Friday, March 16, 2007

Tell Rahm Emanuel The Colbert Report Is Perfectly Safe

This came out in The Hill yesterday:

Emanuel tells freshmen to avoid Stephen Colbert

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the Democratic Caucus chairman, has told new Democratic members of Congress to steer clear of Stephen Colbert, or at least his satirical Comedy Central program, “The Colbert Report.”

“He said don’t do it … it’s a risk and it’s probably safer not to do it,” said Rep. Steve Cohen. But the freshman lawmaker from Tennessee taped a segment that last week was featured in the 32nd installment of the “Better Know a District” series. Colbert asked Cohen whether he was a black woman. He isn’t.

I actually have some experience advising a Congressman’s office about going on The Colbert Report. A while back I interviewed for a press secretary position with Rep. Brian Baird’s office (WA-3). I didn’t get offered the position but one of the things I discussed with his then-press secretary was whether to go on the Colbert Report. She said their office hadn’t made a decision yet, although some of the staffers wanted him to do it, she wasn’t sure.

I laid out a pretty passionate case why it was fine to do the show.

  1. It’ll please your staff. (This is minor, but hey, it’ll boost morale).
  2. It’s good practice for Congressmen who don’t get much national exposure.
  3. It’ll humanize your Representative.
  4. There really hasn’t been any lasting political image problems from doing these interviews.

I find all the talk about the “dangers” of doing the interviews and lasting PR problem to be way overblown. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla, who had a famous “Better Know A District” because Colbert got him to say “hookers and cocaine are fun things to do.” And of course you heard about Wexler’s overwhelmingly close re-election in 2006? What? No? You mean he still ran unopposed and the interview brought him a lot of ultimately positive name-recognition?

The other person who’s appearance was infamous (and the last sitting real Republican to appear on the segment) was Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., because he couldn’t name all of the Ten Comandments. Again, Westmoreland suffered VERY MINOR public relations feedback in relation to this appearance. And while going on The Colbert Report is relatively safe, it’s not entirely risk free. You will be ribbed a little. And you can still appear foolish.

But so what? For many of these Congressmen and women this appearance will be the first thing a national audience hears about them. And when the time comes for them to play on the national scene, audience recall of them will be generally positive. They are mostly low-risk, high-reward interviews. And moreover the people who have done them talk about how enjoyable they were to tape. Nerve-wracking? Maybe a little. But jeeze you gotta have some balls if you want to be a U.S. Congressman. If you can't handle doing an interview with a soft-ball comedian (he's not Borat for god's sake!) then maybe you don't really want a job in the public eye.

So anyways, when Brain Baird appeared on BKAD on Jan 17, 2007, with Colbert asking him to “eat his sausage” I felt like I was partially responsible for making that happen.

No comments: