2008 PR Disaster of the Year is no contest

This year I’m departing from my usual practice of naming finalists on the way to picking a PR Disaster of the Year. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has taken all the suspense out of the process by making it a hands-down no-contest. So we’ll just award the dishonor to G-Rod and include a 2008 PR dishonorable mention.

Governor Blow-dry-ovich had infamously been the subject of a federal corruption investigation for many months before he held a press conference in early December in which he dared the feds to listen in on his phone calls all they wanted. Remind anyone of Gary Hart daring reporters to find evidence of his infidelity back in ‘88? Especially when the guv and his potty-mouthed wife seemed to be making a habit of hours-long telephone wheeling-and dealing of the most tawdry nature.

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Lean on the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had been writing critical commentary? Hold up government payments to hospitals until he received the expected kick-back? Brazenly stupid, for sure, but nothing compared to the hair-brained idea of selling Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder. Didn’t he think that might draw just a bit of scrutiny?

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Gov. Blogo is still resisting pressures from just about everyone to resign or at least “temporarily” step down from office so some State business can be conducted while he prepares to defend himself against criminal charges. He continues to make Illinois a national laughingstock. Meanwhile, each day he still makes a show out of going to “work” each day – to an office that was raided weeks ago by the feds. With his paper files and his computer files, let alone his computer, removed as evidence, what work can he possibly be doing? I suppose he’s on the phone (basically now a prosecutors’ party line), conducting whatever business that might be so routine that his involvement at this point doesn’t raise further issues of impropriety.

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Dishonorable mention: Team McCain’s inept handling of Sarah Palin.

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Palin mccain When Sarah Palin stepped onto the national spotlight to accept the VP nomination at the GOP convention, she captured the attention of millions of voters from all walks of life. And she terrified the Democrats. She was bottled lightning. No longer just the most popular Governor in America, she had become the most popular woman in America overnight.

And then McCain’s handlers squandered the magic. First, she was sequestered from the media while she was given an impossible cram course in Federal issues, foreign policy, McCain position papers and the like. Then she was drilled with a set of canned answers to tricky questions with strict instructions to stay on message. With her head swimming, she stepped into her first post-selection interviews, which predictably became “stump the nominee” sessions with disastrous results.

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They should, of course, have endeavored to let Palin be Palin. A gifted, eloquent politician with a sharp head on her shoulders and deep expertise in energy issues at a time when the price of gas was the number one issue to voters (and Democrats like Nancy Pelosi were stubbornly resisting popular desire to expand off-shore drilling), Palin could have played to a reservoir of her strengths while buying a reasonable amount of time to become knowledgeable on national and global issues.

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Rather than pretending to be expert in things she clearly was not, she should have been allowed to say, “I’m learning about those issues right now and soon will have an informed opinion. Other successful governors – Reagan and Clinton to name two – stepped into the White House with strong state administrative experience but little if none on a national and global stage. I’m a quick study and I’ll be ready when needed.”

- Jon Harmon

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