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Its Our Job, Man!

 

By Michael Carrier

Director of Communications and Outreach

 

     A few days ago, I was chastised by a reader of our social media sites for posting the National Rifle Association’s latest pro-gun/pro-Trump ad under our social media feature “Political Ads Oklahomans Aren’t Seeing.”

     You remember it. It’s called “The Violence of Lies.” It’s the one most of America thought was basically a call to take up arms against our democracy and pull the trigger on a new revolution against left-wing America all in the name of President Trump.

     Here’s the spot in case you missed it: https://youtu.be/XtGOQFf9VCE

     Yep, Oklahoma’s own mega-advertising agency Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s long-time ad firm, can sure piece together a killer of an ad.

     According to our reader, we should “ STOP ALLOWING FASCIST PROPAGANDA!!!!!!!!”

     The gentleman went on:

     “Put them (such ads) with the southern civil war hero statues and describe what they've done, so as to not spread cleverly produced recruitment videos targeted at weak minds. Or just be another distribution channel for whatever extremist BS comes along. I will no longer do that.”

     Our response, which I penned with as much understanding as I could muster, was basically that it was part of our mission. That was not a satisfying response for him, as you might expect.

     I understand his point. I’m pretty sure people of both sides of the argument would.

     It’s a brutal, emotional and, frankly, a highly effective ad. It plays perfectly to the NRA’s constituency of rabid gun enthusiasts like raw meat would to a school of piranha, and it’s guaranteed to infuriate the left end of the political spectrum so much they all might run out and actually buy guns.

     That’s what advertising is supposed to do: make you happy or mad. When a commercial does those two things, then it’s called a win-win in politics.

     That’s exactly why people should know about this ad, see it, and discuss it. You can never have too much discussion when guns and ammo are the topics of a conversation.

     The OU Political Communication Center and the Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive are all about political advertising. It’s why we exist.

     Good, bad, ugly, nasty, true or untrue, we collect thousands of political campaign and issue ads each year. We make them public for everyone to see; students, educators, scholars, historians, the news media and everyone else, even politicians.

     We do it to ensure a free exchange of knowledge, ideas and information, to enhance education and to preserve history. In short, it’s our job.

     Our goals are to inform and educate the public and to help them know and understand what’s happening in the political world around them – and the entire world is political in one way or another.

     What we don’t do is pass judgment on the ads we share. If we did, we wouldn’t have many in our collection.

     Certainly not ads like the one a Southern candidate in the 1970s ran that began with the defiant proclamation “I am for the White People!”

     Politics – elections and campaigns – in America’s democracy is a tough, bitter knife fight of a business. It isn’t for the weak or faint of heart, especially these days. It’s more like Rome’s gladiatorial combat than it is the Lincoln-Douglas presidential debates.

     History also isn’t always fair. It isn’t always pretty or nice, kind or just. It often leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you learn about it. That’s why it’s so important.

     Our Archive is history. It’s important. People need to know and understand it, and, most importantly, learn from it.

     It’s our job man, every second of it, good, bad, pretty, ugly, nice or mean. That tastes likes democracy and freedom to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watergate Deja Vu

Dr. Jill Edy,

Associate Professor of Communications

 

Forty five years ago last week, five burglars broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building in Washington, DC.

Their arrest kicked off a series of events that, a little more than two years later, resulted in the resignation of the President of the United States. Watergate is a part of American history, but it’s also a kind of folk tale that gets told and retold in popular media, and it is part of the collective memory that Americans use to make sense of current events.

Dozens of scandals that followed became “gates,” from “Billygate,” which involved President Jimmy Carter’s brother acting as a foreign agent for the Libyans in 1980, to “deflategate, which involved underinflated footballs in a 2015 NFL playoff game.

These days, the conversation has turned a little more serious. President Donald Trump’s handling of the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the possibility that members of his campaign colluded with the Russians has invoked for some the memory of Watergate. That collective memory has powerfully shaped news coverage of the investigation since FBI Director James Comey was fired on May 9.

Most of the news stories assume that the viewers or readers will see the parallels to Watergate, but more than 60 percent of Americans living today were under the age of 10 when President Richard Nixon resigned. Caught between memory and history and living in a time when dozens of scandals have been given the suffix “gate,” these younger generations may have trouble sorting out whether there really are parallels between the present and the past or whether this is just hype. Here are a few key connections.

