The Keyword Bridge

You’ve been invited to go on Meet the Press, and you’ve labored for days with your communications team to develop the right message.

If you’re Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), your message is about the economy – specifically, his view that the Obama Administration has not successfully navigated the country through the recession.

Mr. McConnell, like any spokesperson with a message, wants to articulate it as often as possible.

And David Gregory, like any good journalist, wants to “make news” by steering the spokesperson off message.

So when Mr. Gregory asked Mr. McConnell for his views on President Obama’s faith, McConnell used the word “faith” as his keyword and employed the “keyword bridge” to steer the conversation back to his message.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me move on to something that seems to be related to this and has gotten a lot of attention this week, and this is the poll about the president’s own faith from the Pew Research Center.  Eighteen percent of those polled believe that the president is a Muslim.  Among Republicans, this is striking, 31 percent believe he’s a Muslim.  Of course, he’s not.  Why do you think these views prevail?

SEN. McCONNELL:  Well, look, I think the faith that most Americans are questioning is the president’s faith in the government to generate jobs. We’ve had an 18-month effort here on the part of this administration to prime the pump, borrow money, spend money hiring new federal government employees, sending money down to states so they don’t have to lay off state employees. People are looking around and saying, “Where’s the job?”

By answering the question in such a manner, he was able to remain firmly anchored to his economic message without wading into the topic of the President’s religion.

At this point, you might be wondering if the keyword bridge is a bit too slick – a dodge that doesn’t truly answer the question. In fact, David Gregory began his follow-up by telling Mr. McConnell that his answer was “certainly a sidestep to this particular question.”

But despite its obvious flaws, the keyword bridge is a nice tool to put in your media arsenal. Employed sparingly by a deft spokesperson with a friendly interviewer, the keyword bridge allows you to remain on message without wading into unnecessary distractions.

Note: Immediately after the answer excerpted above, Mr. McConnell stoked a major controversy when he said he takes the President “at his word” that he’s not a Muslim instead of stating unequivocally that he personally believes the President is a Christian. This article doesn’t deal with that portion of the interview; rather, it is intended to focus solely on the passage above, which highlights his use of the keyword bridge.