How MLB Started ARod’s Punishment Early

America has had more than a week to digest Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension by Major League Baseball.   ARod’s legal team has rattled their sabers a little more, suggesting legal appeals to the suspension on top of the current Player’s Association appeal already underway.

Leading up to the suspension, the chattering class of the sports journalism wondered if Rodriguez would face a lifetime ban, effective immediately, under the “Best Interests of Baseball” power that has allowed previous commissioners to ban the likes of Pete Rose and the Black Sox of 1919.  But for MLB, putting Rodriguez on the field might be the best option.

Unlike the other players suspended for cheating, who are taking their lumps immediately, Rodriguez will run out each night in front of tens of thousands of fans.  Many of them may be buying tickets solely to boo him.  He’ll get no break at The Stadium, where the fans would give him guff even when he didn’t have the stench of cheating wafting off of him.  For the next month and a half before the Yankees’ lost 2013 season mercifully ends, Rodriguez will be front and center.  Discussions about him will not be abstract, conducted through attorneys and spokespersons.

Since the suspension for Rodriguez is so much more severe than any of the other players, that type of debate would certainly benefit him, if only marginally.  Fans might lose their edge if the question becomes how long ARod should be suspended, rather than whether he should sit out.  Public anger against cheaters can only subside if the matter drags into next March with public enemy number one out of the public eye.

Instead, ARod will get an earful.

By creating a situation where Rodriguez is constantly in the public eye, MLB gets to watch its verdict vindicated in the court of public opinion.  When the jeers rain down on ARod, MLB will let the fans be the messengers to other players.  Public opinion will become clear to those who would be outspoken about the outsized suspension, as well as to players who are candidates to get caught in the next giant steroids scandal (like David Ortiz).

MLB will, naturally, be helped by Rodriguez’s apparent combination of narcissism and a complete and utter lack of self awareness.


Christie vs. Giuliani

Gov. Chris Christie fired what sounded like a shot against the early front runner for the 2016 Republican nomination last week:

“As a former prosecutor who was appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, I just want us to be really cautious, because this strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought,” Christie said.

There’s some value in Christie’s points, but they get lost in incendiary rhetoric.  Invoking September 11, 2001 and calling those with reservations about government overreach “dangerous” is similar to calling the Obama Administration “socialist” – the words are so far over the top that they no longer register with the average voter.

Those concerned with domestic spying and data mining programs rail against politicians who frame a choice between security and privacy.  Christie would have been smarter to echo such”false choice” rhetoric.  “There needn’t be a false choice between security and privacy – we can and must have aggressive, effective programs that smoke out terrorists that don’t violate our rights,” he might have said.  (Though, come to think of it, he probably shouldn’t use the word “needn’t.”  He’s got speechwriters for that, though.)

This type of language is much more inclusive, and that’s what Christie will need to get his 2016 efforts on track.  Sen. Rand Paul is ahead in the polls because people support his positions; a candidate who calls those positions “dangerous” will find it hard to win their support – even if he wins the nomination.

Christie has a good example just to his north, in the city for which his state is an oversize suburb.  Rudy Giuliani’s speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention argued for many specific policies that Paul would probably not agree with.  Yet the arguments were framed by a theme captured in one stand-out phrase: “Our party’s great contribution is to expand freedom.”  Giuliani was never a conservative darling, but with this line he at least let on that he understood where conservatives were coming from.

Giuliani did not simply argue that he was right while the other side was wrong; he argued that the other side should agree with him because his solutions offered the best chance to advance their goals.  It’s similar to the way Paul Ryan tried to frame entitlement reform as a way to preserve the safety net.

And it’s the way a candidate like Christie – who will , realistically, have difficulty proving conservative bona fides to many primary voters – will have to start talking if he wants to win the party’s nomination and the White House.

Why Bankrupting America’s New Web Series Actually Works

This week, Bankrupting America launched “The Government,” a new web series this week parodying both government spending and The Office.  Unlike many attempts at politically themed humor, it actually works.

There are some over-the-top spots – the introduction of the (probably?) fictional Department of Every Bureaucratic Transaction comes to mind – but nothing that detracts from the main joke.  What makes the video click is its natural dialogue, solid acting, identifiable characters, and subtle jokes (such as the employees walking around in the background holding golden coffee mugs with oven mitts).