Both men were accused of subverting democracy by “cheating” during the election process:

  • Trump’s campaign is accused of colluding with Russian interests to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
  • Nixon’s staff was accused of authorizing a break-in at Democratic National Headquarters during the 1972 presidential campaign in order to bug the office, presumably so his re-election campaign could hear about the Democrats’ campaign strategy.

Both men reviled the media:

  • Trump: "As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
  • Nixon:  “Also, never forget. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy.”

Both men fired the person running the investigation:

  • Trump fired Comey, who led the investigation into possible Russian interference in the election. Congress appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the matter. Last week, rumors surfaced that Trump might fire him.
  • Nixon ordered the U.S. Attorney General to fire the special counsel investigating Watergate. The Attorney General refused and resigned, as did the Deputy Attorney General. The Solicitor General, the next in the line of succession, fired the special counsel. This event is known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

Both men came under greater suspicion for their handling of the investigation than for the incident that sparked it:

  • Currently available accounts indicate Trump was not under investigation for colluding with the Russians. However, his own recent Twitter posts suggest he may now be under investigation for attempting to thwart the investigation into his campaign and its relationship with the Russians.
  • In Nixon’s case, no evidence ever emerged he authorized the break in. Instead, evidence showed that he had been involved in attempts to thwart the investigation into the White Houses’ involvement, and it was this evidence that triggered his resignation.

America was divided:

  • Since the turn of the 21st century, the ideological gap between liberals and conservatives, both in the government and in the public, has grown larger and larger.
  • In the early 1970s, the U.S. was deeply divided over the Vietnam War and over controversial laws that implemented the sweeping civil rights legislation of the late 1960s, such as school busing programs, affirmative action, and Title IX.  

Parallels are most definitely not evidence of wrongdoing, but they do offer some insight into why the story of the Russia investigation is unfolding in the way it is in the press and what sets off the media frenzies.

When Trump tweeted that Comey had better hope there were no tapes, he sparked a firestorm of coverage because Nixon’s tapes of his private White House conversations were the key to his downfall. When Trump lashed out at Comey for leaking information about their conversations, he may have been pushing back against accusations that he himself had leaked classified information to visiting Russian officials. However, he set off another uproar because Nixon’s obsession with leaks was a key precursor of his later illegal behavior.

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other Trump administration officials declined to answer questions before the Senate intelligence committee because the president might want to assert executive privilege to keep conversations private, it harkened back to Nixon’s assertion of executive privilege in refusing to release the tapes. Now that news organizations are looking for parallels, whenever Trump officials deal with the Russian investigation in ways that seem similar to Watergate, they will only fan the flames.

Dr. Jill A. Edy  is an Associate Professor who specializes in the study of media and politics. She earned her Ph.D. at Northwestern University (1998), her M.A. at Leicester University in the U.K., and her B.A. at The George Washington University. She is best known for her research on how the public’s shared memory of events is created and maintained through mass media. In her book, Troubled Pasts: News and the Collective Memory of Social Unrest (2006), she studied whether shared memories of 1960s social protests had evolved. In more recent work, she has explored how shared memory affects news coverage of current events and examined its potential to influence political decision making. Her work has appeared in a variety of communication, journalism, and political science journals including: Journal of Communication, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, American Journal of Political Science,andJournal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.

Pragmatism

 

By Andrew Tevington
Attorney at Law
Former Chief of Staff and General Counsel to Gov. Henry Bellmon

 

     Thirty years ago this legislative session, the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Henry Bellmon faced about a $350 million budget shortfall. In today’s dollars that’s more than $700 million, somewhat less than this session’s $800 million-plus deficiency.

     Bellmon and the Legislature overcame that shortage and passed financial measures that created the first-ever deposits into the constitutional Rainy Day Fund. How did they do it, and what can today’s Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin learn from this history?

     To begin, you have to understand Bellmon, father of the Oklahoma Republican Party, first elected GOP governor for the state, first Republican re-elected to statewide office when he served two terms in the U.S. Senate.

     Bellmon was a teenager during the Great Depression. His family’s Noble County farm was somewhat affected by the Dust Bowl, but not to the extent seen in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Money was scarce. Rain for crops and pasture was scarcer. As the oldest son, Bellmon was tasked with hunting to get meat on the table to feed a blended family of 15 people.

