Rick Santorum's "Bullshit" Moment: Does It Matter?

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum took issue with a question from New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny yesterday while campaigning in Wisconsin, telling him that his question was “bullshit.”

Here’s the video:

It’s rarely a good idea to swear at the media, but in this case, it’s unlikely to hurt Mr. Santorum for at least three reasons.

First, many conservatives harbor a deep distrust of the mainstream media – and no news organization encapsulates the “liberal” media agenda to them more than The New York Times. Santorum isn’t the first person to rail against the Times, either – candidate George W. Bush called reporter Adam Clymer a “major league asshole” while on the trail in 2000:

Second, Santorum is trailing badly in the race for delegates and needs a game changer. Sometimes, a dramatic curse word can help a candidate change the narrative and gain more attention for their issues. In this case, Santorum’s “bullshit” will help him gain more exposure for the issue he was discussing – Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial record on health care reform – which is deeply unpopular with conservatives. Any discussion about that topic will likely help Santorum’s campaign.

Finally, his anger seemed genuine, not manufactured. That will play well to his supporters and other sympathetic conservative voters. But he may have seemed a bit too angry, and he would have benefitted more if the exchange had been a bit shorter.

Michael Sebastian, the managing editor of Ragan’s PR Daily, wrote a terrific piece helping PR folks advise their clients on “how to swear at the media.” It’s a fun read. Among other points, he wrote:

“Make sure the cameras are rolling. What good is an obscenity in print? Check for cameras—cell phones will do—and let loose. Santorum, as Zeleny later said, “knew the cameras were rolling.”

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