Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Political Scoundrels: Managing Political Scandals

By Winnie
From Governor Romney’s spat with Glen Johnson, an Associated Press Reporter, who accused Romney of having lobbyist, such as Ron Kaufman, running his campaign to Senator Barack Obama’s smear email, claiming that he was a Muslim, who attended the Wahhabi school in Indonesia and planned on destroying the United States, as a president from within. Are these scandals enticing enough to derail a campaign and tarnish the reputation of a candidate?

The Live with Dan Abrams show on MSNBC also discloses the top five dirtiest tricks pulled in the current presidential campaign to date. Selecting the accusations by the Vietnam Veterans of Senator John McCain’s nominal collaboration with the enemy during his years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, as number one of the top five dirtiest scandals currently.

The program, The Political Scoundrels: Managing Political Scandals speaks to the methods in which presidential candidates can employ to manage pesky rumors and scandals while keeping the spin in his or her favor. The program incorporated guest speakers, Craig Fuller, a public relations expert, who served for eight years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for cabinet affairs and then as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush and is currently the executive vice president of APCO’s International Advisory Council in Washington, D.C., and Rick Pearson, a political reporter for Chicago Tribune and an award winning journalist, who in 2000 and 2004 extensively covered George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns.

Craig Fuller in discussing political scandals in the current primaries talks about the dirty tricks or scandals that are common in political campaigns. These generally involve secretly leaking damaging information to the media or trying to feed an opponent's team false information hoping they will use it and embarrass themselves. He doesn’t assert whether he approves or disapproves of these tactics but he does affirm that he thinks it fair for candidates to compare and contrast their opponent’s credentials via ads; he calls it ‘Comparative Advertisement.’ Fuller contends that in “managing scandals, candidates before running for the presidential election need to think deep about what might be exposed and plan how to handle the question if it is exposed.” He also notes that it is judicious for Candidates to get the accurate facts of the scandal that was reported and resolve it as soon as possible. He gives the example of Former Vice President to George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle, the Vice Presidential nomination scandal and how they managed that scandal and came out on top.

Rick Pearson, on the other hand, compares the GOP presidential today's primary scandal in South Carolina involving Sen. McCain to the running scandal in 2000 of Sen. John McCain supposedly fathering an illegitimate child. Pearson also discusses how the new media has advanced via the internet and how candidates have to be very careful in addressing and managing those types of scandals; he confers the “Barack Obama is a Muslim email.” Pearson also states that most often, the attempt to cover up a scandal by the candidate becomes the real scandal.” He notes that in managing scandals, “the best way for candidates to handle pesky rumors or scandals is for the candidates to respond quickly and accurately to the accusations and get in control of it.”

A great deal of the discussion involved Craig Fuller and Rick Pearson discussing the significance of giving a ‘spin not a lie’ to reporters. Fuller offers the example of Vice President Dan Quayle scandal; when a reporter asked Fuller, “If Quayle should be dropped from the Vice Presidential nomination ticket due to the scandal that surrounded him?” Fuller answered with a spin, stating that “Vice President has not considered it.” Fuller states that, “you can choose what to say, but you better chose carefully or it could cost you….”

Pearson and Fuller then responded to the question on whether this process of electing a president in the United States serves our society well… how do American citizens make the intelligent decision in choosing the right president when the media relies less on the substance of the candidates and more on scandal. They both answer by stating that voters can choose a candidate by the way the candidates handle the issues or rumors and the perceptions they get from the candidates. They both note that substance matter less in comparison to the way candidates handle things.

Pearson emphasizes retail politics as providing voters with substantive candidates who speak about substantive issues. He notes that retail politics involves more of an interaction with voters and less on how much money you have. He offers the example of Huckabee winning in Iowa due to the retail politics that was involved in Iowa.

Craig Fuller and Rick Pearson conclude by stating that the compression of the primaries and caucus allow fewer opportunities for the candidates to be more substantive… that when the field narrows, candidates would then be able to discuss issues that concern voters the most.

The program was delightfully pleasant. I enjoyed and learned a great deal at my first event at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum!!!


Blogger Craig Fuller said...

Who would have thought that on one of the coldest nights of the year we could have had "standing room only" for a political discussion...but, The Freedom Museum brought in the crowd and provided a wonderful warm atmosphere for our conversation. It was great to be a part of it. Thanks for capturing the evening so well with this post! Craig

10:20 AM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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