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Watch this page for tips and lessons about communications issues.

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Just 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 overseas. (disclaimer - I am not a Kerry fan)

Still -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.

Kerry said, "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 days.

He should 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.

His statement:

"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 offended.

"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 this:

When you mess up, get out in front of the story. Issue the apology right away.

The media 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.

By the 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?

Just 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 overseas. (disclaimer - I am not a Kerry fan)

Still -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.

Kerry said, "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 days.

He should 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.

His statement:

"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 offended.

"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 this:

When you mess up, get out in front of the story. Issue the apology right away.

The media 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.

By the 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?