Donald Trump

Fake Videos Are a Reality, Not Just a Threat

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a high-profile victim of altered video intended to embarrass her for slurring her speech as if drunk. The technology for doctoring photos and videos has become commonplace, but the tools and techniques to detect and defend against visual forgeries is not as widespread. It should be.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a high-profile victim of altered video intended to embarrass her for slurring her speech as if drunk. The technology for doctoring photos and videos has become commonplace, but the tools and techniques to detect and defend against visual forgeries is not as widespread. It should be.

The threat of fake or doctored videos is officially no longer a threat, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can attest. The doctored videos of her that surfaced last week weren’t the first time detractors manicured video content to embarrass her.

While the doctored videos of Pelosi were spotted and outed quickly, it is fair to say that the technical ability to create deepfake videos is far ahead of the practical ability to spot them. Experts say virtually anyone with a laptop could have doctored the Pelosi videos.

Even when fake or doctored videos are outed, they still can circulate widely on social media, in some cases with a push from influencers – or a President of the United States. The fake video of Pelosi has been viewed millions of times on Facebook. 

As we noted in an August 2017 Managing Issues blog, desktop technology exists to edit video and audio to make anyone say almost anything. In the Pelosi video, her natural speech pattern was distorted so she sounded drunk.

If fake videos were just the innocent stuff of parties or a good-natured roast, we could just sit back and laugh. Unfortunately, they aren’t just for fun. They are weapons to destroy a reputation or cut down a political opponent. In the partisan silos of today’s news media, fake videos can quickly become “fact.”

Circulation of political fake videos is calculated. Trump likes them because they share well with his aging political base. They also are red meat opportunities for Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity, who frequently airs them. Some fake video creators defend their handiwork as “entertainment” that engages people who otherwise would shy away from politics.

High-profile individuals, corporations or politicians can’t ignore the need for 24/7 media monitoring. If there ever was a doubt, the specter of fake videos should squelch any hesitation. The task of media monitoring is no longer as simple as having someone read newspapers and clip relevant articles. Media monitoring now spans online news, social media, blogs, message boards, video channels, broadcast TV, radio and print – not just in the United States, but also internationally.  There are ample commercial choices that can provide some or all media monitoring.

Forensic tools exist to spot doctored photographs and videos. The Global Investigative Journalism Network posted this  tutorial  on techniques and tools to ferret out fake visuals, manipulated data, twisted facts and out-of-context information.

Forensic tools exist to spot doctored photographs and videos. The Global Investigative Journalism Network posted this tutorial on techniques and tools to ferret out fake visuals, manipulated data, twisted facts and out-of-context information.

Being aware of coverage that affects you isn’t enough when it comes to video content. You or someone on your behalf needs to view it forensically to ensure the video is authentic and editing is contextually accurate and fair. This can be complicated that goes far beyond detecting a jump cut in a TV interview. In anticipation of an altered video scenario, you should add a new section to your crisis plan that identifies media monitoring options, go-to resources and potential responses. 

Upon detecting a fake or doctored video, you need a capability to address it and its fallout. Unfortunately, you can’t simply raise your hand and call foul. Depending on the seriousness of the fake video content, you may need to mount an aggressive response. 

An aggressive response should include:

  • Third-party verification that a video is fake or doctored.

  • The source video that is altered.

  • Identification of the responsible party who doctored the video, if known.

  • Calling out websites or channels that are promoting the fake video.

Political figures have little protection from slander, but they can ask surrogates and supporters to out the fakery and its malign motivation. Their communications staff can request traditional and mainstream media to write editorials or accept op-eds that condemn such political tactics. In Pelosi’s case, Facebook refused to ban the fake video of her. Twitter continued to allow it to be shared. YouTube said the fake video violated its standard of ethics. A spliced video of Joe Biden’s apology about inappropriate touching of women took just 19 hours to go from its originator’s keyboard to the Trump Twitter account. 

Individuals and business leaders enjoy a little more legal protection from slander and can pursue legal remedies to have the fake video content taken down from its origin and a public statement admitting it was doctored. An apology would be nice, too.

