President Bush’s recent bout with a salted knot of bread proves one thing: when it comes to distracting the press, all politicians need do is embarrass themselves. And commentator Kevin Guilfoile says when desperate times call for desperate diversions, serving up food-related humiliation works best.
Choking the Pretzel
January 19, 2002
BOB GARFIELD: With the Enron story gaining momentum, a lot of politicians will be looking for cover --any kind of cover. Kevin Guilfoile has a strategy for managing the media, and he's giving it away for free!
KEVIN GUILFOILE: In 1997, Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman and director Barry Levinson made a motion picture called Wag the Dog which they hoped would distract the American public from the embarrassing fact that they were also making a movie called Sphere with Sharon Stone. The ruse worked, and the phrase Wagging the Dog has entered the vernacular to describe a political strategy in which a president uses military action to distract voters from a domestic scandal. As it turns out, the dog waggers have it all backwards. You don't distract the American people with a noisy war; you do it with a story so absurdly irrelevant that it's guaranteed to occupy every late night monologue for weeks, even as America's 7 largest company implodes all over Congress and the administration,. Let's call the new strategy "choking the pretzel." First, let me say that I don't know if there's an actual scandal brewing at the White House. Bit if the Enron affair does reach all the way to the West Wing, this new pretzel tactic is brilliant, and history will show that the pretzel wasn't choking President Bush. President Bush was choking the pretzel. Imagine in 1972 if the White House had responded to the Washington Post's Watergate allegations by calling a press conference to announce that President Nixon had stuck a Cheerio up his nose. Bob and Carl -- nice story, but you've been bumped to page B7. In January of 1998, when Bill Clinton made the speech that will forever haunt his legacy, he should have worn an eyepatch. A black one, like a pirate. I poked myself in the eye with a pixie stick, he should have said. Also I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. After that, who cares about Monica? The president blinded himself -- with candy! That's hilarious! We don't care at all for a politician who's been humiliated, but we love a politician who's been slightly embarrassed. Conceal the skeleton in the closet behind mild discomfiture, and the non-story will drown out the real story ever time. I end with my bi-partisan choking the pretzel assignments to the current crop of presidential hopefuls in case one of them needs to save his career some day by acting like a total spazz. Tom Daschle -- Moon Pie in the auditory canal. John McCain -- allergic to his own gums. Joe Lieberman -- slipped on pudding. Trent Lott -- drinking a glass of Mountain Dew that turns out not to be Mountain Dew. And Al Sharpton -- well Reverend, you're way ahead of me.
BOB GARFIELD:Kevin Guilfoile is the co-author of My First Presidentiary: A Scrapbook by George W. Bush published by Modern Humorist and Three Rivers Press. [MUSIC]