Archive for April 2008

Nevada GOP: Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille

April 27, 2008

The hijacking of the Nevada Republican convention by Ron Paul supporters was not exactly a stealth attack. Let’s begin with the premise that people who unselfconsciously declare a revolution are very likely committed to make something happen.

Beyond that, all the indications were there. Although the GOP numbers were dwarfed by the Democratic Turn-Nevada-Blue campaign, and remained in its shadow for the purpose of news coverage, Republican pre-caucus registration surged. The overwhelmingly unifying characteristic about the new registrants was their support for Ron Paul.

How about the Washoe County convention? Fully a third of those present were Paul supporters, and they were not shiny, happy Republican attendees, but rather the in-your-face variety, pushing a string of unsuccessful and time-consuming fundamentalist libertarian amendments to the party platform. At last, the proposals became so frivolous that a Paul campaign official and one of his local stalwarts took the most vocal of their activists aside, and told him to give it a rest.

The most significant (and under-analyzed) sign that Nevada’s “Ron Paul Revolution” wouldn’t peter out — Paul’s second-place caucus finish behind Mitt Romney, and ahead of now-presumptive nominee John McCain, who still has only lukewarm support from the party’s base.

And what can be said about the established institution that knows a revolution is brewing, and fails to fend off the attack? In this case, the phrase that comes to mind is, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

Now comes the once-luminous Republican Norma Desmond, batting her giant false eyelashes and twirling her beach umbrella, assuming, ridiculously, that she’s still as commanding as she was in her prime, as the silent screen legend. The Ron Paul revolutionaries are her Joe Gillis, dressed as her boyfriend in the elegant clothing she provides, taking refuge in her mansion. For his own selfish purposes, Joe indulges the delusions of the no-longer alluring diva, who’s oblivious to a new world turning outside the walls of her compound.

How did the Nevada Republican party become Norma Desmond? First, by living in a state of apparent denial. Second, by cutting off communication with the outside world. Or perhaps they never were inclined to communicate, and now that the GOP’s best days seem to be in the rear view mirror, nobody in the party knows how to do it.

Many Republican politicians, as the Reasonable Reporter has previously noted, are loath to interact with the media, and conduct such interactions grudgingly when they deign to engage in them. The party has been slow to adopt advanced communication technology. It also seems blissfully unaware that in the street, there is the kind of disdain for its core philosophies that can be addressed only with vigorous communication.

Even in a year when they acknowledge they’re fighting for their lives, the Silver State’s Republicans can’t muster a communication strategy. Their missives are occasional, and mostly inconsequential to the day’s events. They tend not to try to drive the news, which is, by the way, an endeavor never abandoned for long by the Silver State’s Democrats, who are quite skilled at it.

Who can expect grassroots enthusiasm, when there’s such tepid public outreach from the organization? Recall that when Norma Desmond finally appeared in person at MGM to confront studio executives, the guards at the front gate of the empire her stardom helped to build didn’t know who she was.

The Ron Paul revolutionaries know they’re on a suicide mission, but they don’t care. They are there, no matter what they say, to disrupt the nomination process. In the end, they, like Joe Gillis, will float face down in the pool at Norma Desmond’s mansion, riddled with bullets from her gun. Norma, having snuffed the discordant element in her life, will descend the grand staircase, preening for the news cameras, convinced that they’re capturing her close-up for the movies, rather than her final exit from Sunset Blvd.

Dems have a rousing debate. Zzzzzzzzz.

April 21, 2008

Remember the summer of 2007, when the candidates had 90 seconds or less to answer a question and everyone wanted to hear more? Those were the days. The Reasonable Reporter tuned in late to the Philadelphia debate, and didn’t hear the ground rules. Apparently Clinton and Obama were instructed to drone on until snores from the audience reached their ears, or until the opponent had a birthday, whichever happened first.

