(Not that it’s rare or anything….)
This rant is about Howard Dean.
Look, I could care less if Dr. Dean wants to bash Republicans. His rhetoric is a bit aggressive for my style — but really, did anybody think he was being elected as the public face of the DNC for any other purpose? But what you can’t do is shoot your mouth off and then get indignant when somebody tries to turn it into a story, which was presumably the whole point of shooting your mouth off in the first place.
The Post gives this account of how things started when the media showed up at the monthly meeting between Dean and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid:
Among other things, Dean has said that he hates “Republicans and everything they stand for,” that many of them “have never made an honest living in the lives,” that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay “ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence” and — most recently — that Republicans are “pretty much a white Christian party.” Reid invited questions from reporters.
“Have you had advice for Governor Dean about his most recent comments, sir?”
Reid replied that there isn’t anyone who hasn’t “misspoken” and recited an on-message litany of “important issues” that Democrats are committed to addressing, including the escalating costs of gasoline, health care and college tuition. “We’re here today to talk about the American people,” he said. But practically everyone else in the room wanted to talk about Howard Dean.
Okay, let’s stop right there for a second. Let’s just suppose that the master plan all along was (1) Dean says something inflammatory; (2) the media shows up in a frenzy; (3) Reid restates the Democrats’ commitment to important issues; (4) the media writes about the Democrats’ commitment to important issues. Is there anybody on the planet that actually believes that would work?
Okay, let’s assume you all answered no, and that it logically follows that Dean and Reid would have some intelligent plan for responding to the media when the above plan fell apart. This makes sense, right? I mean, these are veteran public figures with seasoned staffs behind them, right? So what actually happened? Let’s go down a bit further and read what happens when the reporters continue to ask about — surprise! — Dean’s comments:
“You know,” Dean interjected, “I think a lot of this is exactly what Republicans want, and that’s a diversion.” He bemoaned the “media circus” of the last two weeks and said that he and Reid were not concerning themselves with that — only with vital things like Social Security, national defense and jobs….
Someone asked whether Dean would “change his ways,” or if he planned to be “less confrontational in the future” or whether he “regrets” anything he has said. An aide to Reid announced that the photo op was over….
[Minority Whip Dick Durbin] chided the media for avoiding important issues in favor of trivial matters. “Please, for a minute, get to the substance,” he said to a group of reporters. “You guys should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Wait. Is the media supposed to care whether or not its questions are “exactly what Republicans want”? Is the media supposed to care whether or not its questions are “a diversion”? Are the Democrats seriously responding to their problem here?
Dean’s strategists are either seriously confused or recklessly responsive to opinion polls. According to this rather kind Time story, Dean has responded to the flurry by declaring “that his characteristic feistiness had been good marketing for the party” and also by having a private meeting with senators in which he “promised to watch himself more carefully”. A CNN piece this weekend reports Dean telling an audience: “We need to be blunt and clear about the things we’re going to fight for. I’m tired of lying down in front of the Republican machine. We need to stand up for what we believe in.” This was at the same event, by the way, where Dean also said “[t]he reason the Republicans are in trouble is because there are so many cases where they say one thing and do something else”. So by his own admission, Dean is either (a) doing what his supporters want; (b) not watching his mouth as well as he should; (c) saying whatever it takes to raise money; or (d) being victimized by the issue-avoiding media. Er… what?
The first rule of public relations crisis management is to kill the frenzy in any way possible. If that means saying “when I speak strongly that’s just who I am” then so be it. If that means apologizing then so be it. But whatever moron said “repeat litany of important Democratic issues” should be fired, because that same guy spent about 4 months last summer on the campaign trail with John Kerry and look what happened there.
Dr. Dean can complain all he wants about how nobody is paying attention to the important issues — and there’s plenty of truth to that — but until he stops pissing off the media by accusing them of creating the problem instead of managing his own crises caused by his own mouth, he’s going to get neither the support nor the coverage he needs to advance the important issues he says are being so irresponsibly ignored.