Media Jujitsu

Jujitsu is the art of manipulating an opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force. So says Wikipedia, anyway.

In media terms, that means turning your vulnerabilities into strengths.

One of the most famous examples of media jujitsu was Ronald Reagan’s second debate against Walter Mondale in 1984.

Mr. Reagan didn’t perform well during the first debate, and reporters started wondering aloud whether President Reagan was too old for the job. When he was asked about his age during the debate, Reagan was ready.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour recently displayed his own media jujitsu. The potential 2012 presidential candidate knows his record as a tobacco lobbyist will be used against him. Rather than wait for attacks to begin, he got out in front of the inevitable charges:

“I will tell you this – the next president of the United States on January 21, 2013 – is going to start lobbying. He’s going to be lobbying Congress, he’s going to be lobbying other countries. He’s going to be lobbying the business community. He’s going to be lobbying the labor unions, and the governors, because that’s what presidents do, and I feel like it’s an advantage for me to have the chance to do that.”

Barbour’s master stroke here was to embrace the word “lobbying” and re-define it in positive terms. Will that jujitsu move work with voters?

It worked for Reagan and again for George W. Bush’s team, which used an ugly version of media jujitsu to turn John Kerry’s military record against him in 2004.

So will it work with voters? Quite possibly, yes.