I’ll Take Transparency Over “Messaging” Anytime!

I’m all for “messaging” when running a campaign for elected office. The idea of having surrogates and your supporters parroting the talking points consistently, with no room for wedges to be inserted and breaks to form in the message is a noble goal. That is kind of the game that is played between the press and a campaign, staying on message, pounding home your themes and not getting distracted from the “message” of the day, week or entire campaign. I’m totally down with that concept. When it comes to governing a country, I’m not such a huge fan of that process. Ronald Reagan and his puppet-masters had it down to a science and in my idealistic head, it was maddening. There was no transparency, there was no window into that administration, only what we and the media were spoon fed. Some in the media pushed back against it, pointing out to their readers and viewers that it was happening. But those were much different times in the media.

Candidate Clinton adopted a lot of that mentality even with all the distractions he had to fight back. They stuck to their “It’s the economy stupid” theme and just kept driving it home to a big win in 1992. The comeback kid confirmed that in elections, you have to stick to your message and pound it relentlessly. In thinking back to the Clinton presidency, it occurs to me that they, like Reagan and Bush 1, brought that into the Whitehouse with them.

The Obama campaign and candidate Obama showed great discipline with their messaging during the campaign, but promised an era of transparency in the Whitehouse. The two concepts don’t necessarily go hand in hand. The recent “messaging” problem that many in the press and blogosphere are accusing the Whitehouse of in the wake of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday, to me is because of that transparency. I’m glad that the Whitehouse didn’t clamp down and make everyone come out like robots and repeat the same “message”. Instead, the Whitehouse released an intense and not necessarily flattering photo of the situation room during a very tense moment. We saw a room full of people who were all watching the same thing, but not necessarily all seeing the same thing or interpreting it the same way.

Each one of the people in that room and then their staffs have different perspectives and perceptions of what happened. With transparency in the Whitehouse and nothing to hide, these people were allowed to talk to the media. Why are the details so different depending on who said it? I equate it very much to someone whispering something at one end of a table and by the time it makes it to the other end, the story has changed wildly. That’s what happens when humans share information. It’s why outlets like Fox News purposely feed misinformation into the public to be spread around, they understand that idea and use it for their evil purposes.

So as I watch the details of the operation get revised and corrected, with one person contradicting someone else and no clear, repeated message coming from the Whitehouse, in many ways I’m glad. If we just look at one instance in the Bush administration that backfired on them monumentally, partly because of the “messaging” idea and partly because they were fucking propagandists trying to justify their stupid fucking wars and keep the cheerleaders for their venture on the sidelines with their pom poms. The instance was the killing of Pat Tillman. If you want to know the history of that one, go here. The Bush Administration picked their message, a manufactured cover story, and they ran with it. As anyone with a brain knows, lies beget lies. One lie usually leads to many other lies to cover the first one.

Now, with a situation that is developing, with details being revealed from many sources, would it be better for the Whitehouse to immediately concoct a “message” for the masses, even as the details are still emerging. Or how about clamping down on anyone saying anything until those details are clear, then the press would spend their time pounding on the door of the press room, writing conspiracy stories about why they aren’t telling us the details and thus tainting any “message” that eventually comes out. Transparency is a messy business, folks. Letting officials and staffers speak out with all their flaws in perceptions and interpretations will cause some contradictions, revisions and people walking back things when the actual details and evidence comes along. It may look haphazard and incompetent, but as someone who likes the idea of the Whitehouse allowing information to flow to the public, I’ll take that confusion in a heartbeat over the lock-step messaging that took a brave man like Pat Tillman and used him for a “message” that was consistent at first, but went on to hurt a man’s family and our country for years to come.

I’m glad that information is flowing about the operation to capture/kill Osama bin Laden, even if it isn’t so neat and tidy and wrapped up with a nice bow.


7 thoughts on “I’ll Take Transparency Over “Messaging” Anytime!

