POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: BITTEN BY THE SOUND BITE: MURRAY TAKES CHANCE THEN GOOFS TWICE
Sunday, December 29, 2002
GREGG HERRINGTON, Columbian staff writer
Long after Sen. Patty Murray finishes serving time as a political piņata for her unbalanced account of Osama bin Laden's largess, will we look back and conclude that another nail has been driven into the coffin of political discourse?
Will our political leaders be even less inclined than they already are to engage in discussing odd or unpopular notions about serious subjects?
You've heard the usual openers: "Let's think outside of the box." ... "I'm going to run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes." ... "Try this on for size." ... "I'm not saying I favor this approach, but ..."
In that vein, Murray said on Dec. 18 at Columbia River High School that she was challenging the students to think about alternatives to war.
As an observer in the room, one of my first thoughts was disappointment that she was wrapping up her appearance with the thought, rather than beginning that way and inviting the students to kick it around then and there. Had she done so, perhaps Murray would have added balance to her opening statement and thus managed to get herself off the hook on which she had impaled herself.
Instead, as our elected representatives so often do in these public Q&A's with no follow-up questions, Murray used the bulk of the time to let the audience toss verbal marshmallows on a variety of topics.
Then, in her 90-second closing monologue, bad history was the first sin. She sacrificed accuracy and balance as she quantified U.S. aid to Arab countries as zilch and said the world's most wanted terrorist had generously bestowed his riches on Arab nations for everything from highways to day care centers.
You almost expected her list to include the Salvation Army pot outside the Kandahar Koffee Klatch.
Sound-bite rule: Her second mistake was forgetting the sound-bite rule. It goes about like this:
For any political speech, the audience will remember -- and the media will report -- just a few snippets. Some ungodly percentage will not be reported by the media and will not be remembered by some ungodly percentage of the people in the audience.
Therefore, it pays to be a bit redundant about key points.
Most politicians with Murray's experience don't have to be reminded never to talk about the war on terrorism without at least starting, middle-ing and ending with reminders that Osama and/or Saddam and/or al-Qaida are evil.
For example, back in October when Murray announced she was voting against authorization for President Bush to go to war in Iraq, she nevertheless peppered her remarks with references to bad man Saddam Hussein:
"There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein poses a serious threat. ... Iraq has worked to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. ... We know from history and experience that Iraq poses a danger to the region. ... Saddam's madness . . . "
But she had a staffer help prepare those remarks. At Columbia River High School, she was winging it.
So, Murray took a risk for starters, then compounded her troubles with two mistakes: She introduced an outside-the-box notion while botching her history and forgetting the obligatory Osama-is-evil sound bite.
Wonders of the Web: The Murray story attracted monstrous interest nationwide, leading to 267,000 "page views" on www.columbian.com. Until this, the record had been 18,000 page views on a story in October of this year about 800-year-old artifacts found near Ridgefield.
(A page view is a click on a given item within a Web site. Thus, one visitor to a Web site could easily pile up several page views, perhaps more than one to the same page as he clicks back and forth.)
Drudge was big: Murray's appearance here was reported first in the Thursday, Dec. 19, Columbian. By that afternoon it was topic No. 1 on the Lars Larson call-in show on KXL radio (750 AM) in Portland and was carried nationally by The Associated Press that evening.
But in terms of e-mail and calls to The Columbian and visits to its Web site, things went gonzo Friday morning, Dec. 20. That's when www.drudgereport.com, a national political news and gossip site, began playing it prominently, with a direct link to The Columbian's story. Within two hours, it was on other national broadcast outlets and Web pages.
The campaign: Even before all this, Murray was well into the fund-raising grind for her 2004 re-election campaign.
As far back as June 30, she had $742,545 in her treasury. But her campaign account has been boosted with subsequent fund raisers, including one at the Arlington Club in Portland on Dec. 11 that brought in about $20,000 from some 75 supporters.
Vancouver Canada? The geographically challenged Washington Post editorialized on Murray's comments on Christmas Day:
"The Washington Democrat's crime, it seems, was to make an ill-worded and rather silly speech last week to a high school in Vancouver, Wash., that was then excerpted by the Columbian, a newspaper in Vancouver, Canada."
On Friday, the Post's editorial page corrected the mistake.
Gregg Herrington covers state and local issues and may be reached at 360-759-8025, or via e-mail at gregg.herringtoncolumbian.com