The Democratic National Committee has canceled the CBS Presidential debate
scheduled for December 10th in Los Angeles. The reason? Candidates
are refusing to cross the WGA picket lines.
John Edwards took the lead on this issue as he did earlier on health care. On November 16th Edwards carried a sign on the WGA picket line in
front of NBC in Burbank – you can see the footage here. Hillary quickly followed suit, saying that though she hadn’t walked the picket line, she
definitely would not cross it. Edwards then
upped the ante canceling an appearance ABC’s talker, The
View. This time it was Michele Obama who followed his lead, canceling her
appearance on that show scheduled for December 5. Edwards kept his union label shining bright – and his phone lines
to West Coast celebrity contributors wide open – by speaking at the WGA rally in
Manhattan Tuesday. Wednesday, CBS and the DNC threw in the towel and canceled.
So who is winning from all this? It looks like everyone. CBS News loses showing off Katie Couric as debate host, but the CBS Network probably gains
market share on the night in question. The Washington Punditry loses a chance
to decide who won the now canceled game of gottcha, but they’ll easily find
something else to natter on about. With the
air wars going briefly silent, the Dem front-runners in Iowa – now locked in a statistical dead heat –
win a chance to focus on shoring up their core supporters, and Iowa will ultimately be decided by boots on the ground. The big winner may be the
viewing public. It is hard to imagine that any but the most depraved political
junkies will feel debate deprived.
And of course we at EOP are winners because we’ve been following both the campaigns and the debates and we absolutely love it when story lines finally come together. It is so picaresque.
The “r-word” was the headline in bright red 96 point type on
the cover of the NYT Week In Review last Sunday.
And it was canted so that the image of the
dollar signs sinking beneath the surface is unmistakable.
The content of Peter S. Goodman’s article – the facts the
story contains – is relatively bland, but the emotions that wrap around the
word “RECESSION” are so politically powerful that there was an immediate story
explosion. On Fox News Bill O’Reilly angrily accused the Times of “rooting for
a recession”, and Media Matters quickly shot back. You can see Bill’s
statement, and the left of center reaction to his reaction here.
This isn’t an economics blog, so we won’t join that
particular food fight other than to note that the New York Times isn’t a
leading indicator here – it is trailing public opinion. Back in October a
Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey showed that 65% of Americans expected a
recession next year. And 40% thought we
were already in one.
Clearly the economy is on everyone’s mind. In the Vanity
Fair article “The Economic Consequence of Mr. Bush” Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz makes it clear that the economic problems we
face have been a long time coming and won’t be quickly fixed.
As storm clouds gather and gasoline prices continue to spike
smart candidates are already preparing to shift with the wind. At Horse Mouth
Greg Sargent notes
that many on the right are picking up and trumpeting a headline from the
Washington Times claiming, “The Democrats are the Party of the Rich.” When the
right begins to frame its story so that “being with the rich guys” is the
losing position, there are very dark times ahead.
With the January 3 Iowa Caucus rapidly approaching Mike
Huckabee is surging. The Washington Post-ABC News Poll
has the formerly second tier candidate in a statistical dead heat with
front-runner Mitt Romney. While the numbers for the other candidates are more
or less solid, Huckabee’s have increased dramatically. The undecideds are
deciding for Mike, despite the fact that Romney continues to massively outspend
Huckabee in targeted TV. How is Huckabee doing it?
By being an authentic Hero.
In The Elements of Persuasion we define HERO as the person
who provides us with a point of view that allows us to make a story our own.
Particularly when we are looking for a Presidential Hero we aren’t looking for
a tough guy who has all the answers. If
we were it would be Giuliani’s swagger that was surging. We want more than
that. We want someone we can trust – someone who is like us, but just a little
This “I’m one of you” approach is captured in Huckabee’s new
ad “Chuck Norris Approved”. Check it out.
Instead of a standard celebrity endorsement it alternates
Huckabee and Norris saying nice things about each other. It is hard to tell
whether it is an ad for “Huckabee for President” or “Chuck Norris for Sheriff”.
Norris’ best line? “A life long hunter Mike Huckabee will protect our Second
Amendment Rights” When Chuck says it, we buy it totally. Our favorite Huckabee
line? “There is no chin under Chuck Norris’ beard, only another fist.” We’re
not even sure what it means but somehow it really works.
By establishing himself as a Chuck Norris fan Huckabee is
making himself equal to all the other Chuck Norris fans out there, and Norris
has a lot of fans. Being able to harness that sense of equality is any Hero’s
greatest asset. This ad is good-natured, a little wacky, and brilliant.
