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Plausible…Or Implausible?…Deniability

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Under fire from many quarters since President-elect Obama selected him to deliver the Inaugural Day sermon, the noted Evangelical Rev. Rick Warren has just removed anti-gay language from his Saddleback Church website.

This move comes a few days after his speech in Long Beach, CA to a Muslim convention in which he stressed his open-mindedness: “As-salaam alaikum….Let me just get this over real quickly. I love Muslims. (applause) And, for the media’s purpose, I happen to love gays and straights.”

Kind of reminds me in style and tone of another sound bite from another recent highly-publicized appearance, the first press conference by embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in which he strode the podium and started off: “I’m here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. I intend to stay on the job and I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong.”

Seems to us at CommCore Consulting Group that both Warren and Blagojevich – different men in the spotlight under very different circumstances – have resorted to the same kind of communication by denial: If I make my point quickly and emphatically enough, the operative sound bite will erase prior history. In Warren’s case it’s a documented litany of intolerant pronouncements; in the governor’s case it’s the tapes of him touting how he’s willing to sell Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder.

What’s your take on crisis response by strident sound bite when the operative quote contradicts documented statements and actions? Does passionate, dramatic knee-jerk denial work in today’s short attention span media environment? Do these blasts ever signal a change of thinking or genuine softening of polarizing views? Or will such sound bites come back to haunt he, or she, who utters them?

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2 Comments

JohnRice

From my perspective, the comments of Warren and Blagojevich rang hollow from the first syllable – and in that perspective mean nothing have no impact on my personal opinion of either man. That, however, doesn’t diminish the question Nick raises. It is worthy of discussion.

To be honest, I had no opinion – heck, no knowledge whatsoever of Blagojevich (who I will hereafter refer to as Blago because the spelling confuses me – as does he.) Were he not thrust into the national spotlight by his arrest and possible relationship with Obama, I suspect I would have paid little attention to him, his comments or his situation. By the time his strident self defense, my brief exposure to him expected nothing less. And his verbal defense did nothing to improve what as, admittedly, a hastely-made opinion of him. And not a good one (but that is probably obvious).

The situation is only slightly different with Reverend Warren. As a ‘Man of God’, my opinions begin with a higher expectation based on my personal beliefs. But those feelings were quickly diffused when he first garnered his first 15-minutes during the Presidential forums. It did not take long for me to realize that his beliefs were far from my own other than a fundamental agreement on our creator. I would, and will still, respect him for his religion and his activities, but I understand that our interpretations of ‘God’s will’ are radically different.

(As an aside, I have no evidence that Blago has any character elements that might garner my respect.)

So, when Warren makes an impolitic comment or Blago vehemently professes his innocence, neither comment really affects my opinion of either man.

(As a second aside, I wonder if there is something quite Machiavellian in Obama’s invitation to pray at the innauguration. Perhaps it is bringing the right-wing position on gay marriage to a new level, one that may ultimately be hard for defense. But certainly a conversation that needs to take place on a national level with all sincerity. But that is a conversation for another day.)

To get back to Nick’s core question if “these blasts ever signal a change of thinking or genuine softening of polarizing views?” I think the answer lies in what the public preconception is of the individual.

Did Blago’s speech affect anyone who supports him. (Does anyone still support him?) Did Warren’s awkward comment change the opinion of anyone who shares his beliefs, or those who don’t.

From my perspective, they have little impact on either man’s position in the national consciousness.

But let’s look back a few years to when such personal proclamation meant something. Let’s talk about Richard Nixon. Let’s remember that at the time of his political crash, there were many who believed him, supported him and were willing to defend him to no end.

When Nixon said “I am not a crook!”, many took him at his word and his defense only strengthened their resolve and their support. When time, testimony, a couple of reporters in Washington and, oh yeah, some tapes brought his administration (and reputation) down, there were many who felt betrayed by a man they trusted. One of those people was my father.

There are people in the public spotlight who ask for our respect, and we chose to give it or not. If they earn our respect, as Nixon did my father’s (and many others), they take on a great responsibility – a self-assigned responsibility to fufill the expectations of those who have given their respect to them.

When vehement and strong sound bites defend their positions, they have repurcussions only when they betray that bond.

Blago, from what I know, earned little or no respect from his constutents. So he is nothing more than a cable news characture.

Warren may have larger issues.

If he aspires to be the nation’s Minister, he needs to learn – and learn fast – that he needs to minister to all the people. Billy Graham understood this. Warren will soon understand – if he hasn’t figured it out already.

To my mind, neither Warren or Blago has said anything that has changed my personal opionion of either man. I doubt there is anything Blago can say that will change that feeling. I think there are volumes of words Warren can provide that will. But I suspect that both will soon fade into the Trivial Pursuit level of our history.

Did anyone really expect either man to admit they were wrong?

Does anyone really expect them to ever do so?

Did Nixon?

Warren and Blago mean little to me.

Nixon still owes my Dad an apology.

John Rice

Nick Peters

John: I think the issue here is about opening “dialogue” as Obama describes it, certainly as far as Warren is concerned (Blago seems off bounds in that regards for obvious reasons). Yet, if that’s so, when it comes to communicating in sound bites Warren in particular is going to have to take a page from Obama himself on how to respond to media-hyped criticism. Think of Obama’s magnificent response to the Rev. Wright controversy, one of the great speeches by a candidate ever. For a self-proclaimed Evangelical Warren appears to have developed an image of a more open mind than some of his critics give him credit for (climate change, fighting AIDS). But his awkward response at that convention to the criticism about his selection for the inaugural sermon doesn’t do that image any favors. Presumably, as you note, he will learn.

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