Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cain Campaign's Lawyerly Statement Misses the Mark

This is not a political statement about whether or not presidential candidate Herman Cain should or should not be president.  At the same time, it is not an analysis of whether Mr. Cain is responsible for anything of which he has been accused in the press of late.  I will leave that to the political pundits and Entertainment Tonight.

It is, however, an effort to explore what I think was a serious PR mistake by the Cain campaign.  In this case, the issue is a woman named Ginger White, who stepped forward in the media this week, claiming to an Atlanta TV station that she had a 13-year affair with Mr. Cain.  Such a bombshell announcement would rock any campaign, but this one is particularly tough on the Cain campaign because of a series of prior allegations of sexual harassment.

Enter Mr. Cain’s lawyer, Lin Wood, who provided this statement to the press on the alleged affair:

“Mr. Cain has been informed today that your television station plans to broadcast a story this evening in which a female will make an accusation that she engaged in a 13-year long physical relationship with Mr. Cain. This is not an accusation of harassment in the workplace – this is not an accusation of an assault - which are subject matters of legitimate inquiry to a political candidate.

Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults - a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public's right to know and the media's right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one's bedroom door.

Mr. Cain has alerted his wife to this new accusation and discussed it with her. He has no obligation to discuss these types of accusations publicly with the media and he will not do so even if his principled position is viewed unfavorably by members of the media.”

There are two things about this statement that virtually convict Mr. Cain in the court of public opinion.  First, nowhere is there an explicit denial that the affair took place.  Because of that, it leaves the reader to assume there must have been an affair.  Secondly, one thing the statement makes clear is that the campaign has a narrow view of what the media should cover. 

The spirit of the last line in the second paragraph, The public's right to know and the media's right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one's bedroom door,” seems ignorant of the nature of a free press in a democratic society.  Yes, the candidate has a right to believe in boundaries and that those boundaries should respect the privacy of the individual.  But those boundaries are for the individual, not the press.  We are not talking about a private citizen or a minor in this case.  This is about media coverage of a man who wants to be President of the United States.

Mr. Cain can choose whether or not to comment on certain issues, but his campaign has no ground to stand on when trying to tell the media what it can cover.  Mr. Cain’s lawyer did nothing positive to support the presidential candidate, and through this statement alone, did more harm than good.  This is one of those cases where the lawyerly impulse to respond with a “no comment” would have been a better approach.  And from a PR standpoint that still would not be good enough.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Story of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday and one that does not mark the beginning or ending of a war.  Rather, it’s a celebration of peace and of giving thanks for our blessings.

We all may associate Thanksgiving with turkey dinner and football, with getting together with family, and with the official launch to the holiday season.  To be sure, it’s all of those and more.  But it is perhaps one of America’s greatest opportunities to showcase what it does best on its best days – a peaceful celebration of freedom and the accomplishments of free men and women.

A Little Background

The Mayflower began its journey to New England on August 1, 1620.  The context was pretty basic.  England’s King James I oppressively pursued anyone who did not bow to his authority.  This included his final say on matters of religion.  Those who disagreed with the king suffered from religious persecution, which meant prison or death.

A group of people left England’s oppressive rule and sought a better life in Holland at first, where they established their own community.  A few years later, a group of approximately 40 members of this community decided to explore life in America with the hope that in the new land, they could worship God in their own way.

The leader of the group was William Bradford, who established a contract with each member of the group, respecting everyone’s own religious beliefs.

Arriving in New England in November, the Pilgrims encountered an untamed land in the harshest season of the year.  Half of the Pilgrims died of starvation or illness that first winter.

The Pilgrims encountered the native Americans who lived in that region, who taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, fish and skin small game for coats.  While it is likely that the Pilgrims were thankful for all of this, historians are also quick to point out that the celebration of Thanksgiving goes a little deeper than that.

The original plan for the Pilgrims was that everything was community property and that no individual owned anything more than a single share in the larger community.  This was deemed fair in their contract.  So for example, when they built houses in their community, all property was owned by the collective, not the individual or family.  All food and material goods were to be distributed equally.

 William Bradford, the leader of the group, made a decision, however that would change this.  He gave a plot of land to each family within the group.  In return, the families could work the land as they saw fit.  But still, they would have to turn over the fruits of their labor to be distributed equally among the group.  That didn’t work because some families did not see the point in working any harder to produce for the community.  No matter how hard you worked or how lazy you were, you all received the same equal share of the bounty, which ended up not amounting to much.

So they ditched that plan.  Bradford realized that if they were to eat and avoid starvation, and eventually grow in America, what he needed was a way to incentivize the people.  What made the difference is that when Bradford decided that every family was permitted to work their own land AND sell their own crops.  Bradford’s words:

“'This had very good success for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”

After that, the Pilgrims established stores and began to exchange goods with the native Americans.  As a result, they were able to pay off their debts to their London sponsors and live free in America.  Word of this led to an influx of Europeans making the journey to the New World.  And the rise of free trade continued.

So, the story of the original Thanksgiving is one of friendship and partnership with the native Americans, who taught the Pilgrims how to survive and thrive in their new environment.  At the same time, it’s also about a celebration of freedom from religious persecution, and of the chance to practice free trade and to make the life you want in a land of opportunity.

Happy Thanksgiving!