Be aware that political or business figures willing to commission and post visual forgeries like to play rough and loose with the rules of fair play, including passing the blame on who is responsible. Responding in kind is a fool’s errand. But exposing such dirty tricks and affixing blame is perfectly fair – and smart if you have facts down cold.

Pelosi chose to shrug off the video and Trump’s reference to it. This wasn’t a strategic, not casual decision by Pelosi’s camp. She has accused Trump of self-impeachment, a coverup and in need of a staff intervention. Pelosi’s needling led Trump to call her “Crazy Nancy” based on “slurred words” in the fake video. Pelosi scored points with her political base and her fractious House Democratic caucus on both counts.

Whether a fake video response is frontal or subtle, a clear-eyed decision is required on how and when to respond. No response isn’t an option. It’s just like a trademark – you have to monitor and defend it against infringement or see your trademark devalued.

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.

 

 

Upstart Candidate Wins Upset Through Smart Branding

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored an upset victory in a New York congressional primary through effective personal branding that included a 2-minute video, retro posters and savvy social media.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored an upset victory in a New York congressional primary through effective personal branding that included a 2-minute video, retro posters and savvy social media.

Political campaigns can reveal emerging marketing trends as well as political issues. The lopsided upset victory by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over an entrenched Democratic incumbent in a New York congressional primary is a case in point.

The charismatic 28-year-old Ocasio-Cortez used a 2-minute video, well-design retro posters and social media savvy to defeat an incumbent with more money, a political machine and presumably greater name familiarity.

The New York Times said Congressman Joe Crowley “fawned over his district’s diversity and pitched himself as an ally.” Ocasio-Cortez “pitched herself as a member of the community itself.”

A Crowley campaign staff member told the Times, “We had people running this like a 1998 City Council race, not a 2018 congressional primary.”

The upset of an incumbent from either political party sets off alarm bells. Some pointed to Ocasio-Cortez’s Puerto Rican background matching with a diverse district consisting of Queens and the Bronx. Others pointed to her progressive agenda (Ocasio-Cortez was an organizer in the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders). She rightfully dismissed both claims. She said she won, including in non-Hispanic parts of the district, because she ran a better campaign. Evidence supports her claim.

It would be fair to say Ocasio-Cortez positioned herself as a better fit with the district’s constituency. A self-described socialist, her progressive agenda included abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Medicare for All and federal job guarantees. The abolition of ICE resonated with a constituency that consists of 50 percent immigrants. The Medicare for All and federal job guarantees respond to growing political support for economic security measures. Whatever the specifics, what Ocasio-Cortez accomplished was fairly traditional in marketing terms – she created a sense of brand loyalty and convinced voters to buy what she was selling.

Ocasio-Cortez’ techniques are instructive in their simplicity. Her introductory video showed her as part of the community, with scenes of her riding the subway. Crowley posted a 3-minute video showing him driving a car. Her video received more than 500,000 views, compared to 90,000 for Crowley’s.

Strong personal branding in the form of a compelling photograph of the candidate with a key message added a political point of view to what are often superfluous campaign buttons.

Strong personal branding in the form of a compelling photograph of the candidate with a key message added a political point of view to what are often superfluous campaign buttons.

Crowley bombarded constituent mailboxes with printed mailers. Ocasio-Cortez communicated via social media.

Ocasio-Cortez called on voters to have the “courage to change.” Crowley asked to get re-elected.

The Washington Post devoted an entire story to Ocasio-Cortez’ campaign materials. The defining element of the posters and campaign buttons was a portrait of the candidate. Instead of awkwardly smiling and looking at the viewer, Ocasio-Cortez is shown looking sideways and slightly upward in a heroic pose.

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign used strategic design to create a strong, distinctive brand for the candidate, which drew on an earlier iconic poster that conveyed multiple messages about potential campaign success and affinity for working-class Americans.

