Tag Archive: Mike Wallace


There comes a time in every political administration when directing blame at previous incumbent, so-in-so, comes across as weak finger-pointing rather than a strong proclamation of historical fact.

Reflecting back to my days as former California Governor George Deukmejian’s second press secretary, I distinctly recall a meeting of the entire senior staff chaired by the governor. The message was clear: No more blaming Jerry Brown… (His first tenure of Jerry Brown as governor of California).

George Deukmejian Campaigning

The reason: This was not our first rodeo. The stewardship of the state was our responsibility. From this point forward, there would be no more public denunciation of the administration of the state by our predecessor. This point was particular relevant to me as I was duly serving as the governor’s chief spokesman, historian and message developer.

Making this rhetorical pivot was not as easy as it seems. We had literally spent months heading into years reminding anybody and everybody who would listen that Brown left us a $1.5 billion deficit (almost seems quaint by today’s standards). We fought against a myriad of tax increases proposed by the opposition, even to the point of forcing the governor to live in Sacramento’s best hotel at the time, the Holiday Inn (a long story for another time). When the smoke settled, the state retired the deficit without raising taxes and we established a $1 billion reserve for emergencies.

Those were the days my friends, I thought they would never end…

And yet with any administration, there were fires to put out and FUBARs to fix. Our toxics program was a mess, requiring the program to be run out of the chief of staff’s office. There was a massive delay in the doling out of restitution to victims of violent crime, prompting Mike Wallace to call me demanding a “60 Minutes” interview with the governor.

And let’s not forget that Mother Nature can be very unkind. There were fires. There were floods. There was the drought. There were states of emergency. And there was the Loma Prieta Earthquake, resulting in me being told that the “Bay Bridge is in the Water!”

cypressstructure

One would think that an administration would be given a Mulligan for a natural catastrophe. One would be thinking incorrectly. When the top deck of the Cypress Structure of the 880 came crashing down on the motorists of the lower deck, the ladies and gentlemen of the Capitol Press Corps wanted to immediately assign blame to us. We were at the top and a permanent bull’s eye was affixed to our collective backsides. It’s totally unfair, but nothing is totally fair in politics and government. As Mary Matalin has said repeatedly: “Politics is a contact sport.”

Obviously, it would have been ridiculous to bring up the name of Jerry Brown in the context of the toxics mess, the failure of the victims of violent crime compensation program and of course, the Earthquake. Believe it or not, Mother Nature can be equally cruel to Democrats and Republicans alike.

Surveying the present day landscape, the Obama administration is well beyond its infancy, honeymoon period, and the much ballyhooed “First 100 days.” The administration of George W. Bush matters less with every passing day. Election Day is four months away. It is no longer early; in fact it is way past early.

Pointing fingers at the most famous denizen of Crawford, Texas and proclaiming, “It could have been worse” does not harken back to the bold statements of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, JFK or the Gipper. Even Bill Clinton’s, “I didn’t have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky…” comes across more decisive.

Friday’s poor jobs report with only 80,000 created and the unemployment rate remaining stuck at 8.2 percent for June (while there were 85,000 first-time applications for disability in the same month) calls for an all-hands on deck crisis communications exercise.

Instead of blaming the predecessor the hard and fast rules for crisis communication should come into play in the face of inevitable adversity: Tell the truth; Tell it All; Tell it Fast and Move On (Isn’t there an organization by that name?).

Repeating the playbook of former President George H.W. Bush in combating both Clinton and a lousy economy by telling everyone that conditions are getting better, when they are clearly heading south, is a time-proven loser. The best approach is to look at the crummy economy right in the proverbial eye and sneer.

What is the administration going to do about it? After three-point-five years, what course correction needs to be undertaken? The escalating entitlements (e.g., Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) consume about 60 percent of the federal budget. How about reforming these programs? Frau Merkel raised Germany’s retirement age from 65-to-67, reflecting that we are living longer, and at the same time cutting costs. Even with this monumental change, she is still in office, more popular than ever. They are still serving Helles und Dünkles in the Augustiner Keller in München. Imagine that?

