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?