One of the first truly great examples of the phenomenon came to public light three years ago. British Labour leader Ed Miliband was being interviewed by the BBC about controversial public strikes, and Miliband managed to repeat the exact same phrases, word for word, over and over again, regardless of the question.
From a journalistic perspective, it was dreadful. From a political perspective, it was a rhetoricians’ case study on how to stay on-message. After all, when someone is being interviewed for later broadcast, he or she has no idea which comment will actually reach the public. The only way Miliband could be absolutely certain his message will be aired was to offer only one message – regardless of the question.
Since then, we’ve had some fun documenting similar examples. In 2012, for example, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) threw around some ugly anti-Obama rhetoric, questioning the president’s birthplace and patriotism. Pressed for an explanation, Coffman talked on camera to a local reporter, but instead of answering the questions, the conservative congressman just kept repeating the same phrases ad nauseum until the reporter gave up.
Soon after, a far-right congressional candidate in Arizona named Jesse Kelly tried the same tack following revelations he’d received support from a group tied to white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
This week, it’s Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) turn.
A police union official filed a complaint Thursday with the Florida Elections Commission, accusing Gov. Rick Scott of illegally coercing on-duty police officers to attend a campaign event in Tampa on Monday.The complaint was filed by Jeff Marano of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a union supporting Scott’s leading Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist. Marano is president of the PBA’s Broward County chapter.Under Florida law, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor for a public official to “directly or indirectly coerce” any employee to engage in political activity, and employees are prohibited from doing so while working.
The Republican governor, of course, is in the midst of a tough re-election campaign, and it’s not exactly helpful that Scott has been accused of coercing on-duty police officers to play the role of political props. Yesterday, he responded to questions about the flap.
For those who can’t watch clips online, a reporter asked whether the governor seriously believed all of the officers at the photo-op were off-duty.
“I’m very proud that last week the police chiefs endorsed me,” he said. “I’m very proud that 40 sheriffs have endorsed me. I’m very proud of all the support from the law enforcement, we’re at a 43 low in our crime rate so we invite them to our campaign events and I’m very appreciative of the ones who came.”
When another reporter said he hadn’t answered the question, Scott repeated the answer, using the exact same phrases. Asked a follow-up, the governor again repeated his talking points, word for word.
In isolation, these soundbites may seem fine, but politicians have to realize that when we see the context – and see them repeating the same talking point over and over again – they look pretty ridiculous.