In other words, structurally, it entertains for the same reasons The Office did, which means it’s a great approach to this type of communication.  If future episodes hit these same beats (and patch up some of the rough spots), Bankrupting America will have a pretty powerful messaging device on its hands.

Unions Clamor For Smaller Government

This ad opposing Common Core standards popped up on a few right-leaning blogs this week, advertising the website


Clicking through led to this landing page:


Who’s behind these right-wing clarion calls to limit expansive government?  The AFL-CIO, of course.  They don’t particularly hide their involvement, but they don’t bang the drum to call attention to their funding either.

It’s actually a smart and mature move.  Opposition to Common Core education isn’t the sole dominion of people who would rather not see teachers held accountable; there are also people who hold principled stances against national standards superseding local control of education.

What would be interesting to know is how the AFL-CIO uses this data.  For an advocacy group, a list of people on the other side who agree with you on certain issues is an underrated asset.  If they can turn other policy positions into small-government arguments, they can go back to that list for future action.

Is the Pope Absolving Sin Via Twitter?

Nope.  But that’s the quick and dirty understanding of today’s announcement that Pope Francis will grant the same plenary indulgences to those who follow his appearances on Twitter as he does to those who show up in person.  Mashable had to correct an earlier post that made the mistake, and other outlets have had a similarly difficult time understanding what’s going on.

Credit the Church with gamely trying to explain the tactic:

But a senior Vatican official warned web-surfing Catholics that indulgences still required a dose of old-fashioned faith, and that paradise was not just a few mouse clicks away.

“You can’t obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine,” Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Unfortunately, even the framing of this quote reflects that the Church’s announcement wasn’t completely understood with the explanation.  (Sidebar: The phrase “old-fashioned faith” is a literary crutch.  Faith is not old-fashioned, as any modern religion can tell you.)  The entire story reads like the news that Newt Gingrich was paying for Twitter followers, with the expectation that a modern-day Martin Luther will nail 95 theses (each one 140 characters or less) to the Vatican door about why pardoning sin for a Twitter follow is wrong.

A better description is that those in attendance via social media will be treated like those in attendance in person.  The Church might have added that, much like angels and prayer, that which is unseen is often more powerful as that which is seen.  (Or, that which is invisible is often more powerful than the visible, if you prefer the new translation.)  In the parlance of our times, it’s the religious equivalent of working from home but not having to take a sick day.

Credit the Pope for opening up avenues for online communication, and making his appearances that much more accessible.  With that, though, comes the need to explain the faith to those who don’t understand it.  It’s not evangelism, it’s public relations.

Obama’s Bad News Power Rankings, 5.23.2013

If you participate in social media, you’ve probably heard talk of the Obama scandals.  TargetPoint released this graphic showing  what people are talking about, and how they’re taking it.  The news is not good for the current administration:


Thus, this week’s Bad News Power Rankings practically write themselves:

  1. IRS vs. Tea Partiers.  (Last week: 2) The parade of Administration officials who either change their story or won’t tell it moved this one up the list.  Rasmussen reports 60% of Americans feel it’s pretty likely that other agencies also targeted conservative groups, meaning that people don’t view the IRS’s actions as a one-off.
  2. Benghazi.  (Last week: 3) Amazingly, independents believe in an Obama Administration cover-up more than Republicans.
  3. DOJ vs. AP.  (Last week: 1) This one has been relatively quiet this week, but still makes reporters sympathetic.
  4. Fast and Furious.  Of course, it would be nice to say that the current scandals have raised the voting public’s awareness of this previous scandal.  But let’s be honest: it’s probably the upcoming movie, “6 Fast, 6 Furious.”
  5. Keystone XL.  Pundits love to trash Republicans for “playing to the base,” but Congress may force the Administration’s hand on this wedge issue for Democrats’ extreme environmentalist supporters.

A Great Week for Team Obama?

