Answer The Question, Please!
In a past life, I briefly served as a senior executive in an industry that was a favorite scratching post for the media. Having spent over twenty years as a consultant – – writing and speaking on a range of radioactive topics, I was naturally impervious to media trickery and was put off when my new employer suggested I go through training. “ I have been doing this for many years.” I mused to the HR rep who was attempting to penetrate my calendar for a four hour session with a media consultant. “ I really don’t need this.”
My boss called and gently suggested I indulge my management and attend a one on one coaching session. The day arrived and I was directed to a nondescript office suite in New York where I was sequestered to an equally unimaginative conference room to await my training. I sat impatiently alternating between my Blackberry and my watch. I literally was getting out of my chair to return to work when the door burst open. The room filled with a cacophony of bright lights and noise as a female television reporter rushed in followed by her cameraman with lights blazing and camera filming.
“ Mr Turpin, is it true that you have been CEO during a period of time where your firm was being investigated for irregularities in your operations? “ Before I could even answer, she continued to attack. “ So when did you stop beating your wife?”
“ What,” I said, “are you serious?” She went for the jugular, “ I am sure it’s hard to remember many of these things. But how does it feel to preside over a business that is so indifferent to the needs of the consumers it serves.” At this point, I began to piece together words but it came out as babbling gibberish . She thrust the microphone in my face as I stuttered an unconvincing, defensive response that seemed to suggest that I was hiding something – – perhaps weapons of mass destruction or institutional malfeasance. All the time I was answering, she was making incredulous faces, mocking my responses
The reporter lowered her microphone and mercifully switched off her 300 watt light. She shook my hand and introduced herself as my media coach. “ This is why you need media training. In the next four hours, we will learn how to stay on message and to position yourself for the camera to appear credible, confident and compassionate”. Over the next several hours, my coach who had made a career advising politicians and CEOs, walked me through the art of deflection. Like a martial arts instructor, I was taught to move with the momentum of the attacker and never allow an interrogator a direct hit. I watched video tapes of oil industry executives who had credibly appeared to defend attacks about egregious profits and watched as less effectively coached executives and politicians squirmed and were reduced by the media to shifty Simon La Grees who had widow’s fund money in their pockets and larceny in their hearts.
I was getting a deep whiff of the carcinogenic air of Nick Naylor, the teflon sociopath spokesperson for big tobacco created by Christopher Buckley in Thank You for Smoking. My consultant impressed on me with relentless repetition. “ Don’t get charmed by the reporter. Stay on message. No matter what the question. You come back to the key messages that we want to underscore as a company. No matter what they ask you, segue back to the message. Do not answer the question. You do yourself no favors answering the question. They are all set ups. Stay on message.”
I have recently watched the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates with an even more jaundiced eye. At times, I want to scream, JUST ANSWER THE DAMN QUESTION!” and then I realize, they will never answer the question because they are staying on message. John McCain’s message is “ My opponent has a liberal voting record, is naïve with no experience and consorts with radicals.” Obama’s message is “ John McCain equals George Bush. McCain’s experience is not an advantage but a pathetic resume of failure and cronyism which is rife in Washington DC”. You could ask them any question you want, you will be waiting a long time for an answer unless it relates back to these talking points. It has been made abundantly clear to me that these debates are than honesty around the issues.
I just want someone to answer my questions. I have several that are weighing on my mind:
1) Senators, do any of you know what a credit swap is? Do you know there are $ 55 Trillion dollars of CDOs still in the market? Did you vote for or against the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act which deregulated these financial speculation instruments? Can you explain why our economy is still cratering even after a $ 700B bail out package and a coordinated cut in the lending interest rates by several country’s central banks? How do we arrest this crisis of confidence? It’s not about liquidity, it’s about trust and there is none.
2) Senator Obama, you have a very liberal voting record which indicates a desire for higher taxes, increased government and entitlement programs. Herbert Hoover ushered in the Depression when in 1932, he further suffocated consumer spending by passing the largest marginal tax rate increase in history at the very time that taxes should have been held firm or decreased. Please tell me how history won’t repeat itself?
3) Senator McCain, you are a Republican. The Republicans have presided over record deficits, eroded international credibility, deregulation that led to intoxicating excesses and crippling energy dependence at the hands of powerful petro authoritarian governments who hate the US. Cab you fault anyone for thinking a Democratic Whitehouse could not be any worse than what we have endured these past eight years?
4) Who was minding the store at Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac? What do you think about Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and their oversight of the quasi –governmental agencies that gave out sub prime loans to individuals who could not afford them?
5) I believe the next credit crisis will be consumer credit? Do you agree and what do you propose to mitigate the coming days of reckoning as people default on their credit obligations?
I have lots more questions , Senators. However don’t bother getting back to me. I know McCain is an unpredictable, hawkish, Bush crony and Obama is in inexperienced uber liberal. Yes, I know your records. Yes, I know what you think of one another.
But can someone just please answer my questions?