Foot-in-mouth disease has damaged many careers and ended others. Its history is long, colorful and likely to continue.
Most of the time, it has a close correlation to carelessness and insensitivity. Sometimes it’s not even a gaffe at all, but a carefully rehearsed message.
Let’s take a closer look. Cause and effect will become more clear.
During a break on a recent Sunday TV talk show, Secretary of State John Kerry was recorded making a phone call to an aide in which he criticized Israel for high civilian casualties in its invasion of Gaza.
Was it accidental? Or a trial balloon? Shortly afterward, the White House announced President Obama had called his Israeli counterpart for the second time in two days with the same message.
Or Donald Sterling, whose racial comments were recorded and leaked, purportedly by a spurned mistress. Planned or not, the ensuing furor doubled the value of his NBA team in a month.
A slew of incidents came out of the 2012 general election.
Obama was caught by an open microphone telling Russia’s President he’d have more “flexibility” to negotiate a European missile system after the U.S. election. No doubt that wasn’t intended to be heard, and his critics had a field day.
Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP opponent, told wealthy donors that 47% of people are unmotivated ne’er-do-wells who are dependent on government handouts and will vote Democratic no matter what. A recording leaked out, and Romney never recovered. His mistake (besides making the comments in the first place) was believing what’s said in private stays private.
Or thoughtless comments about rape and pregnancy by two Republican candidates for Congress that brought down not only their campaigns but damaged Romney through guilt by association.
Reaching farther back was President Reagan’s comment during a sound test for his weekly radio address in 1984: “My fellow Americans. I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
Did anyone seriously believe it was a just a joke, as Reagan’s media advisers spun it? Or was the Cold Warrior telegraphing a clear message to Moscow?
What you say can be as effective as it can be harmful. The hard part is knowing the difference.
The golden rule: Assess the consequences before you open your mouth.
(For more on a related topic, check out our blog Loose Lips & Paper Trails.)
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
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