Megan McArdle might be onto something:

In finance, there’s an art known as “Big Bath Accounting” which is used to manage earnings expectations.  Here’s how it works:  if you know you’re going to have a bad quarter, you look around for anything else that might go wrong in the future, and you decide to “recognize” that bad news now.  Inventory looking a little stale?  Write it down, man!  Customers getting a little slow to pay?  Now would be a good time to write off their accounts as bad debt… The theory is that there is only so much bad news people can take in all at once, so you might as well cram all the bad stuff into one action-packed earnings call.

This is a couple days old, but the more you think about it – and the more news cycles turn since ScandalFest 2013 dropped – the more sense it makes that having all this hit at once is a good thing for the White House.

None of the controversies has been what any serious commentator would call impeachable, but each serves to damage credibility.  Imagine if they were spaced out a little more.  If the IRS scandal broke after two weeks of talking about the Benghazi hearings, and was subsequently followed by the AP/DOJ dust-up breaking a week or two after that, it would be far worse for all the President’s men.  Each scandal would be discussed in its own spotlight for a little while, but the timing would still maintain that “Groundhog Day” feeling.

In order for the current blitzkrieg to be as damaging, new information will have to come out fairly regularly over the course of several months.  That’s a lot of new stuff that would have to break, like the President said, there may not be that much “there” there.  Meanwhile, a public with a short attention span and a media looking for fresh news will find new stuff to talk about.  Democrats who are looking for fundraising and grassroots support in the mid-term elections will be slow to criticize the President.

On top of that, scandal discussion sucks up a lot of oxygen that could be used on other issues.  Higher taxes are shrinking paychecks, and Obamacare is making American health care more expensive and complex.  The policy environment is ripe for Republican criticism, but the line that connects a big government that taxes too much and overreaches on programs with a big government that swipes reporters’ phone records and harasses its opponents is not starkly obvious to casual observers.  And there’s always the chance for a Republican politician trying to overplay his or her party’s hand.

The last couple of weeks may have been tough to get through.  There’s still plenty of time for the scandals to fade into the background and there will be opportunities for the President to go back on offense.  If all this bad news was going to hit anyway, having it hit at once was the best possible outcome for the White House.

Sometimes a crummy week makes for a better year.

Obama’s press strategy is nefarious and manipulative – copy it!

Politico greeted night owls and early risers to a fantastic article about the White House press strategy.  The tenets have been the same for every President, controlling the President’s public image through strategic use of information – but no President has had the options that Barack Obama has.

Since great minds steal, anyone seeking to copy the Obama team’s strategy should consider three major points:

1. News outlets are no longer the gatekeepers for mass media exposure.

White House photographers have been commonplace in the past few decades; Politico notes that the current White House has made those photographs ubiquitous on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.  That these channels exist allow the President to go over the media’s head, but without mass media branding they wouldn’t work as well.

Ronald Reagan and his predecessors faced three networks and a handful of national newspapers.  Bill Clinton presided over the rise of cable news networks, as MSNBC and Fox joined CNN to increase scrutiny on the sturm and drang of partisan politics; online media helped increase that during George W. Bush’s administration.

Big News is now the victim of its own success.  There’s now a general awareness of political comings and goings, enough that political topics spill into entertainment shows.  And think about all the channels on your TV dial today.  Quasi-news shows – like The Daily Show, The View, and the Today Show – now allow politicians to maintain visibility without getting asked hard questions.  President Obama will have plenty of eyeballs on him when he fills out his NCAA brackets this year, but ESPN’s Stuart Scott probably won’t ask him any pointed questions about Benghazi or gun control.

(Sidebar: Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Obama did run into a tough line of questioning on ESPN of all places?  “So you like Duke to come out of the South Region.  What did you think was going to come out of the south when you shipped those guns to Mexico?”)

2.  Brand matters

This visibility serves to underscore a certain identity.  Visibility in and of itself is one thing, but carefully selecting the outlet where you’re seen helps create a message.

Obama wants voter to identify with him personally, so sharing his love for sports on ESPN helps.  Brief interviews to network anchors, fluff interviews on The View, and vague calls to action in the State of the Union all serve to underscore that he’s in control, but not so wonkish that he would be unapproachable.