Tuesday was a lovely day here in LA – aren’t they all? –
perfect for getting together with a few close friends and strolling down the
Which is what I did with 7500 of my closest friends as the
Writers Guild of America held a solidarity march down Hollywood Boulevard with
members of the other major Hollywood unions.
When I say these are some of my closest friends that isn’t
just hyperbole. We actually were very close, packed much closer together than at the average cocktail party, so as we marched together our physical mirror
neurons got a very nice massage. And chanting tuned us up vocally and
emotionally as well. My favorite, “Fade In, Fade Out, What’s in between? You
figure it out!”, is perhaps to writerly to be totally effective, but the
standby, “On Strike! Shut it down! Hollywood is a Union Town!” was rousing and
visceral. Particularly when the guy next you is a Teamster and the gal on the
other side is a member of the Health Workers Union it makes you want to smile.
Of course it does. Unity feels damned good.
But this wasn’t just a feel good get together. In the story
struggle this strike represents the WGA has taken a consciously asymmetric
approach to storytelling. They are using the power of rumors – “viral marketing”
– to get their message out. It is smart strategy. Research at Max Planck
Institute is showing that gossip trumps written data when it comes to making
decisions. You can read about that research here. Nothing spreads gossip faster than hanging
out on a street corner with your friends.
When that street is Hollywood Boulevard there is an element
of show biz magic to it as well. The last surviving Munchkins from the 1938
classic “Wizard of Oz” were being honored with their own star on the Walk of Fame
a few hours before the WGA march and when asked by the press responded that
they supported the strike.
That’s right. The WGA received the full backing and support
of the Lollipop Guild! In the dream world that is Hollywood that is a really
The non-denial denial is pretty standard fare in Washington
press briefings. The approved press response is the carefully practiced raising
of an eyebrow as the questioner turns slightly towards camera – letting us, the
viewers, know that they haven’t been taken in – and then a stiffening of the
reporter’s upper lip that stretches into a knowing smirk when the next question
is asked – letting the briefer know that the reporter is in on the joke and
willing to play along for continued access.
But what is the press corps to make of the latest wrinkle on
this story trick – Robert Novak’s non-smear smear?
In his weekend column Novak wrote:
“Agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the
word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her
principal opponent for the party’s presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama,
but has decided not to use it. The nature of the alleged scandal was not disclosed.”
Very well played, sir. Since nothing scandalous was actually
mentioned there is no way Obama can disprove the non-existent charges, and
since the charges were never actually made, there is no way Clinton can retract
them or deny having not made them.
Obama falls for it and angrily demands that Clinton release
the damning material or deny that it exists, and Clinton’s people claim she has
no idea what Obama is talking about – managing just the right lilt in their
voice to indicate that if Barack is that upset maybe he knows something
they don’t – and then shoot back that anyone who believes a word Novak says is
clearly far too naïve to be President.
As the fur begins to fly Novak sits staring heavy-lidded
into the center camera at Fox News licking his lips and enjoying another brief moment in whatever dark sun
he worships. Antagonists just don’t come any better than this.
Hillary Clinton has a new ad running in Iowa that is must
watch political storytelling. Of course we like it, it begins with the line
“Let me tell you a little story…” CLICK HERE AND WATCH IT. Then
In five-element story terms this ad is almost perfect. The
problem facing Joe Ward – the man speaking directly to us – is one that any one
can relate to with PASSION – his son is sick and needs an expensive bone marrow
transplant to survive. Joe himself is an excellent HERO. Speaking in a clear,
authentic voice and making strong eye contact, it is very hard not to be drawn
into seeing things from his point of view. The quick shots of family photos
underline his everyman quality. We all
have photos just like that in our home. The ANTAGONIST is easily understood.
Joe’s insurance company (he has insurance, that’s important because he is a
responsible parent) wouldn’t cover the life saving procedure his son
desperately needed. But instead of giving up in despair Joe got an inspired
idea (the element of AWARENESS) and called Hillary Clinton for help. The very
next day Joe’s world is TRANSFORMED when Hilary gets the hospital to agree to
cover the cost.
A life and death story with all five elements in under 20
seconds. Beautiful. Then it gets better. Having established that Hillary’s
commitment to health care is personal and practical, the ad now makes the
second point that if Hillary’s opponents say she can’t be trusted they are just
dead wrong – Joe trusted Hillary with his son’s life and she came through.
