Rick Santorum, who is seeking the Republican nomination for President, was in a dust up several days ago with a reporter for the New York Times. It happened after Mr. Santorum said in a campaign speech that his primary opponent for the nomination, Mitt Romney, “is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFfQQHWsP8I
While working the crowd after the speech, Mr. Santorum was asked by a reporter “You said Mitt Romney was the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?”
The candidate took issue with what he called a “distortion” of his words. During a spirited ninety second response, Mr. Santorum accused the reporter of willfully misrepresenting his words. Oh, and during the response, he used a well-known profanity to describe what the reporter had done, in his words.
I will leave it to Mr. Santorum’s supporters to defend his actions, and to his opponents to cry foul over his response. However, there is something to be learned by anyone who finds themself communicating through the media, especially when responding in an emotional way to a question.
There is nothing inherently wrong with responding emotionally to a question or on an issue you feel passionately about. However, it should always be “controlled” emotion. In fact, emotion can be an effective way to emphasize an especially important point.
My sense is that Mr. Santorum knew when he began his response to the reporter’s question that everything he said would be videotaped for all the world to see. He may well have taken the opportunity to respond as he did to play to his supporters and position himself and his campaign as the victim of supposed media distortions. If that was Mr. Santorum’s intent, he did it well…for the first 44 seconds. Had he merely ended his response and moved on, he would have left viewers with “Quit distorting my words!” Not a bad wrap to the point he was trying to make about the question in the first place.
However, he did not end his response there. Instead, he went on for nearly a minute more, dropping the profanity and, in essence, verbally assaulting the reporter. Basically, he piled on and made assertions about the reporter specifically and the media generally.
The result? Mr. Santorum’s use of a profanity and his enraged demeanor – not his primary point about his opponent – became a YouTube sensation. The reporter even appeared on national news programs to give his account of what happened and why Mr. Santorum was out of line.
In all fairness to Mr. Santorum, he is not the only candidate to have ever made a media misstep on the campaign trail. Too, people on all sides of the political spectrum have at one time or another accused the media of distorting their comments.
For those who find themselves being interviewed by the media, the lesson to be taken from this incident is that once you have said your piece, stop. When you continue past that point, your message can often get lost in your method. It is a sound lesson to be applied, especially in the midst of a crisis, a contentious media interview, or when faced with a stinging question or what you you believe to be a fallacious premise.
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