The Semi-Political Junkie Problem (With An Important PR Lesson For People in Our Business)

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How to Survive Work Crises- What I Learned on Capitol Hill

 

Arthur Solomon

Ever since I can remember I have been interested in two subjects –sports and politics. I have been fortunate to spend a large portion of my working days in those two areas.

In sports, initially as a sports writer for New York City dailies before playing key public relations roles on national and international sports marketing programs, as well as on prestigious flagship none sports programs, which I find much more interesting than detailing the happenings of a baseball or football game.

My political experience included working on local, statewide and national presidential campaigns, sometimes as a publicist, sometimes as an event creator, often wearing both hats at the same time.

Today, I’m more interested in the political and marketing aspects of sports and how it is covered by the media. The days of my allegiance to a team are none existent. It disappeared when I began covering the business as a sports writer many years ago and my long career in the sports marketing business solidified my point of view that the sports industry should be viewed as just another business.

Actually, today I’m more interested in the political scene than the sports carryons. I consider myself a bona fide “political junkie,” who, when discussing politics,   finds himself conversing 99 % of the time  with “semi-political junkies,” which I define as a person who mainly relies on the cable news networks for their information.

A typical “semi-political junkie” is a person who says, “I vote Republican because my father was a Republican, or a Democrat who says, “I’ll never vote for a Republican,” regardless of the issues or candidates.

Much more often than not, the “semi-political junkies” tell me, “I didn’t know that” when discussing the details of legislation in Congress. “Where did you get that information?” And I would tell them to not rely on the cable TV political programs for information because you’ll never get the specific details that are reported in news stories of major daily print pubs like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

And that’s why I think that political news on television in general, but primarily the cable news outlets, bear responsibility for the sorry state of the nation’s political divide. Mega major credit for the divide also goes to Donald Trump for his actions prior to, during and after the twice-impeached former liar-in-chief president left the White House.

In addition to providing 24/7 coverage of the twice-impeached former president’s s rallies and tweets in 2015, producers of television programs thought it was just dandy to let Trump call in anytime he wanted because it provided eyeballs for the programs.

In 2016 CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said that the network is getting rich off Donald Trump’s run for the White House. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … The money’s rolling in …This is going to be a very good year for us.” “It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Go ahead. Keep going.”

And remember how for months the TV reports talked about how Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump was so large that she was “expanding the map,” without taking into consideration the Electoral College?

I seriously think that the cable news political shows are a prime reason for the dumbing down of the American electorate. The great majority of their reporting is limited to expanded headlines reporting. Comparing it to detailed print versions of the same stories, the cable reporting is like the headlines, followed by the first and second paragraphs of a 1000 word print story without the details. As a result, too many people vote without knowing what they are voting for.

The most recent example are the legislative victories for President Biden. Hardly, if ever, have the cable discussions detailed all the elements in the bills. Instead they reported on the mid-term elections as if it was a horse race with the competing candidates replacing the horses. The reason: It’s my guess that most cable political reporters are so used to only reporting headline news that they don’t bother to learn the details. Charitably, I would add that the time given to discussions of a subject prevents detailed reporting. Nevertheless, whatever the cause, scant reporting is bad reporting.

The basic coverage and limited information about a situation on cable and network broadcasts should be considered nothing but a primer for people interested in getting the entire story. The only way to get the entire story is by reading respected print publications.

But the Democratic Party messaging also is responsible for the GOP gains in the mid-terms. (As I write this at 4 p.m. on November 9, it seems likely that the Republicans will win the House.) Democratic messaging was all over the electoral map, with progressives saying one thing, liberals another and moderate to conservative Democrats emphasizing other issues. Conversely, the Republicans messaging concentrated on less than a handful of topics: Crime, taxes, inflation and the problems at the border, issues that dominate news coverage.

While the GOP rout of the Democrats did not occur, recent polls show how difficult it will be for Democrats to win future House and Senate majorities without a major shift in the party’s priorities and messaging. And the Electoral College might be put of reach for Democrats for many presidential elections, unless the GOP nominates another Donald Trump-like candidate.

