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Revenge of the Id

June 3rd, 2008

One of the things we teach our clients in media training is that they are never, never, never, never off the record. Never. There’s no such thing. “Off the record” was invented by the media to get people to give them information they wouldn’t otherwise surrender. Some of the most prominent people on earth have been burned by their “off the record” mishaps. Here’s looking at you, Scooter Libby.

But this week, another of our favorite media darlings forgot one of the seven deadly rules of speaking with the media.

Todd S. Purdum’s Vanity Fair article, The Comeback Id wasn’t very kind to Former President Bill Clinton. His article asks if “the former president will be consumed by his own worst self.” And continues on, “To know Clinton is, sooner or later, to be exasperated by his indiscipline and disappointed by his shortcomings.”

Not exactly the worst words written about Clinton during his public life. But the firestorm it set off took headlines from his candidate wife. “Bill Clinton: Purdum a ‘Sleazy’ ‘Slimy’ ‘Scumbag’” heralded the Huffington Post. MSNBC.com ran this headline: “Bill Lashes Out at Purdum.”

So, what led to these headlines? A little misleading handshake and comment from a reporter. From the Huffington Post:

Tightly gripping this reporter’s hand and refusing to let go, Clinton heatedly denounced the writer, who is currently married to former Clinton White House Press Secretary, Dee Dee Myers.

“[He's] sleazy,” Clinton said referring to Purdum. “He’s a really dishonest reporter. And one of our guys talked to him . . . And I haven’t read [the article]. But he told me there’s five or six just blatant lies in there. But he’s a real slimy guy,” the former president said.

When I reminded him that Purdum was married to his former press spokesperson Myers, Clinton was undeterred.

“That’s all right—he’s still a scumbag,” Clinton said. “Let me tell ya—he’s one of the guys —he’s one of the guys that propagated all those lies about Whitewater to Kenneth Starr. He’s just a dishonest guy—can’t help it.”

A little pot calling the kettle black on Clinton’s side. (Note to Bill: perjury = lying.) But that’s not the point.

Bill Clinton is a former president. He’s married to a Democratic candidate for president. This is the age of new media. His every move is recorded and documented. His every slip up broadcasted on YouTube. He should know better.

Posted Under: Media & Journalism
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