     Raised in by a religious mother, he had a highly developed sense of fair play and what was right and what was wrong. He had not only a religion but an ideology he lived by. While he saw hunting as a part of his response to the biblical admonition to “subdue the earth,” he also thought hunting had to be conducted fairly. His problem was he had limited ammunition and lots of mouths to feed.

     In later years he would speak with a sense of embarrassment about going to local ponds and duck-feeding areas, where he would lie on a rise with his rifle aimed so he could be assured he would hit two and hopefully three sitting ducks at a time.

     “It wasn’t very sporting to shoot sitting ducks and shoot as many as I could with one shot, but it had to be done. There were people to feed,” he said as a senior adult.

     It was a pragmatic decision, and it was in the tradition of American Pragmatism, which until the last decade of the 20th Century was the defining characteristic of U.S. business, politics, and government—life in general.

     Bellmon believed government should be limited. It should do those things it was best at, and it should “get out of the way” of the private sector, as long as the private sector acted fairly. He was not, however, an ideologue. American Pragmatism directed him to do what was necessary to ensure government services were provided equitably.

     In 1987, a small number of ideologues served in the Oklahoma Legislature. Mostly, they leaned to Libertarianism and were intent on destroying as much of government as possible. They were distinctly a minority and they were mostly Republican.

     Republicans had earned enough seats in the Oklahoma Senate to control the emergency clause, the legislative provision which makes bills effective immediately rather than waiting 90 days after passage. The absence of an emergency clause meant a bill could not take effect until September, after the beginning of the fiscal year in July.

     Bellmon chose to work with Democrats, who he knew would support revenue measures needed to keep state government open. He also worked hard with what he termed “reasonable Republicans” in the Senate, in an attempt to secure the emergency clause in that chamber.

     To get the necessary votes, he did something he hated. He allowed House and Senate leaders to “buy” votes with promises of special projects in recalcitrant legislators’ districts. Mostly these were festivals and powwows intended to boost small town economies. In 1988, he put an end to such things with vetoes and an executive order forbidding executive branch employees from acquiescing to “back of the napkin” project lists handed to them surreptitiously by legislators.

     Despite these efforts, the budget talks came crashing down the last week when Speaker Jim Barker literally had a screaming fit in the governor’s office during negotiations. He wasn’t going any further. Senate Republicans who indicated they were willing to pass the emergency weren’t willing to do so without an additional provision.

     The meeting broke up, with Barker still yelling as he left the office.

     Fifteen minutes later, another pragmatist came to the governor’s office and asked to speak with Bellmon. It was Rep. Steve Lewis, a democrat from Shawnee. He asked Bellmon to work with him to find a way around the impasse. They put their heads together and came up with a proposed solution. Lewis left to try to sell it to the Speaker.  Bellmon went to the Senate Republicans.

     What Lewis said to Barker is unknown. What Bellmon said to the Senate Republicans included the threat of a special session, keeping them away from their businesses and families, if this deal didn’t pass.

      A day later all sides agreed although they refused to meet face-to-face. The budget was passed with what was then the largest nominal tax increase in Oklahoma history.

     The fact is Lewis didn’t really like the deal. Bellmon didn’t really like the deal. Barker didn’t like it. Senate Republicans didn’t like it. But it was the deal that could be done. Ideologues hated it and voted against. They lost. The state won.

     In the following legislative sessions, Bellmon and Lewis worked to improve Oklahoma education. It was not always the friendliest working group, but it was a pragmatic one.

 

 

Rip or Drip?

By Dr. Pat Meirick May 24, 2017

Director of the OU Political Communication Center and Associate Professor of Communications

 

When it comes to taking off a Band-Aid, there are two types of people. Some painstakingly tease the bandage off millimeter by millimeter, follicle by follicle, over the course of an evening. Others simply rip the Band-Aid off all at once.

If we were to judge by how they handle crisis communication, we’d have to assume that politicians are still walking around with Band-Aids that date from their childhoods.

Political consultants and crisis PR practitioners almost universally say it is best for scandal-plagued politicians to come forward with a heartfelt apology and release all damaging information at once. Not only is it perceived to be less damaging if the information comes from you than if the news media uncovers it themselves, but getting it all out allows politicians to “move on” and “put it behind us.” The other main advantage of coming clean is that it avoids the appearance (or reality) of a cover-up, which often ends up being a worse offense than the one it was attempting to conceal.