If the Democrats hope to win the House and Senate, as well as the presidential election in 2024, the various elements that comprise the Democratic Party must decide on a few topics and campaign on them. But that might be difficult. Because as Will Rogers, the actor and social commentator said close to a century ago, “I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.” He might as well have said it today.

The November 2022 mid-term elections are now history. I’d be willing to wager some shekels that many voters cast their ballots without knowing the details of the positions of candidates they voted for.

The moment after the polls of the mid-terms closed the 2024 presidential election campaign commenced. Hopefully voters will tune out the limited political coverage of the network and cable political shows and become more familiar about the issues at stake by reading a respected print publication of their choice.

Voters must realize that the next couple of elections might determine if our democracy will survive as we know it. They and the Democratic strategists have to pay attention to local and statewide elections, as the Republican have been doing for decades.

By winning non-presidential elections over the years Republicans were able to control state legislatures and pass legislation, like limiting the rights to an abortion and restricting voting rights. Democratic talking points must emphasize the importance of local elections instead of just concentrating on U.S. Senate and presidential ones. They also must take in the concerns of rural voters, who over the years have become GOP voters because the Democrats concentrated on big city turnouts.

On October 9, on this website I wrote, “Historically, Democrats have campaigned on numerous bread and butter issues. But in my opinion beginning right now – with less  than a month before the mid-term elections on November 8 – they must change their tactics for the remainder of the days leading up to the mid-terms and campaign on the most important issue facing the country – the continuation of our constitutional democracy.” Of course they didn’t as each pressure group in the Democratic caucus had different messages, while the Republicans, as usual, zeroed in on two or three talking points.

On November 1, The New York Times reported that many Democratic leaders agreed with me that their shot-gun messaging was faulty. A Times article reported, “Leading lawmakers and strategists are openly doubting the party’s kitchen-sink approach, saying Democrats have failed to unite around one central message.”

On November 7, Newsweek published an article by Douglas Schoen, a Democratic pollster, and Robert Green, a Pierrepont Consulting & Analytics principal, titled, “How the Democrats Lost the Middle Class.”

The article said that the middle class used to be a Democratic voting bloc, but no longer. “To remain politically viable in 2024 and future elections, the Democratic Party needs to rededicate itself to core American populist values: addressing immediate concerns vis-à-vis the economy and crime, promoting individual advancement, and helping working middle-class voters get ahead.”

In order to win back the support of middle class voters, Democrats should study and copy the Republican playbook because the one used by them over the past few decades doesn’t work. And if that means alienating a certain segment of voters and their Congressional caucus so be it because it’s better to win than lose on principle.

The Important PR Lesson For People in Our Business

Over the years I’ve observed that many PR practitioners create their programs based on current happenings. That’s a mistake, in my opinion, because chances are that other agency practitioners are doing the same and have already launched their media efforts. In order to catch the attention of journalists, PR practitioners should attempt to craft a program that shows out-of-the box thinking and creative. During my early days in the PR business that was the norm. But since the communications schools for many years have been turning out cookie-cutter graduates, editor pals of mine have told me that only the name of client and the agency differentiates one program from another. If account handlers can’t develop a newsy or creative approach when contacting the media, the minimum they should do is provide detailed information, meaning solid facts and examples in their media approaches. And don’t just provide headline type pitches. They should act as Republican strategists have for many years and search for topics that will interest people and editors instead of following the sorry Democratic lead of doing the same thing election after election.

And An Important Lesson For Everyone

In the near future the media will report on polls regarding voter’s feelings about the 2024 presidential election. Don’t be swayed by them. Don’t take them seriously, even though the media will make a big deal about them. History, both ancient and recent, shows that the poll results often have nothing to do with how things will work out. The polls that forecast a decisive Hillary Clinton victory in the 2016 presidential election were wrong, as were the polls that for months forecast a huge Democratic defeat in this year’s mid-terms.

On November 9, a Wall Street Journal article said, “Overall, national polls in 2020 were the most inaccurate in 40 years, a study by the main association of survey researchers found, and state level polls in 2016 were significantly off their mark.”

This year’s mid-term polling was just as bad.


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 was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. During his political agency days, he worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com