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Two Contrasting Examples of Saying Something Stupid

Retiring radio legend Don Imus tells Anthony Mason of CBS that he regrets his flip, bigoted remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, which cost him his job at the time. He also recalled meeting privately with team members and their parents, apologizing to them and promising never to repeat his mistake.

Retiring radio legend Don Imus tells Anthony Mason of CBS that he regrets his flip, bigoted remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, which cost him his job at the time. He also recalled meeting privately with team members and their parents, apologizing to them and promising never to repeat his mistake.

All of us have said something stupid or insensitive. Most of us don’t do it on purpose or practice it as our key message.  Most of us are not Rick Santorum.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” the day after thousands of young people took to the streets to demand an end to gun violence, the former GOP senator and presidential aspirant from Pennsylvania said student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School should learn CPR instead of protesting. Santorum said the students were pushing for “phony gun laws” that wouldn’t stop school shootings.

Regardless of your point of view, it would be hard to imagine a more tone-deaf or badly timed comment in the wake of massive nation-wide student-led protests. Recognizing the significance of what was happening, the National Rifle Association turned off its propaganda engines for the weekend. President Trump praised the students for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Santorum was part of a panel discussing the student protests, so perhaps he thought it was his job to lob a grenade into the conversation. Whatever his motivation, he sounded like a nincompoop.

Former GOP Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said student survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting would be better served by learning CPR instead of protesting.

Former GOP Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said student survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting would be better served by learning CPR instead of protesting.

Coincidentally, Santorum’s comment came the same day as an interview aired on “CBS Sunday Morning” with outspoken radio legend Don Imus. At age 78, Imus is ending his 50-year career on radio and fighting a battle with emphysema.

During the interview, he unhesitatingly answered a question about his flip and bigoted remark in 2007 about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. The remark cost him his job. It also caused him to reflect on such remarks.

"It did change my feeling about making fun of some people who didn't deserve to be made fun of, and didn't have a mechanism to defend themselves," he told CBS’ Anthony Mason. "I'm not full of sh*t. If I've done it, I'll own up to it. And then I have some sorta weird relationship with the audience. I think they saved me most of the time."

Later in the interview, Imus recalled how he met in person with the Rutgers team and their parents and apologized. “I sat and listened for four or five hours. And there was nothing I could say other than, 'I'm sorry,' and promise them that I would never give them a reason in their lifetime to be sorry that they forgave me. And I haven't."

The contrast between Santorum and Imus couldn’t be starker. Imus said something stupid and hateful, paid a price for it, owned it and sought redemption. He said he regretted ever saying what he said, adding “[be]cause I knew better.”

Santorum apparently felt it was his duty to say something stupid and dismissive in defense of his point of view. It seems unlikely Santorum will seek out student survivors of the Parkland school shooting and apologize, or even regret what he said because he knew better.

All of us say stupid things. What matters is what happens after you say something stupid.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Convergence, Chaos and the Supreme Court

In much the same way the earth’s tectonic plates are grinding against each other off our Pacific shoreline — potentially creating a powerful force that could reshape our landscape — the world of technology and the news media universe are in collision. The forces emerging from the evolutionary  “convergence” of computers and television already are changing where and how we get our news. Convergence is the keyword.

Two seemingly unrelated news events last week could show us how and where we may find the trusted news sources of the future. The events: The high court's health care ruling and the split up of Rupert Murdock’s News Corp.

First, the Supreme Court’s affirmative ruling on the Affordable Care Act. News coverage was so confusing that even President Obama, who taught constitutional law at Harvard University, at first misunderstood the outcome and thought he had lost the court’s vote.

The leading cable news networks simply got the story wrong. CNN aired three differing stories on the court’s decision in 15 minutes, says reporter Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun, adding that Fox wasn’t much better. 

“In addition to hitting the airwaves,” Broadwater wrote, “the network also sent out two breaking news alerts.”

• “10:09: The Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate for health care — the legislation that requires all to have health insurance.”

• “10:18: Correction: The Supreme Court backs all parts of President Obama's signature health care law, including the individual mandate that requires all to have health insurance.”

The New York Times seemed to take a more cautious approach, Broadwater wrote, tweeting the following: "The Supreme Court has ruled on President Obama's health-care overhaul, and Times reporters and editors are analyzing the decision. Once we are comfortable with its basic meaning, you can expect a torrent of coverage."

 A red-faced CNN emailed a statement, explaining the initial confusion: 

"In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.  CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling.  CNN regrets that it didn't wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate.  We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error."

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show had his own take on what happened in the race for “news firstiness."

In simple terms, the print media proved to be a more reliable source.