Obama is able to pull this strategy off now because he is the President, has had two national campaigns, and is a known personality to most Americans.  During his 2008 primary campaign, he had to create that interest by launching a campaign that looked and felt different from traditional campaigns – from the Pepsi-ish logo to the embracing of supporter-created materials.  Sarah Palin tried to eschew the “lamestream media” in favor of communication via Facebook post – but her story was already written for her when she abruptly resigned as governor.  Her branding efforts were far more traditionally political, so they predictably flopped when she tried to use non-traditional outlets to reinforce them.

Palin’s attempt to bypass the media is a good example of how a clumsy, ham-fisted attempt to mimic Obama’s White House is doing can backfire.  If you’re running for dog catcher and there’s no demand for media accessibility, some of these won’t work; however if you’re the person everyone wants to interview, you can call some of the shots.

3. Working harder and smarter trumps media bias.

For decades – decades! – Republicans have groused about media bias.  They’ll point to surveys that show reporters tend to vote Democrat, and they’ll moan that no Republican will get the same treatment as Obama.

There will always be folks like Chris Matthews who fall in love with candidates like Obama and worship them with an illogical fervor that gives cult followers a run for their money.   But the creation of good coverage by the Obama Administration is more the result of meticulous work than a happy accident of reporter preference.  The communications team knows where the President needs to be seen and how to make the most out of each channel they use.  Backed with the currency of access to the White House, they put themselves in a position to write the rules of engagement – and aren’t shy about doing so.

Will [INSERT GOP CANDIDATE HERE] be able to create a carbon copy in 2016?  Probably not in terms of outcome.  But in terms of overall attitude, strategies, and tactics, a lot of what the Obama Team does is worth swiping.

A rare good PR move for ARod

Joel Sherman of the New York Post (America’s Newspaper of Record) published an exclusive (and extensive) interview with Alex Rodriguez’s doctors yesterday.  On a day where an empty Hall of Fame induction press conference underscored the sport’s reliance on media perceptions, Sherman’s article is a great PR move from a player that could use it.  If you can spell ESPN, you know that Rodriguez was MIA in the playoffs coming off two injury-riddled seasons, and what effect that had on his relationship with the forgiving and always-adoring New York sports fans.

This Sherman exclusive – which shares intricate details of the nature of his current injury – is a great public relations move.  If you were using baseball metaphors, you’d call it a solid 2-run double.

Given the level of detail the medical staff shares about the status, it’s clear that Rodriguez had to give his blessing for the revelations, and that was smart.  Without a single clichéd, Bull Durham-esque quote from the third baseman on being “more disappointed than anyone” or “not getting it done” during his horrendous postseason, two doctors went back and forth practically amazed that he could even walk during September and October.  They also debunk the whispers that past steroid use caused Rodriguez’s injury.  Best of all, Rodriguez and the Yankees stay out of the story.  The medical information alone speaks for itself and doesn’t need framing.  Heck, it makes you wonder if Rodriguez will play another game again at all.

And there’s why this is a great story.  Demanding fans and the 24-hour sports news machine feed each other, and the meal is often re-digested.  In this case, we all know the story: ARod, the richest player in baseball history, doesn’t live up to expectations and the fans hate him for it.   More coverage begets more boos raining down from the upper deck, and boos in turn beget more negative coverage.  Sherman’s story probably won’t stop that, but it does frame the last three years of Rodriguez’s career in a badly needed new – and much more flattering – light.

3 things the NRA got wrong today

The National Rifle Association was already in a tough position when Wayne LaPierre took to the podium this morning.  A full week after the violence in Connecticut, the nation’s biggest advocate of gun rights broke its self-imposed silence to offer their side of the recent debate.

LaPierre’s calls for increased school security and have been widely panned.  That’s no surprise: the press conference really was a no-win situation, which they must have known when they decided it would be held on the Friday before Christmas weekend.  There is nothing LaPierre could have said that would have drawn a positive response; this is an “against-the-spread” PR situation where the biggest victory is in making the smallest waves.

Yet there were three points that stood out in the official NRA response that clouded even that goal:

1. Making it all about the NRA.  LaPierre explained his organization’s week-long silence as deferential to the community in mourning, but said he was forced to speak up:

Because for all the noise and anger directed at us over the past week, no one — nobody — has addressed the most important, pressing and immediate question we face:  How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?

