Monthly Archives: March 2008

Dirty Little Secrets: Political Scandals

Political sex scandals are quickly becoming the most popular headlines of the new millennium. Jim McGreevey was governor of New Jersey until he admitted that he was a homosexual and unfaithful to his wife. Former Congressman Mark Foley headed to rehab after officials discovered his lewd e-mails and instant messages sent to teenage pages. Earlier this month, Eliot Spitzer resigned his post as the governor of New York when his involvement in a local prostitution ring came to light. Upon his succession to the New York governorship, David Paterson immediately admitted to past extramarital affairs. In the good old days, shock and outrage were the country’s automatic reactions, but Americans these days merely sigh when they open up their morning paper to find that their newest elected leader has a less-than-desirable past.

The question is this: do constituents really care about the personal lives of their leaders? It seems that as long as everyone is “open” about what went on and nothing illegal took place, anything goes. Sexual misconduct among politicians becomes a joke on late-night television; soon it’s pushed to the back of our minds by the next big scandal on the news. There’s a growing trend for shamed politicians to publicly condemn their immoral actions, apologize to their families and conclude with a sorrowful resignation. This is the “proper,” generally accepted method in the realm of public relations, evidenced by countless news conferences in which these officials follow an almost identical pattern. But from a public relations perspective, is there a better way for politicians to deal with scandals that could ruin their professional reputation forever?

Savannah’s Opinion: I am not so sure that there is any better way of cleaning up the dirty work of fallen politicians. Unfortunately, Americans are desensitized to political misbehavior and have learned not to expect too much from the nation’s leaders. Therefore, it comes as no shock when another sex scandal surfaces; instead perhaps just a bit of disappointment and thoughts of “Well, there’s another one.”

The key to building back a decent reputation is not in the few days that follow a fallout. It is in the weeks, months and even years after. A simple apology and resignation are good gestures, but not enough to wipe the slate clean. As with everything else in life, it takes time for people to move past and forgive a disappointment. If these politicians wish to continue a career in politics, they need to really take some time and work through their personal struggles. They should step out of the spot light for a while and let the chaos fade. Later, return to the public eye with a vengeance and be prepared to do what it takes to show Americans that they are worthy of a second chance and have risen above their mistakes.

The ultimate public relations strategy would be to avoid these situations all together, but of course, politicians are human just like the rest of us and will continue to make unwise decisions. Americans will never forget a mistake, but are certainly able to give second chances.

Sarah’s Opinion: I agree with Savannah; it takes more than just a well-publicized apology and a few tears to get back into the public’s good graces. Unfortunately, these days that only applies to really big and potentially illegal sex scandals, like the one involving Spitzer. Consider Bill Clinton: he messed up inexcusably, yet the public either has forgotten the Monica Lewinsky incident or has chosen to ignore it in the face of all he has done since his presidency. It takes time and a good publicist to win back the hearts of the American people (and more importantly, the press).

The flip side of the coin is the example of David Paterson. Here’s a guy who flat out admits that he and his wife cheated on each other (not to mention that he has “tried cocaine”). When I read his statement, I find myself nodding along and applauding him for being forthcoming with this information. Then it hits me. Is the fact that he admits to his mistakes before they are sniffed out something that is admirable? I’m not so sure, but I am sure that coming clean to the public in a humble fashion before journalists get a hold of the misdeed is much more acceptable than apologizing afterward. People like to know that their elected leaders have nothing to hide, or at the very least, that they can maintain the appearance of morality. If it’s the best they can do, I guess we’ll have to take it. Americans, say goodbye to “leading by example.”

Savannah Lanier and Sarah Yates

See these videos for more information:
“Eliot Spitzer Resignation”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JYEUhIobuk

“Paterson Affair CS”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_B5jo3xZpU

Read these articles for more information:
“New York Gov. Spitzer resigns amid sex scandal”
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=4436155

“New NY Governor Admits Affairs Years Ago
http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=4478826

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“It’s 3 a.m.” … Let the answering machine get it

The Background: The 2008 primary elections are approaching an end, and the fog is beginning to clear over which candidates will represent their parties in the upcoming presidential election. Prior to the March 4th primaries, John McCain had a clear advantage in the Republican vote, while Barack Obama held the lead over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic vote. Clinton, fearing her presidential nomination slipping away, heightened the aggression in her campaign tactics. She recently released a controversial commercial implying that the well being of America’s youth may be at risk with an Obama victory. She also claimed that her experience and savvy in national security qualify her as the best candidate. Obama’s camp quickly dismissed this ad as a scare tactic. He then released an eerily similar commercial citing his consistency in opposing the war in Iraq, clearly also referencing Hillary’s previous vote to enter the war.

The Issue: The primary issue surrounding this story is how effective such tactics can be in swaying the public vote and how such tactics reflect upon the candidates’ characters. Both candidates have been accused of using scare tactics in order to woo voters. The Clinton camp has already declared victory in this commercial debacle. Clinton strategist, Mark Penn, said the ad showed Americans “who’s ready and prepared to be commander-in-chief.” He also said this commercial signaled a change in momentum in the presidential race. But the question is whether voters will be turned off by fear or have a renewed sense of security behind a candidate. Since the commercials were virtually the same, despite a few sentences, each candidate could have the edge. So far, they have caused quite the political firestorm with each candidate producing their own retaliation commercials in preparation for the March 4th primaries. Upon being posted on YouTube, Clinton’s ad has nearly 700,000 hits while Obama’s has just over 300,000 as of March 5.

Anna Catherine’s Opinion: When I first heard of these commercials, I was very interested, not only because of the upcoming election, but also because of the negative or positive tone that might come with these commercials. I will admit that Clinton’s commercial was very strong and gave voters what they wanted to hear­­ — that Hillary is experienced in national security and is ready to respond to any situation. The part that I originally thought might hurt Hillary in this commercial was that she and Obama used the same canned images of children sleeping. Would this make the Clinton camp seem like they are taking the easy way out in producing commercials, or is this just common procedure? I still haven’t found the answer to these questions, but I think Obama having the same images makes Hillary seem like they are really taking the easy way out. It showed that Hillary’s commercial really wasn’t that special to begin with and that Obama is just as prepared as she is. Preparedness is key in these situations. I am constantly amazed at how fast the different campaigns are to react to everything. They are always quick to retaliate and “one-up” the other. Obama’s camp was very quick to react in this situation, for which they are being praised. Within hours, he had his own video out on the Internet with almost the exact same information. But does that mean that Obama simply copied Clinton or was it all part of his strategy? We may never know the reasoning behind this, but we will know the effects come November.

Anthony’s Opinion: This approaching presidential election has had a distinct train wreck feeling to it since the beginning of the primaries. The Republican Party failed to groom a proper successor to Bush, leaving the GOP with a slew of candidates, half of which no one knew existed. With McCain emerging from this mixed bag of cartoon characters, the only drama left remains with the Democrats. As the two remaining heavyweights exchange blows, and as Clinton remains trailing, it comes as no surprise that she would try an unorthodox yet recycled method of scare tactics. The real surprise is that such tactics appear to have worked, as Clinton claimed campaign-saving victories in Ohio and Texas. Yet for all the huffing and puffing and mudslinging she has done, she still finds herself in an uphill battle. This creates an interesting question. When will a candidate emerge who abstains from the stale, exhausted opponent-bashing techniques of yester year and instead take the high ground? How refreshing would it be if the next generation of voters could have a good guy (or gal) to identify with and support?

http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/ny-usdems015597475mar01,0,5244135.story

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M70emIFxETs&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=879o1_pxO0c

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