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign used strategic design to create a strong, distinctive brand for the candidate, which drew on an earlier iconic poster that conveyed multiple messages about potential campaign success and affinity for working-class Americans.

“Like Rosie the Riveter in the iconic ‘We Can Do It’ poster, Ocasio-Cortez is dressed plainly but depicted heroically,” writes Nolen Strafs and Bruce Willen of Post Typography. This impression of an ordinary person being treated as a hero sends its own message and echoes the messages of the Ocasio-Cortez campaign.”

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign also employed a rare color and choice of typography in its political advertising. The yellow posters were a stark contrast to the usual combination of red, white and blue – and also subtly mirrored the yellow background in the Rosie the Riveter ad. Her posters featured a tilted italic typeface that Strafs and Willen said provided a “dynamic upward thrust” to her campaign materials.

Strafs and Willen pointed out Ocasio-Cortez’s use of a Spanish exclamation mark around her name made bilingual materials seem natural, not forced.

“The branding has personality and point of view, something absent from most political designs (and many politicians). It feels populist, pop and polished all at once,” the designers said. “Ocasio-Cortez is treated like the star on a movie poster, like she’s a character ready for action.”

In a surprising way, Ocasio-Cortez emulated the broad strokes of Donald Trump’s successful campaign techniques in the 2016 presidential campaign by creating a distinct and distinctive brand. Just as Trump dusted off a dozen GOP campaign competitors by being very different, she dislodged what many viewed as a Democratic political fixture in Washington, DC with the same pitch.

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.

The Reality of Bad Optics, Politically and Otherwise

Bad optics are hard to explain away. Just ask New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who took his family to a beach even though everyone else was barred from state beaches because of a stalemate over the state budget.

Bad optics are hard to explain away. Just ask New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who took his family to a beach even though everyone else was barred from state beaches because of a stalemate over the state budget.

“I think have proven over the last eight years that I don’t care about political optics – I care about right or wrong.” That’s how a defiant Governor Chris Christie defended his family outing on a New Jersey beach when public beaches were closed because of a legislative stalemate on a state budget.

Political optics isn’t about right or wrong. Political optics about how what you do looks to the outside world. In Christie’s case, lounging on an empty beach didn’t look good.

It doesn’t matter that Christie is near the end of his tenure as governor of New Jersey. It also doesn’t matter that the beach where he and his family lounged is connected to the governor’s residence or that the budget stalemate suddenly broke in time for public beaches to open on the Fourth of July.   It simply didn’t look good, and no explanation could change that.

Social media predictably exploded with cutouts of Christie in his beach chair superimposed on famous movie beach scenes and in the Oval Office. It was the visual definition of bad optics.

Chris Christie’s day on the beach exploded on social media as satirists mocked him by photo-editing him in his beach chair into famous settings on the beach and elsewhere.

Chris Christie’s day on the beach exploded on social media as satirists mocked him by photo-editing him in his beach chair into famous settings on the beach and elsewhere.

Use of the term “optics” in connection with politics dates back to the 1970s. The ubiquitous “photo op” is a derivation of optics. The idea of a political photo op is to be shown doing something good or likable such as dedicating a new bridge or eating hot dogs with constituents at a Fourth of July celebration. You might call that good optics.

Bad optics is the opposite. Bad optics happen when a politician, business person or civic leader is captured in a photograph or video doing something that is stupid or unlikable. Like calling supporters of your political opponent “deplorables,” strapping your dog in a cage to the roof of your SUV or, as mayor of New York, being photographed eating pizza with a knife and fork.

Some may ridicule the notion of political optics as nothing more than an attempt to be “politically correct.” The best-known exponent of that view is the guy who tweeted a short video of himself taking down a man whose head was the CNN logo just outside a professional wrestling ring. This guy specializes in mocking political correctness as a way to distract attention and stir up his political base, even though it increasingly alienates almost everyone else.

You don’t have to be a president or governor to generate bad optics. In a former time before smartphones and social media, an event that may have caused a mild reaction by eyewitnesses can turn into a viral sensation that is embarrassing and unrelenting as it spreads through social networks.

