Politician Hit With “Stupid Stick”
It’s the political season, and it seems you can’t open a newspaper without hearing about some sort of misstep from a politician. These errors are particularly newsworthy if you are conservative Republican, and if I’m reading mainstream media accurately, even more compelling if the issue surrounds hot button social issues.
Enter Republican Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner from Washington State.
Following an article from a tiny Seattle quarterly magazine where Baumgartner thought he was misrepresented on the topic of Missouri Senate hopeful Tim Akin’s recent comments on “legitimate abortion.”
Baumgartner sent the journalist a note with an attached photo of himself with a fallen Navy SEAL telling the reporter who the SEAL was and punctuating the e-mail note by telling the reporter to “take a good look and then go F—- yourself.”
This appears to be a case of topic misdirection if ever there was one. Baumgartner’s response is clearly based on a conversation he had with the reporter on Afghanistan and has nothing to do with abortion or economic issues. The latter of which is Baumgartner’s focus issue in his campaign.
All of that is just a side note when it comes to public discourse and strategic communication. The more important issues here are the effects of Baumgartner’s actions:
First, the use of profanity is NEVER acceptable. Ever. Especially when you are seeking an office representing people who will need to trust you.
Second, using e-mail as the communication medium to convey this vulgarity is even more foolish. It’s a permanent record and eliminates any possibility of denying the statement.
Finally, every engagement with a reporter should have strategic value and should be designed to inform and persuade potential audiences on your important views on issues. I’m trying to discern Baumgartner’s message here. No joy.
All of these things demonstrate the poor judgment – and yes, the stupidity – of the campaign and candidate.
So what can Baumgartner due to fix things? The high road would include a contrite acknowledgement of his inappropriate actions. To be followed not by justification of his action or even an apology but rather an explanation of where his campaign is focused and how his approach is needed as we try to get our economy back on track. He has access to the public microphone right now.
Political life is filled with challenges. The prying media questions, the public scrutiny, the tough decisions, and trying to persuade would-be voters that your position is the right one are all very difficult. This is even harder when the candidate does stupid things. In this case, it seems Senate candidate Baumgartner was struck by a “stupid stick.”
Mark McDonald is Vox Optima’s western regional director and senior media trainer with more than two decades of expertise in defense industry, international and national public relations consulting, crisis and strategic communication planning, media relations, media training, and reputation and branding management. Mark can be reached on Twitter or Facebook or by email at email@example.com.
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