Blessedly put aside whether Mitt Romney lost the election this week with a video showing his view of the government dependency of half of America’s citizenry.
Forget, for our purposes, whether this is the truth or a bizarre view only grasped from the back of limousines.
Delete from our considerations whether he was sincere, speaking off the cuff or just not thinking clearly.
But one aspect of this is indisputable to crisis managers and their charges. It sends a crystal clear message that anyone who speaks to a group of people or media must heed: He said it in private and never thought he’d have to defend it in public.
But he did.
We’ve long known that smart phones, small audio- and video-recording devices and various other modern life denizens — voicemail, texted pictures, emails, tracking bugs, GPS — abound. But we’ve probably never had a more dramatic example of how a secretly or discreetly taken video could stand a presidential election on its ear.
No greater authority than former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer said when he was attorney general, before his downfall for arranging by phone trysts with expensive hookers:
“Never write when you can talk. Never talk when you can nod. And never put anything in an email.”
And Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett offered this sage and blunt proviso:
“When you get out of bed in the morning and think about what you want to do that day, ask yourself whether you’d like others to read about it on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. You’ll probably do things a little differently if you keep that in mind.”
We can now of course add locations to where one might see one’s comments, including the internet, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and thousands of other web sites for news, gossip and comment. This is what Romney faced yesterday and today.
To the Republican nominee’s credit, he held a news conference Monday evening, right, when the first glimpses of the video broke, in an effort to explain and defuse the issues he raised. Good strategy. And he followed that up strongly Tuesday with comments to the effect that he had nothing to apologize for and was sticking to his view.
But for many, the damage was done. According to Huffington Post, he said:
Romney sent a ripple down-ballot when a secretly recorded video surfaced Monday of his remarks at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. on May 17.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney says in the video. “There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
“My job is not to worry about those people,” Romney added. “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Even conservative commentators like David Brooks of the New York Times and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard slammed Romney. Brooks’ column was headlined Thurston Howell Romney; and Kristol called the comments “arrogant and stupid.”
Again, win or lose, people from all walks of life must assume — if they didn’t already — that what they say is going to be recorded. And if you don’t want to see it all over the media, or even on your company’s intranet or your friends’ Facebook page, be careful what you say.
We all say things in private and to friends that would embarrass us if those comments went public, or were repeated to the people we disparaged or gossiped about. While this may be part of our humanity and the foibles that come with it, anyone who speaks frankly and openly risks having those remarks used against them.
For the Rush Limbaughs of the world, that might not be a big deal. For someone who needs 51% of the vote in enough states to provide 271 electoral votes, that’s a huge deal.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.