There is no fool-proof way to avoid bad optics. But just as photo ops take careful planning to execute successfully, the same amount of care and forethought needs to be exercised to sniff out situations that could turn into bad optics. Politicians have staff to advise them. The rest of us have to depend on coworkers, friends and family members. If you don’t trust your own judgment, which is wise, ask those around you if something will look bad and could dent your reputation.

The late William Safire, a columnist and political speechwriter, deplored the use of the word “optics” in a political context. He and others said symbolism has its place, but so does underlying reality, and the two are not the same thing. True. But here is another reality – people are more likely to see the symbolism of an event than encounter the reality of it. Only foolish people believe symbolism doesn’t matter. When we lay wreaths on the graves of fallen warriors on Memorial Day, we show respect. When the governor of New Jersey takes his family to the beach when other residents are barred from doing the same, he displays disrespect. That is the reality of bad optics.

 

Political Polling, News Coverage and Accurate Results

If you want to know how the 2016 presidential election is shaping up, be wary of polling results reported by the media. They may not be wrong, but they may be newsier more than they are right.

If you want to know how the 2016 presidential election is shaping up, be wary of polling results reported by the media. They may not be wrong, but they may be newsier more than they are right.

Politicians may tout polls that cast their candidacy in its brightest light. TV stations have a tendency to report on polls they view as newsy, even if they aren’t necessarily accurate.

The Washington Post compared polling and reporting results from the 2008 presidential campaign and found TV newscasts tended to report polls that showed a tight race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, even though the average results of all polls reflected Obama was clearly ahead.

“On average,” according to the Post story, “viewers likely heard more about polls that portrayed the race as close than polls that more accurately showed Obama in the lead.”

TV news gave more air time to jumps in poll results, which gave the race that worn on for months spark of “breaking news," even if the actual poll changes were mere aberrations.

The researchers who prepared the Post report conducted an exhaustive search of all the polls that TV reporters could have cited. They found time after time polls showing Obama gaining or holding the lead were bypassed in favor of polls that showed the race as very tight.

Polling can be slippery enough in revealing the actual mindset of the electorate without any help from people trying to put their finger on the scale. Pollsters use different samples and apply different techniques. The timing of when a poll is conducted can be before or after a significant event in a campaign. How questions are framed can shade the results, too. With all that built-in variation, selecting what you might call outlier polls makes the reporting even more suspect.

As Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight.com, has said, looking at the averages of all credible polls provides a more reliable picture of where a race stands and what voters are thinking. Even the average of all the polls can be wrong, Silver admits, so the takeaway is don’t take polls too seriously, especially when they are still weeks to go before the election.

Looking at the 2016 presidential election, polls have played a large part in both the campaigns and the reporting of the race. GOP nominee Donald Trump routinely bragged about his lead in the polls during the primary season and has complained that poll results showing him trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton are media fictions. Trump’s campaign manager, who is a pollster, says Trump is actually ahead, but his secret supporters are unwilling to tell pollsters they plan to vote for him.

The media, especially TV news, gave a lot of coverage to the post-convention polling bumps that both Trump and Clinton received. And, there has been nonstop media discussion about GOP fears that a slumping Trump presidential campaign will have negative effects on down-ballot Republican candidates, especially in a handful of tight Senate races that could decide which party is in control in the next Congress. And TV networks have begun reporting on what CBS News calls a “poll of polls” to avoid cherrypicking results.

Coverage of the 2016 race has drilled down into the demographics of the race. The simplest narrative is that Trump appeals to white, older, non-college-educated men while Clinton appeals strongly to women, minorities and people with college degrees. This narrative fits neatly into the tight time frames for TV news coverage and may be this campaign season’s newsy fixation, even if it is over-simplified and nearly stereotypical.

Skepticism of political polling remains a smart move, as 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney learned when he headed into election day thinking, based on polls, he was about to be elected president. Believing in polls is a little bit like believing your own press releases. Believe at your own risk.

