Makes no sense.
"That's why we need additional federal public transportation dollars flowing to the highest-need communities. We don't NEED to build more highways out in the suburbs, if we had people in the cities right now who want to work but have no way to gettin' to those jobs. We've gotta help connect them to the jobs that exist. We should be investing in minority-owned businesses in our neighborhoods so people don't HAVE to travel from miles away."
— Ben LaBolt, Obama campaign national press secretary: "In a transparent attempt to change the subject from his comments attacking half of the American people, Mitt Romney's allies recirculated video of a 2007 event that was open to and extensively covered by the press at the time. The only thing shocking about this is that they apparently think it's wrong to suggest that we should help returning veterans, children leaving foster care and other members of Mitt Romney's 47 percent get training that will allow them to find the best available jobs."
[Note from Faculty: That was the excerpt in Politico.com, with the communicator LaBolt scrambling to unscramble the connection between the past and the present.
[Now, here is the Politico.com comment on the Obama speech, which includes notes interesting to us as communication analysts, centering on the leadership communicator's CONTENT, TONE (and "grammar"). Since we have reference to the time and place, we know the CONTEXT of this LC example. Ok, here is the Politico (Playbook) assessment:]
PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE: This release is a base-mobilization exercise, reminding Republicans to vote, even if they're lukewarm about Romney. This video of SENATOR Obama — at this point, an announced presidential candidate — is jarring because this isn't the tone, content or grammar we're used to hearing from PRESIDENT Obama. He's playing to the crowd. It's like the pronounced twang President George W. Bush broke out when speaking in rural areas — places where the audience had "more hats than ties," as he put it.
[Note from Faculty: A second leadership communication assessment: Politico.com matched the Obama video with the following, from Rep. (soon to be Vice Presidential Candidate) Paul Ryan. This, like the Senator Obama video, was before the speaker became a presidential/vice presidential speaker. Politico.com in this case relies on, and credits the Huffington Post's online reporter, Ryan Grim. It is of some significance to us as LC analysts especially, and certainly to anyone, to know and to understand the sources of what we're reading. Here's what appears in Politico.com today:]
VIDEO 2 — "Paul Ryan: 30 Percent 'Want Welfare State,' 70 Percent 'Want The American Dream'" — HuffPost's Ryan Grim: "Ryan's comments were delivered as part of his keynote address at The American Spectator's 2011 Robert L. Bartley Gala Dinner, which the magazine posted online. A reader tipped HuffPost to Ryan's speech, given in November — six months before Romney's videotaped remarks."
— CHAIRMAN RYAN: "Those of you who know me, I'm kind of a numbers guys. 70 percent of Americans get more benefits from the federal government in dollar value than they pay back in taxes. The good news is: Survey after survey, poll after poll, still shows that we are a center-right, 70-30, country. 70 percent of Americans want the American dream. They believe the American. Only 30 percent want the welfare state. What that tells us: At least half those people who are currently in that category are there not of their wish or their will. They're down on their luck, they're out of their job, they're back in school. They want the American idea, and they want their kids to be better off." http://huff.to/T0oNCu
[Note from Faculty: Here is the Politico.com comment on the Ryan video.]
— PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE: Mitt Romney would be BETTER OFF if he had expressed his 47-percent point in Ryan's language, which acknowledges those who don't WANT or CHOOSE to be on government assistance.
Faculty Final Comment: So, take a crack at it. Think about it as you watch the debates. Write something here or bring it up in class. And remember, as the little green guy with the pointed ears and luminous sword said as the stars warred, "There is no over." However, learning is fun.
Bruce Harrison is an adjunct professor in the master's program at
Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He and Judith Muhlberger teach
courses in leadership communications and corporate crisis communications.
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