Etc., Etc, # 5 Democratic Presidential Debate (And Some Lessons Learned That Apply To Agency Life)


Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

A melodrama is a type of narrative in which the over-dramatic plot-line is designed to play on people’s emotions—sometimes at the expense of character development, sub-text, and nuance. Moreover, melodramas tend to feature reductive plot lines and characters that are stereotypical archetype – 

Etc., Etc, # 5 Democratic Presidential Debate (And Some Lessons Learned That Apply To Agency Life)And that’s a pretty good description of the past four Democratic debates, which I score Trump 4, Democrats 0. And as long as the Democratic candidates keep attacking each other there’s no way that they can close the point spread against the Pinocchio-twin, deceitful, fraudulent, devious, and egotistical, narcissistic, vain, self-centered, unqualified president in the White House. (Overly excessive use of negative adjectives, you may say. Well, I get that from watching Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson on Fox News. Almost makes me miss Bill O’Reilly.)

The Democratic contenders entered debate # five on November 20 still sniping at each other. They kept attacking each other in other venues that provided more time to express their opinions then during the TV version of debates. A few examples: On November 1, during a Bloomberg interview, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the fray, saying that she isn’t a “big fan” of Medicare for All. “I welcome the debate, I think that we should have health care for all,” she said, but supporters of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders said Pelosi’s statement was an attack on the senators. CNN, on November 11, aired a don’t tread on my Mid-Western turf quote from Sen. Amy. Klobuchar deriding Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s lack of experience, which I agree with. She again attacked Mayor Pete during the 11-20 debate. (The last time we elected a president without national or international experience look what it got us – Trump.) Also, on a November 11 CNN Town Hall, Biden attacked Warren’s health plan. Buttigieg was also criticized by Gov. Steve Bullock and Julian Castro. And then on November 15, the patriarch of the party, Barack Obama, attacked Warren and Sanders, by saying that the Democrats shouldn’t go too far left.

Thus, because of Democrats attacking Democrats, in my opinion, before debate # 5 was held on November 20, Trump was ahead on points.

So how did the Democrats do in the debate # 5? Did they close the score?

Before I get to that, my opinion of the interrogators, Rachel Maddow,  Andrea Mitchell,  Kristen Welker, all of whom are on MSNBC, and Ashley Parker of The Washington Post. Oops. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word interrogators to describe this panel.  (FYI –As a political junkie, my first job in public relations was with a political PR firm, where I worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. I watch a lot of the TV programs that this foursome appears on. But, in order to get the complete story, I also read Wall Street Journal, New York Times and my local newspaper.)

I’ve never heard Ms. Mitchell or Ms. Welker ask a tough insightful question of a political person and Ms. Maddow is primarily a talking head.  Since the definition of interrogators is a person who questions someone closely or aggressively, in my opinion, only Ms Parker fits the description. As a political beat reporter for a publication that demands multiple facts in their news coverage, she probably is the only one of the foursome who can ask tough questions because she knows the nitty gritty details of stories she reports on, just not the headline reporting style of her cable news colleagues. Ms. Parker was part of the Post team that received a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and before joining the Post, she covered politics in D.C. for the New York Times. But because of the debate format insightful questions that demand facts instead of general answers are impossible.

As usual, the questions asked reminded me of slow pitch softball pitches that gave the presidential wannabes an opportunity to hit for extra bases each time they were at bat.

Two of Ms. Maddow’s questions were served up on a silver platter: She asked what the candidates thought of the impeachment inquiry and also had them opine on women’s abortion rights. Asking those questions of Democratic candidates is like asking a youngster if they like candy or ice cream. You know what the answers will be.

But debate # 5 was mostly different than the previous ones: For the most part, Democrats didn’t cannibalize each other and aimed their taunts at Trump. Thus, in my opinion the Democrats finally had a win, making the debate score Trump 4, Democrats 1.

I thought all but one of the participants did well, unlike in past debates, with the exception of Sen. Cory Booker. Booker pleaded for viewers to support him because he has not yet qualified for the December debate. That’s okay. What wasn’t okay was that he attacked former veep Joe Biden by playing the race card.

(Adding a little Superman to the rescue intrigue to the primary season was the announcement by former New York City Mayor   Michael Bloomberg that he might enter the fray .Even before he officially made up his mind, he was the target of barbs: Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, reported the November 9-10 Wall Street Journal, “Democrats didn’t need anyone coming in and telling us that none…are good enough.” Thus far, given Ms. Klobuchar’s and other candidates’ tepid support, Bloomberg might be right. And during a CNN interview on November 9, Sen. Bernie Sanders accused Bloomberg of trying to buy the nomination. In my opinion, the person who would benefit the most from a Bloomberg presidential nomination is Sen. Kamala Harris. A Bloomberg-Harris ticket would provide the strategic element of a white male/woman of color ticket.) Joining the two senators in criticizing Bloomberg was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, even though Bloomberg hasn’t yet officially announced, and de Blasio was found wanting from Democratic voters when he tried to enter the nominating maze.)

While these made for TV debates provide fodder for political analysts, especially those pundits on TV who can stretch a: 30 second statement by a candidate into a month long discussion, until the field is winnowed to two or three contenders, who will have more time to explain their policies, the abridged answers given on TV (because of time restraints) do all of the candidates an injustice.

These early debates reminds me of sitting through endless coming attractions in a movie theater while waiting for the feature film to begin, the difference being that unlike the movies, no new stars have yet to emerge from the debates.

Addenda: There are several important PR lessons from the debates, and comments made by candidates about other candidates prior to the debates, that can be applied to our business:

  • Never assume that just because you are friendly with colleagues that they will not challenge you for a promotion.
  • Never assume that just because you are friendly with colleagues that they will always say nice things about your work to top management.
  • Most everyone at an agency is after the same promotions, so don’t expect others to plead your case.
  • “Good losers” in politics or agency life are the exception.

The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) or