The Power of Perception Over Reality

Clueless behavior can result in negative perceptions that are hard to shake and can overwhelm reality. Just ask Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton about the power of perception.

Clueless behavior can result in negative perceptions that are hard to shake and can overwhelm reality. Just ask Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton about the power of perception.

Perception and reality are not automatically the same. And often perception packs more punch than reality, as the presumptive presidential candidates learned in recent days.

Former President Bill Clinton trots across an airport tarmac to chat with Attorney General Loretta Lynch who is on the threshold of deciding whether to indict Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump, already suspected of sympathies with white supremacists, sends a tweet bearing an image viewed by many as anti-Semitic.

Bill Clinton said he just exchanged pleasantries with Lynch. Trump denied being anti-Semitic, noting his son-in-law is Jewish. Both claims may be true, but neither is very believable. Perceptions overrule reality.

There is a shortage of trust in American politics today, so perceptions of wrongdoing or tone deaf behavior have fertile soil to sprout regardless of reality.

Perceptions don’t just pertain to incidental behavior. Hillary Clinton suffers from long-term suspicion that she has played fast and loose with the rules, including use of a private email account and server while secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey’s statement excusing Clinton from a criminal charge, but accusing her for carelessly handling classified material only added to long-held perceptions about her.

The power of perception to cloud a reputation or tarnish a good act cannot be denied. Yet, leaders plod along without thinking of how their actions might be perceived as opposed to how they are intended. Pleading ignorance or lamely saying you were misunderstood doesn’t cut you much slack. In fact, it may  deepen perceptions you are a lunkhead.

Wishing people who hold negative perceptions could know the “truth” is much like pinning your hopes on miracles or the tooth fairy.

The advent of social media has raised the stakes of thoughtless or clueless behavior. What might have eluded the traditional media rarely escapes the ever-peering eye of social media, as PBS discovered when it failed to note it was inserting footage from previous Fourth of July fireworks displays into its broadcast of this year’s Capitol celebration that occurred under ominous clouds. No big deal, but it still produced a news cycle full of stories about the “deception."

You don’t need a degree in psychology to know perceptions can crowd out reality in people’s minds. Perceptions have a habit of becoming their own reality. Chronic perceptions ossify into major barriers for making a fresh impression. Think of how hard it will be to convince people that Congress can be productive.

Building trust is hard enough. Don’t make it harder by leaving behind perceptions that undermine trustworthiness. You may never have a chance to climb out of the hole you dig for yourself.

Gary Conkling is president 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.

Trump: Accomplished Ringmaster of the Communication Circus

Donald Trump can provoke and command attention, but his brand of communication may not work for everyone.

Donald Trump can provoke and command attention, but his brand of communication may not work for everyone.

Donald Trump has turned the presidential race, political correctness and polite discourse on their head. So, is he exemplifying the traits of a good or bad communicator? That probably is a matter influenced by your political persuasion, but a fair analysis suggests he has both good and bad communication traits.

In what one voter called the “post-pragmatic” period in American history, Trump offers passion over policy. He insults instead of ingratiates. He emotes rather than explains.

The Donald’s mix of provocative statements, nonstop tweets and 24/7 media availability has managed to smother the campaign fires of his opponents. He calls a Fox News analyst a bimbo and gets more coverage than a candidate who unveils a 10-point plan on a vital issue.

Critics say Trump is playing on fears, inflaming biases and inciting anger. Supporters say he is merely channeling pent-up political reaction to government rigor mortis.

Regardless of whether Trump continues to fly high in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, there are some lessons to learn from how he campaigns. Writing for ragan.com, Clare Lane lists some of Trump's best takeaways:

•  He has a core message that he repeats over and over.

•  He taps into the emotional “truth” of his audience.

•  He speaks in language his audience understands.

•  He knows how to reframe questions and issues.

•  He is intentionally different than his opponents.

Trump tells big crowds at his rallies that he is running for president to “make America great again.” He has turned a tagline into a mantra, a phrase into a brand.

Perhaps ironically as a billionaire, Trump empathizes with people who feel downtrodden. He knows their hot buttons and he isn’t hesitant to push them.