Clinton provided the most memorable moment, suggesting that the GOP should simply apologize for the last seven years and withdraw from the general election. None of the punditry has dissected that remark, but then again, the pundits had dozed off by the time she said it.

Just when you thought there were no new ways to show contempt for a reporter… Along comes the BlackBerry.

The Reasonable Reporter has been kicked out of offices, stood up for appointments, and chastised for stories that didn’t comport with the world view of the subject. Once, a bureaucrat who spotted the press badge blurted out, “I hate reporters,” before any conservation had begun. One copes, and one tries to remain gracious.

Technology, though, provides ever-expanding opportunities for rude behavior. Last week a young spokesperson – with a hot microphone in her face and the reporter’s question half-spoken — grabbed her BlackBerry and tapped out a rather lengthy response to an incoming message. Her eyes glazed and she uttered a disengaged “uh-huh” to (sort of) acknowledge that the reporter was still speaking to her, (haltingly at this point, stunned by her rudeness, and wondering whether it was a signal of dismissal).

The BlackBerry’s purpose is to facilitate instant communication. So far as we know, such communication is not disrupted by a polite word to any persons who might be conducting actual face-to-face communication with the user. Something on the order of “Excuse me, I have to answer this right away. One moment, please.”

By the old-fashioned standards of the last century, a mere nine years ago, communication deferred by two minutes or so is still fairly instantaneous. The young spokesperson might have waited until the reporter, who was part of a group summoned by the young spokesperson for a briefing, had departed. But there was something apparently more pressing than the questions of the reporter who had responded to the young spokesperson’s invitation.

Technology has evolved so fast since the young spokesperson’s generation left home, that the Mommies and Daddies – even if it had occurred to them — didn’t have a chance to incorporate BlackBerry etiquette into their training about such things as table manners and thank you notes. So maybe it’s now the job of the bosses. This must-respond-now behavior is not confined to conversations with reporters. It’s widespread, it’s most prevalent among younger users, who seem oblivious to its alienating effect, and it’s rude. Someone needs to point out that the connection with the human beings in the room is not, and should not be secondary to the wireless connection.

Lost and found and lost again: The art of the basics in corporate communication

April 11, 2008

“Of course you kick your opponent when he’s down,” said a wise friend over cocktails one evening, discussing an issue-oriented political campaign he’d led to success.

“And then you kick him again. And again. And again.”

The Reasonable Reporter recalled his words this morning when the Reno Gazette Journal arrived. Someone, who may now be in line for a raise and promotion at Saint Mary’s Hospital, had issued a swift kick to Renown Regional Medical Center.

Top-of-fold in the RGJ –- coverage of the campaign orchestrated by the SEIU against Renown, central to which has been repeated assertions by Renown nurses that the quality of patient care at the medical center is suffering due to short staffing.

Obscuring the headline and part of the photo –- an advertising sticker, affixed like a post-it to the front page, declaring Saint Mary’s to be “Ranked #1 in Quality in Northern Nevada.” Ouch.

Not complicated. Not high tech. Not expensive, relatively speaking. Not fair.
But this little guerilla tactic revives a lost art in corporate communication. Twenty-first century communicators have become so preoccupied with trying to out-tech the other guy that they’ve forgotten the basics. They’ve forgotten how to bob and weave, and how to dance with real feet on the real ground.

On the ground. That brings us to the sure winner of this year’s Duh Award for Corporate Event Planning. Apparently none of the planners for the Olympic Committee bothered ahead of time to research the political proclivities of San Francisco, the site of the first Tibetan Freedom concert, where “Free Tibet” bumper stickers graced the back of every third vehicle for the latter half of the 1990s. It is, moreover, a city where anyone will protest anything.

So yeah, it’s kind of predictable that running the torch for the Beijing Olympics through San Francisco would cause, at minimum, some consternation. At worst, all hell could have broken loose. Can you say “Duh?”

