The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

From today's Spectator

Presidential Public Relations

Politicians have long benefited from adopting public relations tactics to shape image and spread key messages: kissing babies, making speeches in front of overtly multicultural audiences, using rhetoric to define the terms of debate.

Presidential politics has been no different, especially under the Bush administration. Yet now the PR machine that bolstered the president for so long is starting to appear as effective as the little Dutch boy who tried to plug a dam’s leak with his finger, and the president’s image is under attack from all corners.

A new CBS News poll has placed the president’s popularity rating at an all-time low of 34 percent, a number that bodes very poorly for a Republican Party that has become very closely linked to his administration in the last six years. Where has the mighty Bush PR machine failed in recent months? A closer look at three events reveal chinks in the administration’s armor that, if not addressed, threaten to speed up the process of “lame-ducking” the president and handicapping his dual-house majority.

Port Nowhere: Seven out of ten Americans in the CBS News poll had a problem with the UAE-based Dubai Ports World takeover of American port operations. Yet President Bush can’t understand what the fuss is about. The disconnect is almost embarrassingly obvious—the president spends years telling the voters that America is waging a war on terror, then semi-secretly signs over six (recently revealed by AP to be 11 and by Reuters to be 21) American port terminals to the operation of a company partially controlled by an Arab state previously linked to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Bush has failed to consider and plan for the political ramifications of his actions, and that has hurt his continuing appeal as a president who is a man of the people.

PR Rule 1: Never send your audience contradictory messages and expect them to understand your thought process.

Cheneygate: Cheneygate, the non-story arising from Dick Cheney’s accidental shooting of a fellow hunter, has thoroughly played itself out with Americans. But the media has not yet forgotten that they heard about the shooting 16 hours after the fact, when a private citizen made the announcement. The media, for right or wrong, has a prickly sense of entitlement to information that politicians are better off accepting and dealing with, especially during times of uncertain support. The Fourth Estate won’t be changing any time soon—get used to it. Assuming that the White House knew of the shooting immediately, full and immediate disclosure would have garnered more sympathetic portrayals in the media. Instead, the sixteen-hour gap incensed reporters, leading them to consider conspiracy theories and other aggressive angles.

PR Rule 2: Stay on good terms with mainstream media outlets; they remain the largest shapers of public opinion.

Congress and the Trailing Wires: Though the issue of executive wiretapping has been in the news for a while, congressional reactions to being largely left out of the loop have greatly hurt the administration’s ability to encourage legislation. The administration claims to have justification for its warrant-less wiretaps, but Congress, like the media, has a strong sense of entitlement when it comes to issues affecting its constituents. For the Bush administration to continue to work around Congress, on top of ignoring public sentiment over the ports deal, is a guaranteed method to burn bridges.

PR Rule 3: Every major actor you don’t consult with is a potential opponent to future plans.

The real turning point was Hurricane Katrina, where federal failures were immediately evident. But the president could have bounced back; voters have fickle preferences as time elapses. Instead, these three aforementioned events heaped insult upon injury, destroying any chance the administration had of making a speedy image recovery. It is essential for the administration to engage in a large amount of public relations clean-up work to revitalize its image. If it does not pay closer attention to maintaining its public image, lofty ideals and moral righteousness will constitute ineffective sideshows.

At the moment, no major changes appear to be in the air for the administration, and that can only spell trouble in the face of recent events. With Congress, the media, and the American people rankling over an assortment of poorly sold decisions, the future of the second-term Bush administration appears at its bleakest, with no light on the horizon.


Post a Comment

<< Home