It’s no accident that Trump has made racist and sexist remarks and dismissed political correctness as a liberal conspiracy. They are calculated comments to connect with deep-seated feelings and fears in the voters he seeks to attract.

Trump is a master at turning around questions. He pivots to make his points, without worrying whether he answers a question. Even when pressed, Trump shifts the topic.

From his cartoonish hair to his braggadocio behavior to his testy tweets, Trump is unparalleled. There is no one like him. In a field of dozens, being so distinctive has made him the center of attention, which he maintains by consistently “surprising” everyone. He even got a full news cycle’s worth of coverage for staying overnight once in Iowa instead of flying back to his New York penthouse.

If those are his good traits, what are his bad ones? It is pretty much the same list.

Trump barks his key message because he doesn’t have – or doesn’t want to share – many details of what he would do if elected president. Yes, we know he would tear up some executive orders, but how would he build that huge wall between the United States and Mexico, how would he deal with Chinese leaders, how would he increase the wages of average Americans? And what exactly about America’s past does he view as so great to warrant its revival?

Trump is long on passion, but short on persuasion. Sooner or later, when emotions cool, you want some real answers.

Speaking the language of those you seek to reach is critical, but not all-encompassing. Sometimes leadership requires speaking above the crowd, raising its sights. You can summon the “better angels” of ourselves with familiar phrases used in powerful ways.

People who conduct media training teach how to bridge from awkward questions back to key messages. Sometimes, however, the most provocative thing to do is actually answer that awkward question.

Being different is a good thing, but it isn’t the only thing. Building trust, showing emotional intelligence and displaying grace under pressure count, too.

There should be no argument that Trump is an accomplished ringmaster in the communication circus. What may seem like indulgence may, in fact, be a disciplined, if highly irregular, approach to gaining and retaining notice.

Consider Trump’s decision not to participate in the final GOP presidential debate before next week’s Iowa caucuses. Was it really meant to snub Megyn Kelly because of her questioning in an earlier debate? Or was it a shrewd maneuver to thwart the plans of his Republican rivals to gang up on him during the debate?

Like him or not, Trump is a study in how to communicate. Some good, some not so good. He definitely is not a loser, though, even if you view him as a lousy candidate.

Gary Conkling is president 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


A White House Lesson on Choosing Words Wisely

In his condemnation of Donald Trump last week, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reminded us all that a slight misuse of a word in a press conference can create lots of confusion in the news. 

In his condemnation of Donald Trump last week, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reminded us all that a slight misuse of a word in a press conference can create lots of confusion in the news. 

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest proved last week that a careless word in a press conference can ignite a media firestorm. 
 
Taking to the podium to condemn Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, Earnest said: “The first thing a president does, when he or she takes the oath of office, is to swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And the simple fact is, that what Donald Trump said yesterday disqualifies him from serving as president.”
 
As the word “disqualifies” rapidly made its way across the web in headlines, sound bites and new memes about Trump, Earnest’s statement incidentally convinced many Americans that he actually had been booted out of the race. 

That afternoon, tweets paired with the hashtag #TrumpIsDisqualifiedParty soared to the top of Twitter’s list of trending topics. As a testament to how viral a tiny misstatement can become, in the week since, the hashtag has made millions of impressions on Twitter and some news organizations even doubled back with stories making it abundantly clear that Trump was not disqualified. 
 
The reaction to Earnest’s statement is an extreme example of some of the greatest challenges spokesmen face in dealing with the media. As the news industry relies more on controversial sound bites and the public takes less time to seek out the greater context beyond a headline or a tweet, it’s increasingly important to choose words carefully. 
 
It’s safe to assume Earnest meant to say that Trump’s idea makes him “unqualified” for the presidency. But to many, the point was lost in his phrasing and the ensuing coverage. 
 
White House: Donald Trump Muslim plan 'disqualifies' him from presidency,” a CNN headline read, perfectly encapsulating the common response across the media landscape.