However, many politicians are resistant to this advice. Some think they can ride it out and keep the truth from emerging. They try to stonewall the press, offer futile denials (“I did not. Have. Sexual. Relations. With that woman. Miss Lewinsky.”) from which they later have to backtrack, or make partial admissions accompanied by justifications and finger-pointing. This leads to a “drip, drip, drip” of damaging revelations as journalists slowly uncover and confirm the information concealed by politicians.

Such a strategy plays into the hands of political opponents, who prefer that scandals dribble out slowly. They may even temporarily withhold some damaging information about their opponent. When the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992 learned that “Bush/Quayle” signs were being printed in Brazil, Clinton campaign manager James Carville called CBS to offer them the story.  George Stephanopolous offered to find out who -- the Bush campaign, the Republican National Committee (RNC), or a subcontractor -- paid for the signs. Carville stopped him, saying, “That’s tomorrow. ‘Cause see, who got the contract, what guys have lobby things with Brazil -- there’s no sense in this thing being a one-day story. I don’t believe we got to, I think we ought to just ease this thing out a little bit.”

From a game theory perspective, it makes sense to try to ride out a scandal only if 1) the offense itself is bad enough to end your career and 2) you really think you (and everyone else who knows it) will keep the secret. Condition No. 1 may not apply until the cover-up kicks in. Watergate began as a “third-rate burglary” and the Lewinsky affair began as consensual hanky-panky, neither in themselves high crimes. If Donald Trump colluded with Russia to tamper with the 2016 election, that would qualify as big enough.

But maintaining secrecy has been difficult in past presidential scandals, and it appears to be especially so for this administration. It is a massively multiplayer game of prisoners’ dilemma, and if just one person sings, you lose.

Back For The First Time

By Michael Carrier

Director of Communications & Outreach

5.9.17

         We’re back for the first time, and it’s going to be fun.

         For more than a year the University of Oklahoma’s Political Communication Center website has been "up" and “down” as the computer brainiacs describe it.

         We were the victims of a vicious hack that disabled our website and tried unsuccessfully to break into the Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive’s treasure trove of historical campaign ads.

         We like to joke that it was the Russians (just kidding…kind of).

         No matter who the culprit was (Putin, I’m coming for you), it gave us time to ponder.

         We decided to use the opportunity to accomplish two goals: redesign the website with the desire to make it the premiere website for political, government and campaign news and information in Oklahoma, and to make the archive more easily accessible to students, faculty and the general public to use in their educational and research endeavors.

         Today, we blasted off, or as they say in website lingo, a.k.a. “launched."

         All of us at the PCC and Kanter Archive are pretty happy. We may not be the flashiest piece of jewelry in the internet’s gigantic trinket box, but we are cute and simple, functional, easy to browse – and filled with news about the PCC, the archive, our professors, government at all levels, and politics and elections in Oklahoma and around the nation.

         Most importantly, we aren’t going to be boring. We promise.

         Of course, we have everything here a major university departmental website needs:

         Mission statement, contact information, faculty and staff bios and photos (God, I need to lose weight), all the important disclaimer lingo at the bottom of the page, links to our other internet sites, Facebook, Twitter, yada, yada, yada.

         Everyone also can go to the archive from our website and search our roughly 175,000 political ads that date back to the late 1920s. Yes, we are the largest collection of political campaign, election commercials in the world. What most of you don’t know is we also collect some political speeches, short films and videos related to campaigns.

         And, no, you can’t copy an ad without our permission.

         We do provide a primer on how to use the archive – all from our shiny new website. After all, we ARE an institution of higher learning.

         One part of the website we are really excited about is our new blog Communication Breakdown.

         The blog will be the world’s opportunity to read really smart, pithy, funny, serious, and educational stuff from a bunch of really smart, pithy, funny, serious and educated people, all of who are smarter, more pithy, serious and educated than me – but not as funny.

         I will be providing my share of posts, however. You’ll be able to tell it’s me by the byline at the top of each post and from the wailing from my bosses on the Norman campus every time I hit the SEND key.

         We are glad to be back in the world of the living. We hope you enjoy what we have to offer in the coming years and that you will share our website link with all your friends, whether they want you to or not.

         And you can also catch us on Facebook and Twitter at…Ok, no… I’m not closing like that.

         Happy, thought provoking, interesting reading!

         Boomer Sooner!