This ad isn’t a slam-dunk. It is better than that. It is the
sort of quick break lay up that winning seasons are built around And if it
gives her opponents a hard elbow as it goes in for the hoop, it is done so
gracefully you end up smiling even as inside you’ve got to wince for their
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The WGA strike is into its second week. That is a fact. In
LA everyone takes that fact very personally because the loss of paychecks to
writers (and to the crews of the TV shows shutting down prematurely, not to
mention the loss of the mega-budgeted feature films thinking of filming in
Australia to avoid picket lines) has an enormous ripple. Hollywood is a company and a union town.
Nothing makes you quite as emotional as the thought that you won’t be able to
feed your family. Facts + Emotions = Stories.
There are two dueling storylines coalescing. The studio story
is simple, effective and tailored to the mainstream media that these same six
media conglomerates own or control. It is easy for everyone to stay on message.
“The writer’s are spoiled, rich kids – the kind you never
liked in high school because they always did extra homework and said snotty
thing behind your back – and they need a firm parental hand or their silly
little tantrum over “residuals” – whatever the hell those are – will cause
chaos and spoil a good thing.”
It is George Lakoff’s “firm father” model of conservative
framing without the saving grace of Frank Luntz’s brilliant words. It is
no coincidence that Rupert Murdoch’s current lickspittle (and I mean that in a
good way), Fox Group CEO Peter Chernin, is the most virulent
proponent of this position. It is bad ass Big Daddyism at its most blatant.
For the writer’s story JUST CLICK HERE. If like me you get most of your news from “The Daily Show” it will help ease your comedy jones.
It isn’t just the Repubs that worry about smear campaigns.
Hillary Clinton knows first hand just how toxic things can get during a run for
the White House – and how long viral attacks can fester before they break out
into a full-blown case of impeachment. So as shocking as Rudy Giuliani climbing
into bed with Pat Robertson is (now that is a visual image Rudy does not
want popping into your mind come next November) the strange-couple pairing that
got our attention last week was one mentioned by Mark Hosenball over at
Apparently Bill Clinton had a lunch last July with Richard
Mellon Scaife. Yes that Richard Mellon Scaife. The same one who funded the
Mellon Scaife is a charter member – if not THE charter member – of what Hillary
famously called a “vast right wing conspiracy.” But after an amiable two hours
sharing stories with Bill, Mellon Scaife wrote a “very generous” check to
the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation to help fight AIDS. Mellon Scaife’s
magazine Newsmax later called Clinton, “"part Merlin and part Midas—a
politician with a magical touch." Well, they don’t call him Slick Willie for nothing.
There is a radical difference
between Hillary and Rudy’s odd-couple moves. Mellon Scaife remains staunchly
Repub. Bill wasn’t dealing with the element of AWARENESS. He wasn’t trying to
link the names Clinton and Mellon Scaife in voter’s minds as a viral defense -
though I’m sure he hopes bridges he builds now will act as firewalls if a full
blown media attack develops in the future. Clinton was focusing on the story
element ANTAGONIST – using story to convert an opponent into an opportunity. It
is an emotional, rather than intellectual exercise. We discuss techniques for
doing this extensively in Elements of Persuasion.
Judging from results, no one does it better than Big Dog Bill.
It has been a week of strange bedfellows. The pairing that
got the most ink was Repub front-runner, and sometimes cross-dresser,
Rudy Giuliani cozying up to 700 Club host the right reverend Pat Robinson. It
is a daring move on Giuliani’s part.
Joe Biden got the biggest laugh of the night at the recent
Democratic Debate when he said that Rudy’s every sentence “consists of a noun
and verb and 9/11.” Cheap shot? Maybe, but it is certainly true that Giuliani’s
hero status is powerfully linked to his performance on the day the twin towers
fell. So when Rudy, a pro-choice Republican who during his third divorce
roomed with an openly gay couple publicly embraces the man who blamed
that terrorist attack on America’s moral failings – in particular gay marriage
and abortion – it released enough cognitive dissonance to power all the lights
But Rudy had no choice. He is trying to inoculate himself
from the type of viral attack that destroyed John McCain in 2000. We dealt with
that campaign extensively in Elements of Persuasion. The key to any viral attack is that people already have the components
of the story you want to tell floating around in their heads somewhere, all you
do is activate the illness. It is all about AWARENESS. The video you linked to
if you clicked “cross-dresser” has been shown almost half a million times on Youtube. That is a lot of people
already primed to catch whatever nastiness Rudy’s opponents are planning to
Meanwhile legitimate war hero John McCain is negotiating a 3
million dollar bank loan
to tide his cash-strapped campaign over, and some of the Swift Boat crew are
already running ads in his support – ads which McCain has quickly, and
strategically, disavowed. It looks like South Carolina’s primary will be a lot
like professional wrestling – not filled with truthiness, but very, very manly.