Mayor Cory Booker’s Seven-Second Stray
When you’re a media spokesperson, being “almost” perfect isn’t good enough. One slip, and the media won’t hear anything else you’ve said.
I’ve written before about something I’ve dubbed the “seven-second stray.” If a spokesperson is on message for 59 minutes and 53 seconds of an hour-long interview but says something off message for just seven seconds, I can virtually guarantee that reporters will select that seven-second answer to play over and over again.
On Sunday’s Meet The Press, Newark’s Democratic Mayor, Cory Booker, committed a now infamous – and politically harmful – seven-second stray.
Speaking about President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, he said:
“This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity….It’s either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it’s going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about.”
Those were surprising remarks from an Obama supporter, and the press immediately picked up on them. So did Republican fundraisers, who quickly put out a “We Stand With Cory” ad. Booker immediately backtracked, releasing a video and appearing on The Rachel Maddow Show. But he put the blame on the wrong place:
“So here they are, plucking sound bites out of that interview to manipulate them in a cynical manner, to use them for their own purposes.”
“I am upset, that’s why I’m on your show, that I’ve been taken out of context.”
First, I don’t buy his argument that he was “taken out of context.” As columnist Michael Kinsley once said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” His meaning was clear, despite his subsequent backtracking.
Second, a seasoned politician should know that “sound bites” will inevitably be “plucked” out of an interview by opponents for partisan gain – which is why he should have known better than to go so far off script.
Mayor Booker may be angry at Republicans for exaggerating their support for him (they are) or at the media for replaying an off-script sound bite (they are). But the fault rests squarely on the shoulders of the man who uttered those words.
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This is the cynical response, but I’ve no doubt he knows on a personal / human level that blaming the Republicans is false. He knows he created the problem by straying off script.
However, blaming the Republicans is part of his strategy for minimizing the impact – as I’m sure you know. 😉
The blame is false, and he knows it. But by making a statement to redirect blame he may deflate the Republican benefit. Saying nothing or saying “it was my fault” would only allow the video message to spread unimpeded. Any articles on the matter would read that he made an admitted error the Republicans have pounced upon. By screaming “my remarks were taken out of context!” early on, he may blunt the video message. Having now made that claim, any articles on the matter would likely read that “Booker claims the remarks were taken out of context.”
Even if many don’t believe that, some will so his response now will have served its primary purpose – minimizing the damage.
What is fascinating to me about this current kerfluffle is that Bain has now been in the news for 3 or 4 days. I’m not so sure that’s good for Romney as the White House appears to be using the opportunity to counter “the successful businessman” angle Romney relies upon as a basis for his campaign. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons.
First, thanks for reading the blog and leaving such a thoughtful comment!
I agree with everything you wrote. It may have even been his best PR move. But I felt it necessary to call “B.S.” on his shifting blame game. It’s inauthentic and disingenuous – his words were his fault, and his alone.
As for keeping Bain alive for an extra few days, you’re exactly right that it may pay dividends to the Obama campaign. The more pundits talk about private equity, the more I’d argue it helps Obama.