Hard to blame the media for jumping on this. The blame rests with Earnest for being careless with what he said.

This should reinforce the need for scripting what you say before talking to the media, paying special attention to what not to say. It takes discipline for spokespeople to say what they need to say and no more.

Crafting a relevant key message and wrapping it into a quotable sound bite takes time, and it demands practice to pull it off.

Media training helps. But common sense helps, too. It doesn't take a degree in rocket science to recognize words, phrases or expressions that will create a headline. As an experienced communications professional, Earnest should have known better when he uttered the word "disqualified." Even "unqualified" would have been a headline-grabber. He, after all, is the White House press secretary, not a TV commentator.

Word choices can make a huge difference in conveying your point and not letting the story line – or a headline – get away from you. In a world of skimmer-readers, the headline is all they may see and ingest.

Put yourself in the shoes of a reporter. Would you overlook a showstopper line, regardless of whether the spokesperson meant to say it or not?
 
No matter how long an interview goes or how much you have to say before it’s done, reporters  look for just a few punchy quotes to inject into a story. Often a single quote defines the story, yet you never know which one a reporter will use. So, always choose your words wisely.
 

The Public Affairs Rugby Match

Donald Trump typifies the kind of blowhard that can dominate a public conversation. You need to fight back with sharp messages and sharp elbows.

Donald Trump typifies the kind of blowhard that can dominate a public conversation. You need to fight back with sharp messages and sharp elbows.

The Republican Party has a problem not dissimilar from a lot of organizations – a voice that tends to drown out almost everyone else.

Donald Trump, a master of provocative improvisation, is surging in the GOP primary polls because of his outspoken style, blunt speech and repeated insults. Alienating the political elite has become his calling card.

Media coverage of Trump has sucked the air of the room for the other 15 declared GOP presidential candidates. Other than condemnations of Trump, little of what they say on the stump gets reported.

The party's predicament could reach a crescendo at the first candidate debate August 6, which will be limited to only 10 of the current 16 hopefuls. Trump would be hard to keep off the stage, even though his brash political rhetoric could commandeer the show.

Many organizations find themselves lost in the fog of blowhards who hijack the dialogue, often with misinformation or fear mongering. Scaring people has a lot more emotional impact than a tightly worded, factual explanation.

You can wring your hands or you can, as the saying goes, fight fire with fire. Without deserting principled advocacy and substantiated facts, you can create your own firepower by concentrating on the best argument you have that resonates with the audience you are trying to reach and disarms the opposition.

This is not an argument for a shouting match or sloganeering. But you can't show up at a gun fight with a butter knife. Opponents these days have grown more sophisticated. They rely on polling to pick the argument that works. They use inexpensive social media to spread their word. They caricature your worst vulnerability. Responding with reams of data and long, involved talking points will leave you overmatched.

As Trump's opponents will discover, presumably sooner than later, they need to sharpen their own messaging to grab voter and media attention. These people are running for President of the United States, so tell people why and how you would make a unique difference. Turn Trump into a clever bridging line back to your own key message.

The same advice holds for issue managers. Sharpen your verbal sword. Don't wander into the fray; jump in with your best argument, phrased in a way that people will listen and remember. Take the opposition argument on by plainly saying why it is misplaced, misinformed or wrong.

What have you got to lose? The bloviators will win unless you join the fight, using your best argument, the smartest communications tools and your strongest convictions.

Remember, public affairs is not a spectator sport. It is more like rugby. Gear up accordingly.

Back to the Facts

Conservative commentators question whether news spinning by the likes of Fox News mislead their audience into believing Mitt Romney would win in a landslide.Expecting the truth is an important as telling the truth, as evidenced by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's apparent shock that he lost an election he thought was in the bag.

Right-wing political spin-masters convinced themselves — or chose to believe — that credible polling and poll analysis, such as provided by The New York Times' Nate Silver, was "lame stream media" misinformation. They snarked that it was foolish, based on what happened in the 2010 elections, to use polling samples showing more Democrats voting than Republicans.

They were dreadfully wrong.