This has the makings of a pretty good thesis statement except, but it is off the mark on a couple points.  First, the noise and anger was not directed exclusively at the NRA in the last week.  Horrific events like those in Newtown stir the most visceral emotions; and in that maelstrom of sadness and pain thinking thoughts like “Ban all guns now!” is completely logical.  I’m sure there were plenty of freedom-loving Americans who, in the hours after the news of the shooting broke, would have gladly surrendered their Second Amendment rights to prevent a repeat of those events.  It would have been nice to acknowledge that – though there were plenty who took the opportunity to bash the NRA, those people whose allegiance to the Second Amendment was shaken a bit shouldn’t be lumped in with the Michael Moores of the world.

Second, people have been asking “How do we protect our children?” for the last week – nonstop.

Framing their statement this way makes the NRA look extremely narcissistic and a bit paranoid.  Yes, they will be under intense scrutiny from their political enemies, but that’s not who the most important audience was this morning.  The NRA needed to demonstrate understanding of the greater understanding of last week’s events to connect with the broader public.

2. Blaming the media.  The NRA followed a call for more security in schools with an admonishment of the media for their framing of the debate:

Now, I can imagine the shocking headlines you’ll print tomorrow morning: “More guns,” you’ll claim, “are the NRA’s answer to everything!” Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools.

Perhaps this was an attempt at inoculation – framing the response before the inevitable response came.  But chastising the media while standing in front of the media only encourages more negative coverage.

3. Talking about guns.  Here’s the crux of the problem: the shooting in Connecticut wasn’t about guns, it was about a sick person who took children’s lives for reasons the general public does not know yet.  The discussions about gun control are one aspect of the reaction to the shooting.  Unfortunately, that’s the area of discussion where the NRA decided to dwell.

The NRA is charged with defending its members’ rights to own guns – so it makes sense that the gun control angle would be the policy arena that was of most concern.  But by acknowledging only that angle, the NRA legitimized the idea that the reaction to Newtown should be exclusively about gun control.  Even when LaPierre mentioned other factors – such as American culture’s promotion of violence through video games – it was framed as the shifting of blame away from gun ownership.

By presenting this morning’s press conference within the context of the gun control debate, the NRA missed an opportunity to reduce the gun control element by elevating and expanding the overall conversation about what to do in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.  In many ways, the NRA allowed its opponents to shape this morning’s statement – which is a sure recipe to lose your point.

How It Could Have Gone Better

The reality is that the NRA had something important and possibly resonant to say.  After expressing his sympathies (which he did), LaPierre could have stated that in a situation like this it is important to think clearly and rationally to find solutions which will keep our children safe – and not be distracted by policies which do nothing to protect our children but allow politicians to pat themselves on the back.  We should not and cannot, LaPierre could have said, sacrifice progress for the sake of easy motion.  (There would have been some context mentioning the NRA as a four-million-person membership organization, which LaPierre worked in well this morning.)

LaPierre could have continued: Over the coming weeks and months there will be necessary and important discussions about what caused the horror in Connecticut – discussions in which the NRA will lend whatever expertise we can.  Those discussions will surely involve expanded mental health services, school security, and (naturally) the limitation of gun rights.

On that last item, LaPierre might have noted that the reaction was understandable in the wake of such events.  Without accusing anyone of trying to score political points, he might have called attention to a high level of misinformation and misunderstanding floating around in the media and in social media discussions.  Then he could have unveiled (the URL is available for not that much money) or some other new website dedicated to illuminating that discussion with truth – because, again, the ultimate goal is to find solutions that work.  A question-and-answer session would have been highly contentious, but would have been better than ignoring questions.

And that would have been it, because the goal of today would have been to return to the public eye, express understanding and a willingness to talk, and then to let the other side overreact if they felt the need to.

There would have been no Asa Hutchinson discussing a task force to put armed guards in schools – that policy push could come down the road.  There would be no lambasting of the media or aggressive posturing, and certainly no opinions about the effects of video games and movies.  The reaction from the punditocracy would have still been hostile, but the NRA would be better positioned to mitigate the likely gun control proposals that will emerge from the Biden Commission.

There also would be no shrinking from the NRA’s core values – just a recognition that, sometimes, tone matters, and that an effective response doesn’t mean having all the answers.