  1. Sadly the REICH doesn’t see it this way. They look at every slight discrepancy (real or concocted) in a retelling of any venture by the administration and attack like a bunch of vultures diving in for roadkill. Now that members of the Bush administration are writing their own memoirs, they are no longer joining hands singing, “We are the World”, instead polishing their own accomplishments often by tarnishing the work of others even if it takes REwriting history.

    Democrats do need to do a better job of messaging as for sure they won’t get any help from the Republicans nor from many in the media. For a Democratic Party full of artists, writers, film-makers, I think we do a poor job of “framing” a message as George Lakoff calls the process.

  2. The way I see it is that the media got the details wrong or added their own version to get the best ratings. Now that they’ve been found out they’ve been trying to accuse the white house of messing up the message. Its the same shit no matter whose in charge when it comes to our so called great media. BTW they tend to do it to democrats more than republicans but are pretty much equally guilty with both sides on whoever is in charge.

    Bottom line our media sucks balls.

  3. I’m with you, Jeff. I think a large part of the misinformation can be laid directly at the feet of the media who, in my opinion, don’t report the facts as such, but their interpretation of the facts. They then have the audacity to yelp when their facts are not correct and blame the WH for media spin.

    Jim: I fully agree with you. During a different administration, we would have never even heard that Osama wasn’t armed when shot – he would have been armed with an AK and firing on everything that moved. Additionally, they would have stuck to the story of him using his wife as a shield.

    A bit off topic, but I’m getting really pissed at the media heads/entertainers that cannot stop themselves from saying Obama when they clearly mean Osama. I saw Chris Matthews do it several times yesterday, saw another pundit do it later in the evening, and then David Letterman did it again last night.

  4. I agree on the Obama/Osama thing, if their brains are so addled that they can’t speak properly, they should fucking retire. I’ve never made that mistake, and I’m pushing 50, very soon. :)

  5. I’ve made the error a couple times but pushing age 72, I sometimes feel my brain is getting addled (but still functioning better than my joints).

  6. I agree with President Obama’s decision to NOT show the gruesome death pictures of Osama Bin Laden. Supposedly Sec. Hillary Clinton agreed with him while Leon Panetta didn’t. Just heard Cenk Uyghur agreeing with Sarah Palin and Miss Lindsey Graham that President Obama SHOULD have shown the pictures. It is not enough to believe many in our government who has seen the pictures. Gene Robinson wants them released on 1st amendment reasons.

    I don’t remember seeing autopsy pictures of JFK, RFK, MLK printed to prove anything. Of course Hitler shot himself and his body was burned quickly by aides, so the world didn’t get to see his death pictures (leading to theories that he escaped to South America).
    If I want to see blood and guts, I can always rent a slasher movie where the blood and guts are FAKE.

    Now, some ready to attack anything coming out of this White House are using the witness of Osama’s 12 year old daughter whose story comes from Pakistani sources.

    OSAMA bin Laden’s 12-year-old daughter says her father was captured alive and then shot dead by US special forces.

    The Arabic news network Al-Arabiya quoted senior Pakistani security officials as saying that the daughter said her father was shot dead in front of his family before being dragged to a US military helicopter.


    So our homegrown conspiracy nuts are believing Pakistanis over anything from the Obama administration!!! Hisham Melhem, Washington chief of Al-Arabiya said on Cenk Uyghur’s MSNBC show that there seem to be MORE doubters of Bin Laden’s death (the “deathers”) in the USA than there are in the Arab world!

  7. Now that Al Qaeda has put out its report of the death of Bin Laden, that the three Bin Laden wives attest to his death, etc. etc., the criticism is now increasing on the stories coming out in the “fog of war”…remembered accounts from 40 SEALS, etc. There needs to be one factual account now for the sake of history.

    James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that he was perplexed that the White House decision to release so many details of the operation immediately after announcing bid Laden’s killing.

    But he said it’s even more baffling that the White House is so slow to set straight a muddled narrative.

    “I understand the motivation to twist the knife and try to portray bin Laden as a coward,” Phillips said. “But the truth is undermining the credibility of the administration and whatever narrative they put forward in the future.”


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