In fifty states, they couldn’t find a more suitable city to host the torch? It’s not hyperbole to suggest that this event could have erupted into something resembling the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, causing a marketing calamity. (Although the Canadian business mag Financial Post reports the Olympic sponsors tend to hang in there through political turbulence, and even expect same.)

Someone in the Olympic planning cohort woke up just in time to avert outright chaos, which was the good news. The bad news is, a lot of McDonald’s and Coca Cola customers truly excited to see the flame were disappointed when the route was changed, and the concluding ceremony amounted to hustling the torch onto a waiting airplane.

There’s more good news, though. Call it an unintended consequence. Americans who might not have been able to find Tibet on a map have gotten a lesson in global politics. Zimbabwe’s mysterious election results may have eluded them. Hugo Chavez might preside permanently in Venezuela. Um, is he a contender in the World Wrestling Federation championships? Hey wait a minute, where’s the torch, and what’s Tibet?

The beloved Olympic torch, like a good teacher, brought the subject home, even for the students who usually don’t care.

Sounds like 1998, on the OTHER radio station.

April 3, 2008

Dispatch from the Planet San Francisco, where one needn’t rely on cable news networks to feel the pulse of politics. Everything from walking the dog to shopping for groceries is a political act. A dose of political vibe is available just strolling into a café to buy a bagel in the morning.

It would be better, says the man stirring cream into his coffee as he awaits his bagel, to make the bagels here in the community, rather than trucking them in. Imported bagels send the community’s jobs and money elsewhere, and the trucks ruin the pavement. Do we need to guess where he stands on NAFTA?

This is the town where, for a short time in the 1990s, egg-throwing anti-SUV terrorists became underground heroes by stalking parked vehicles in the night, damaging countless paint jobs in an overt expression of hatred for conspicuous consumption. The public controversy arising over this destruction of property? Whether the egg-throwers were, indeed, justified.

Here, politics is served raw. So the Reasonable Reporter scans the San Francisco talk radio menu, on which, long before the advent of Air America, there existed robust outlets for all political points of view.

On this night, listeners to KGO’s Ray Taliaferro — arguably the hard left – are at full tilt bashing the Clintons. Not just Hillary, but Bill, and Chelsea, too, for her “none-of-your-business” response to a question from a college student about her father’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.

The talk show context is the Obama-Reverend Wright controversy, one clearly relished by the Clinton camp. The Clintons are pounded by caller after angry caller. These radio listeners, obvious Obama supporters, don’t like Hillary’s attitude toward Obama. But their outrage has a larger moral basis. This discussion is dominated by anger left over from the Clinton White House years.

“They embarrassed this country, and it’s time for them to get off the stage.”

“Hillary says ‘you can’t choose your relatives, but you can choose your minister.’ How dare she? She chose her husband, and then she turned a blind eye while he abused women.”

“Chelsea says it’s none of our business. What the President of the United States does in the oval office is our business.”

These are the approximate words of the callers, scrawled into a notebook as soon as the opportunity presented itself, so as to preserve them as faithfully as possible. Yikes. The Reasonable Reporter is having a flashback, in a Twilight Zone sort of way. Or maybe it’s true that if you live long enough, you hear everything.

The words of these callers, minus any references to Obama, could be lifted straight from tonight’s tape and dropped into a movie depicting talk radio, circa 1998. But it would be a movie about the other kind of talk radio. You know, the kind that carries Rush Limbaugh. These were almost precisely the words a decade ago of the callers to conservative talk radio.

In 1998, it was the right-wingers who decried the moral implications of Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior, with all its outward ripples affecting American dignity and equal protection in the workplace. Angry radio listeners from the left were outraged at the right’s outrage. In those days, they agreed with Chelsea. It was nobody’s business.

While tonight’s KGO radio listeners didn’t lament the use of presidential privilege as a tool to deny Paula Jones her day in court, the fat lady has not yet sung. Stranger things could occur, and well they might.