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
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
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.
"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
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?