And Another Thing…
…and then I’ll be done with this whole Shirley Sherrod business. Someone noted in comments over at Sadly, No! that the whole thing made the White House look like a bunch of weak sisters. I don’t completely agree with that, because I think making a mistake, owning up to it, and moving to redress it immediately takes a lot more strength of character than never admitting a mistake. But you know, when your mistake resulted from the ratfuckery of your opponents, a little more is called for in a response than “we were wrong.” Below is my reply to how such ratfuckery should be addressed, to the assembled press corps, in this and all other similar situations:
Regardless of the blowback he will no doubt suffer, the White House’s idiotic, knee jerk, owned bitch response can’t be undone.
No, it can’t be undone. But I can imagine hearing, say, Gibbs say the following:
“A few months back Fox News was complaining because someone here at the White House said that we don’t consider them a legitimate news organization. So we gave them the benefit of the doubt, acted on information they presented, and look what happened. That’s our fault for believing that Fox would put accuracy ahead of agenda and fully look into the stories they promote as we expect any legitimate news organization to do. Clearly, we were wrong. We won’t be making the same mistake again, and we hope none of you will, either.”
This is the type of “measured” response due Fox News. I know a lot of people on “our side” don’t like to play this type of hardball; some will point out that this kind of thing would only inflame Fox to turn it into the next Scandal of the Month.
But let’s be real here. Fox is going to turn “Obama is BLACK!!!” into the scandal of EVERY month, from now until he’s out of office. They aren’t going to stop lying and suddenly start saying nice things just because no one hits back.
That’s the beauty of the type of response I outlined above. Because to flog it, Fox would have to show the clip…over, and over, and over again. And they really don’t want to do that; they strive to ensure that this kind of home truth never penetrates the consciousness of their viewers.
See, the secret of a well-engineered Epic Reverse Bitch-Slap is not just that it hits the other party hard enough to knock out some teeth, which causes them to pause at least long enough to consider whether hitting back is really all that good of an idea – it’s that it’s also brutally honest, so brutally honest that the party on the receiving end would like nothing more than to forget it ever happened and be left alone as they pick up their teeth.
I used this tactic all the time when I lobbied the state legislature. It used to make the people I worked with nervous as hell, because let’s face it: it’s uncomfortable for everyone when someone stands up in a public meeting, points to the turd in the punchbowl sitting in the middle of the table, and says, “Hey!!! Look at that! That’s a TURD! What the hell is THAT thing doing in here? Are all of you going to pretend you can’t SMELL it either? That thing’s DISGUSTING and it needs to go.” I pulled this on a poultry lobbyist who slithered into a meeting uninvited one time to try to intimidate the farmers who showed up to meet with their representatives.* He shouted curses at me in the hall of the Capitol loud enough that they echoed off the rotunda – probably not a wise move, since most of the good ol’ boys making up the legislature weren’t really keen on seeing a guy behave that way with a woman. The gender thing can cut both ways. (*edit – this should be clearer. I never pointed at the poultry lobbyist in public and said, “hey, look at that turd!,” although it would have been an accurate description, because that really would have been quite uncivil. But I did quietly sidle up next to him and ask him to leave. He then got up and threw a tantrum on the way out the door – and beyond it. When several legislators mentioned to me later how “upset” he was about it, I said, “I’m sure it hurt his feelings – probably no one has ever asked him to leave before. But it wasn’t his meeting – and if I had showed up uninvited at one of his meetings, do you think he would have been nearly as polite as I was in asking me to leave?” The point being, this guy was used to throwing his weight around, but that didn’t require me to make it easy for him to do it.)
Another time a lobbyist for the state’s electric utility showed up to concern-troll a committee on the unbearable burden that would be placed upon them if they had to credit people sending electricity back to the grid (via solar or other generation) by the same amount they charged them when pulling power off the grid. This was during the brief window between the time the state had passed deregulation of electric utilities and when they went back and rescinded dereg in the wake of the Enron price-gouging in California. So when it was my turn to speak, I said: “I seem to recall these guys coming up here less than a year ago and selling you all on the benefits of deregulation – how it was gonna spur competition, lower prices, all that good stuff. Now it appears they’re telling you that their understanding of what you passed a few months back was a deregulated monopoly, since the idea of someone else producing even a miniscule amount of energy is just TOO burdensome for them to deal with. Was it your intention to set up a deregulated monopoly for them? Because if we aren’t going to allow competition even on this level, that’s what you did. If it wasn’t, you need to pass this bill.”
Well, we got it passed, and that utility lobbyist never spoke to me again. Wah. But I guarantee it wouldn’t have made it out of committee if I hadn’t said something to the effect of “Really? You’re going to admit right here in public that you’re their bitches?”
Another time there were some shenanigans involving our at that time newly-formed Ethics Commission. The law that established it called for equal party representation, with appointment powers rotating among various elected officials. What this meant was that sometimes a Republican slot would be open when it was a Democratic official’s turn to make the appointment, and vice-versa. So a Democratic House Speaker decided to get cute and appoint a Democrat when he was supposed to appoint a Republican. The Republican Party predictably went into full frenzy mode, depicting the event as History’s Greatest Injustice, which was kind of funny because they had filed a lawsuit just prior to the bungled appointment trying to declare the entire Commission unconstitutional.
There was a meeting to try to hash it all out. I sat there for an hour as all the assembled parties, both Democrat and Republican, tiptoed around the elephant crap in the room. Finally I could take no more; when it was my turn to speak I addressed the Republican spokesmodel and said, “It seems to me there’s a real disconnect here. I mean, I agree that the Speaker’s actions were provocative and do not comport with the law establishing the commission. But you’re up here acting like this is the worst injustice ever committed that you didn’t get this seat on a commission that according to the lawsuit filed by your party, SHOULD NOT EVEN EXIST. Either your party believes that there’s enough value in the Commission that they should be allowed to participate, or they believe there’s no value there and it shouldn’t exist – you can’t really have it BOTH ways, can you?”
My boss at the time, when I related back to him the events of the meeting, said, “you didn’t really say that, did you?” Well, yes. Yes, I did. Although initially a bit appalled, he soon realized that it opened up a way forward – we negotiated a fix with a friendly Democratic attorney general, who agreed that he would appoint the Republican member of the committee instead of the Democrat he would have appointed according to the appointment rotation – but he’d only do it if the Republicans dropped their lawsuit.
The reason these things work is that they are TRUE. When someone is peddling a load of bullshit, the last thing they want is a quote that boils the whole thing down to its essential truth being played over and over again in the media. And the only quotes that get played over and over again in the media are the ones that hit hard.
Mr. Gibbs, Mr. President, take note. This may be the very best opportunity you’ll ever have to bitch-slap Fox News and the whole right-wing media machine in the way they so richly deserve. It won’t have one iota of impact in the way they cover you in the future. Do it now, because you CAN.