Uh Oh, Silver! (Why has nobody used that headline yet?)

Following the media feeding frenzy surrounding now-former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s federal indictment has been fun. It’s especially entertaining to read the New York City tabloids gloat over the takedown of someone they never liked very much, if at all.

However, equally entertaining is Silver’s fumbling response to the allegations, which I see as a good lesson in bad PR. This is a time for careful scripting and vetting of statements. Silver is smart and a great public speaker, but he should be going over his ideas with a good crisis-management specialist, realizing that the tabloids and readers – like me – will parse his words very closely. I have not seen that care in what Silver has been quoted saying.

First, when he was arrested, Silver told reporters he was “confident” he would be vindicated. That may sound good, but why is he only “confident”? Why is he not “absolutely sure”?

At this stage in the game, who cares what happens in six months or a year, when the case is likely to be resolved. At this stage, Silver has to project that confidence, by never using the word “confident”, which is too soft a term and actually implies doubt.

He should have told reporters something along the lines of, “When all the evidence is heard, I will be vindicated”.

That would display confidence. It’s like what Mark Twain said about writing, “Don’t say the old lady screamed, bring her on and let her scream.”

The same can be said of confidence, don’t say you are confident, act confident.

He did it on Tuesday, when the Daily News quoted him saying, about his replacement as Speaker, that he hoped the Assembly could “have somebody here who can carry on the good work that has taken place.”

What a missed opportunity, for Silver to remind New Yorkers of the “good work” he has done as Speaker. He is implying that the good work took place under his leadership, but why imply anything, at a time like this? Say it, man.

He should clearly and overtly take credit for the “good work” he thinks he has done, and remind people that it was him who did the work and led the Assembly in whatever good work it has done, over the last 20 years.

But today he did it again.

Today Silver quit his day job, as a high-paid attorney for the personal injury law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg. In a statement attributed to Silver and put out by Weitz & Luxenberg, the Assemblyman said he was leaving so as not to be a distraction to the firm, and “especially since there was no wrongdoing by the firm.”

Come on, really?

That statement certainly begs the question, who did the wrongdoing?, and implies that it was Silver, since he is leaving the innocent personal injury firm.

If I had written that press release, it would have said he was leaving, “especially since the firm has not been accused of any wrongdoing.” Because that is all we have at this point: accusations.

Am I splitting hairs here? Well, yes. Of course I am, but that is the job of a spokesman. It is also the job of an attorney, who must treat every word as significant. Lawmakers know that and should anticipate it. Silver is an attorney and lawmaker, and as a seasoned politician, as well, he should be taking better care of his words.

And seriously, why am I the first to use that headline?


Is PR the Future of Journalism?

Is journalism dead? Well, no, but it is under attack from its old nemesis, the Dark Side: Public Relations. And while there will always be a place for good, old-fashioned reporting, PR is likely to take more and more territory from journalism in the future.

The trend has been bubbling for some time now, and finally the PR people are taking shots across journalism’s bow.

My local public radio station, WNYC, recently did a piece calling New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the “YouTube Governor”, for his ample use of the website. When Christie posts video of himself berating people, joking with reporters, or just presenting a platform, voters, residents, and current-events junkies can go to YouTube and watch. Christie has eliminated the journalist from the conversation. His PR team makes video showing him in the light they want to present, and they post it.

Many people in America, but especially conservatives, are skeptical of journalism and journalists, accusing them of liberal bias. Well now those conservatives can get their news straight from the source: a public relations team.

The question is whether most people will be savvy enough to realize that they are being spun. I have some very intelligent friends who seem to believe everything they read on the internet, especially if it does not come from the so-called “mainstream media”. However, even if they do recognize that the governor’s website only tells us what the governor wants us to hear, by the time they watch the video – through a blog, social-media post, or email from a friend – the source may be difficult to discern.

Of course, Republicans are not the only people usurping journalism’s place in our news cycle. President Obama – and therefore, his PR team – is famous for his use of the internet, from his social media campaigns in 2008, to his recent decision to post the entire transcript of his State-of-the-Union address online – before he presented it on live, national television. Now the truly enterprising news follower can literally follow the news, as it unfolds, by reading along with the president’s speech. Who needs to buy the newspaper tomorrow, when I have already read and heard the speech. You could even watch it streamed by the Whitehouse PR team, on their own website – no need for Wolf Blitzer’s commentary.

There was a time when following people was creepy. Now I can just click a button, and Follow all the politicians I want, on Twitter. I can read everything they (actually, their spokespeople) say, as soon as they say it. And those 40-character statements are like little pullout quotes, and I don’t even have to spend very much time reading them all. It sure makes the average Times article look long …

But we’ll address Twitter’s impact on media another day. Today we talk about public relations, and how it threatens journalism. I’ve worked in both fields, and I think that today, my flack friends have a much greater impact than my hack friends, those shabbily dressed, ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate.

There was a time when you avoided wars with people who bought ink by the barrel, but today we don’t need ink, and Chris Christie has all the space he needs, to get out whatever message he wants. I even hear New Jersey public radio reporters lamenting that he cuts them out of meetings and even mass emails, in favor of reporters he deems more worthy. Listening to public radio as I do, I routinely hear Christie tell off reporters, something politicians would have been afraid to do in the past, but now he can post a video of it online, a proud example of how he stands up to the mainstream, “liberal” press. The implication being that the video clip his PR folks post online is somehow less biased than the professional journalist who does not work for him.

So, while there will always be journalists and journalism, the future of that noble profession is in doubt. My money is on the PR folks, with their internet passwords and social-media accounts, to someday take over.