The Ottumwa Courier

Columns

June 6, 2013

Talk like a politician

A lesson in crisis management

OTTUMWA — Remember the song, “Walk like an Egyptian?” I think Weird Al Yankovic could have had a spoof song, “Talk like a Politician.” Because politicians and government officials in Washington, D.C., talk like no other people on the planet.

And I’m no amateur. I’ve been watching the  hearings on news channels in recent weeks and scandals by politicians and government officials for years. I’ve figured out how to deal with the press and public the way politicians do.

Rule No. 1: Show empathy and outrage even if you believe you have no reason to. Rule No. 2: Say the buck stops with you, even if you believe it really doesn’t.

Rule No. 3: Never, ever take responsibility for something that is bad. Always take the credit for what is good and deflect everything else. To the cleaners with coming clean in D.C.! Just act confused. Rule No. 4: Stonewall and delay, people will eventually forget. They have short attention spans! And, oh yeah, rule No. 5: never actually answer a question.

[At a location somewhere in Ottumwa]

Throngs of of reporters pepper Matt Brindley’s press secretary about the recent scandals surrounding him: What did he know and when did he know it!

Since MB has no press secretary, he sends out his co-worker Tracy Goldizen to calm the situation.

Press: “Mrs. Goldizen, so you’re telling us that the buck stops with Matt Brindley and he claims to know nothing about this most-recent scandal?”

Tracy: “No, of course he’s on top of things! As I’ve said, Matt is outraged about this scandal and he says he wants to get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable! That’s if anyone actually is accountable.”

Press: “Well why can’t he comment on the situation?

Tracy: “Well, he’s recused himself from the investigation, so he can’t comment. But if it’s any consolation, he is outraged.”

Sportswriter Scott Jackson waltzes into the room by accident to get a bag of Doritos from the vending machine and gets caught up in the crossfire of questions. Tracy takes this as a cue to escape and exits.

Press: “You’ve got to be kidding me? Apparently, Matt’s the only one who doesn’t know anything about this scandal! Is he just trying to cover his butt?”

Scott Jackson: “Look, Matt Brindley is just a pure straight shooter. You can trust him: You could put his face on a stamp. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m needed in the other room.”

Scott Jackson exits, passing Matt Brindley walking into the press conference room. Scott says to Matt, “I did my best. It’s all yours now, bub! You owe me and Tracy! Taco pizza, the good stuff!

Matt Brindley nods. Now alone, he faces an ugly press room of reporters, some of them too ugly to be out. They want answers, and now!

Press: “So when did you find out about this scandal and what role did you play in it?”

MB: “Scandal! Well, that’s a little strong. I would call it more of a misunderstanding. Now, I first found out about this in the news reports, the same as all of you. Now I can assure you, no one is more outraged than me!

“But unfortunately, I cannot comment on it because it’s under investigation. You see, I don’t want to compromise the perjury — I mean probe!  Otherwise I’d comment.”

Press: “How long is this investigation going to take?”

MB: “Oh, it could take months, years even. We need to get the complete facts before I can comment. Did I mention, I’ve recused myself from the investigation?

Press: “You seem like you have something to hide. Do you really expect us to believe everyone knew about this for months except you! It seems you’re either being untruthful or you’re hugely incompetent!”

MB: “I’m sorry, my mic seems to be cutting in and out, say again? Look folks, I have asked Scott Jackson to do a complete review of the procedures and report back to me by Aug. 12.”

Press: “But Scott Jackson is right smack in the middle of it all! So Scott Jackson is going to investigate Scott Jackson to see if he did anything wrong?”

MB: “Apparently. That’s what I’m saying, and he will report back to me. We just want to restore confidence in the system. Look sportswriter Andy Heintz has been gone this week and so he’s not here to defend himself. I wonder if he had anything to do with this. Either way, we will get down to the bottom of this, mark my words!”

MB wipes some sweat from his brow and concludes: “Let me assure you, no prison ... I mean person ... no person in our outfit will rest until this investigation is complete! Now, let’s get a bite to eat.”

And so the investigation continued to drag out for months and years with the drip-drip of released information until hardly anyone could remember what the scandal was about. And it all happened because Matt Brindley had studied how to talk like a politician.

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