Public Relations Blog

Why won’t presidential candidates answer direct questions?

Hello, and welcome to my first official blog post on our firm’s brand new website.  So the topic of the day is the debate of course, having glued myself to the television for nearly two hours last night.  My anticipation of the conversation between the candidates falls in the category of “doing the same thing over again, but expecting different results”.  Did I get any answers?  No.  Should I have expected any?  Heck no.

Falling back on my years in public relations and talent management I can tell you there are very clear reasons why we don’t learn anything when a president speaks…I mean not since JFK or Roosevelt or Eisenhower.

First of all, the number of ways what we say can be broadcast around the world is unbelievable.  So being extra diligent about our words is critical, especially when we are promoting a product, handling a crisis, or trying to win an election.  You can’t take it back, and not only that, if you say something someone out there deems offensive or damaging, it will repeat itself in various forms and characters ad infinitum.  Not fun.

Then there is the idea of messaging.  When a public speaker is trained for the media, he is grilled over and over again on question/response protocol.  Body language, phrasing, tonality, all combine with the words themselves.  It’s really like theater in a way.  And if you saw what one newscaster in New York called two figures “circling each other in a cage”, you can appreciate the flair for the dramatic in a town hall setting.  No podium, just wide open stage.

Simply put, these televised productions are opportunities for the candidates to “show” us what they might be like.  Do we actually think Obama is going to admit that there was evidence predicting an act of terror in Libya and that the State Department openly ignored it?  Do we think Romney is going to cop to flip-flopping on his policies vis a vis governing Massachusetts and his campaign?

Fortunately I’ve already been deemed unnecessary by the two campagins because I live in a state that is already “decided”.  So I can sit back and watch, hoping for something that by the very nature of the promotional culture we have all embraced, will never come.