Make ’em laugh

When you think of cutting edge humor on the topics of the day, the first two names you think of are Jon Stewart and … Margaret Spellings?  Greg Toppo of USA Today asks the important “why” question.  http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-05-21-spellings-daily-show_N.htm?csp=34

While yours truly is quoted in Toppo’s piece on Spellings’ appearance on the Daily Show, it forced me to think a little more about the question.  What exactly is the communications benefit of opening one up to Stewart? 

As always, we have three simple answers:

* First, Spellings is trying put the scandals behind her.  After IG investigations and new concerns on student loans, Spellings and her team have been playing defense for well over a year.  Opening oneself up to Stewart’s probing, laughing with the audience when he points to the failings of the U.S. Department of Education, and then offering a public “we’ll try harder next time” allows Spellings to declare these issues over with.  She’s talked them out with the national media.  She’s met with the trade media.  She’s convened the bloggers.  Now she’s doing the comedy shows.  It is time to move on to a new topic.  She’s exhausted the issue.  Nothing left to say, and no one left to say it to.

* Second, she needs to personalize the issue.  When Spellings first took office, she entered with press any public official would envy.  Glowing profiles in major publications.  Nonexistent criticisms in the media.  A general lovefest.  Today, no mention of Spellings or ED is complete without the terms “scandal” or “IG.”  Putting Spellings out in front reminds us of the person behind ED.  It no longer is the bureaucracy that has corrupted student loans or “the man” who has botched RF implementation.  Now, you are attacking a nice woman who reminds you of your next-door-neighbor or your kid’s teacher or that woman who sings at the church.  An appearance on the Daily Show reminds us of who is really behind the curtain.  And she comes with a fairly decent Q rating.

* Finally, it has reached the stage where any publicity is good publicity.  Consider this the policymaker’s 10 steps to media recovery.  She has listened to the criticism.  She has vowed to follow the IG’s reccs.  She has stood up before Congress and the media.  And tonight she is standing up to a top Bush critic, probably second only to the likes of Michael Moore and Al Franken.  This is win/win for her.  If Stewart makes her look foolish (which he likely won’t) then it was to be expected.  If she does well (which we should expect) then she stood in the lion’s den and survived.  She showed she was fearful of no issue and no man, and we credit her with suffering the slings and arrows.  She gets good pub for putting herself out there in the first place.

At the end of the day, we can only hope her public affairs team has properly trained her for the Daily Show, giving her talking points, writing some witty zingers and responses, and drilling her until she is comfortable with dry, wry, sarcastic humor.  She will survive, and she may even make them laugh.  

 

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