Some would warn against spooking seniors and getting Harry’s bowels in an uproar and Nancy’s knickers in a twist. The alternative would be to convince the more than 20 million unemployed and underemployed people, and the 16 million underwater mortgage holders that everything is getting better…when they know that is not the case.

We faced FUBARs in the Deukmejian years. We admitted them, took responsibility and most importantly said what we were going to do about them. Fast forwarding to the present, the days of pointing fingers to sun-scorched Texas are over. The real question is whether the days of accepting responsibility and proposing change that we can trust are already behind us.

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/hot-boxing-for-mike-wallace/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/is-the-skirt-more-powerful-than-the-suit/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/potus-and-little-ole-me/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-bay-bridge-is-in-the-water/

 

 

 

 

 

When has it been a bad day?

When your secretary calls and tells you that Mike Wallace and the “60 Minutes” crew are waiting in the lobby.

mikewallace

In my case, Mike Wallace was on the phone.

I was the press secretary for California Governor George Deukmejian in the late 1980s. The State of California had a well documented problem with its Victims of Violent Crime Program, administered by the state Department of General Services.

The idea behind the program was simple enough. After the courts came down with guilty verdicts, the perpetrators of violent crimes (i.e., rape, assault, robbery at gunpoint) were compelled forfeit assets to help pay restitution to their victims. The only problem was that these assets were getting tied up in miles of red tape for more than a year, adding to the anguish of those suffering the aftermath of these horrific crimes.

The embarrassing nature of this underperforming program was fodder for our political opponents, who openly questioned how a law-and-order Republican administration headed by the former Attorney General could have a Victims of Violent Crime program that simply wasn’t working. The controversy became the subject of statewide headlines.

Fortunately, the state Department of General Services under increased oversight of the Office of the Governor quickly reduced the case backlog and the average time period for payment to crime victims dropped from one year to six months. Further steps were being taken to reduce the waiting time to only 90 days. The criticism eventually started to subside as reporters moved on to other “good dirt” stories.

One of the justifiable criticisms of CBS’ “60 Minutes” news magazine is that it typically jumps into stories too late. The Victims of Violent Crime Story had already turned the corner, righted the ship…or whatever metaphor applies.

That is when Mr. Wallace gave me a call. I was listening to that famous voice that I heard since I was a teenager. I can still hear that resonance in my sleep. Mike Wallace was demanding an interview with the governor. I was thinking, “No way Miguel,” but my voice was telling Wallace that I will work on it. I even asked about his time schedule for the interview. I was so helpful.

The 60 Minutes interview was unavoidable. If you do not cooperate, the network will simply set up an ambush interview and my boss would be the target. We offered General Services director Tony Anthony to face the music. Wallace and his team accepted Tony for the interview.

It was my job to conduct preparatory “hot box” mock interviews with Tony to prepare him for Mike Wallace. The first thing I did was apologize to Tony. My technique was borrowed from then-Indiana head basketball coach Robert Montgomery Knight: Make practice so horrible, the game was relatively easy in comparison.

I played the role of Mike Wallace. Tony played Tony. Our strategy was simple. The Victims of Violent Crime Program is not what we wanted it to be. Yes, you are right Mr. Wallace. We are upset with the program’s performance, and we have already brought the backlog down to six months…but that isn’t good enough. We need to do more. And this is what we are doing. We will not be satisfied until we bring the backlog to a reasonable 90 days from application to delivery of restitution funds.

wallace

The modus operandi of Mike Wallace was to start a fight on camera. Our response was to avoid the punches, agree on camera and shift the focus to the future. The strategy worked. The “60 Minutes” piece included predictable interviews with victims of violent crime, who were justifiably frustrated and disappointed with the state’s administration of the program. We agreed with them, and state ex-cathedra that we were already seeing results to make this program better.

The Mike Wallace story ran. Tony did well in his unenviable task of facing Mike Wallace and the “60 Minutes” cameras. It really helped that Tony was a good guy and came across that way on camera. The damage could have been worse. We cooperated. We prepared through “hot box” mock interviews. We had a message. We had a plan. We delivered that message.

Upon Mike Wallace’s passing last night, one can safely conclude that he is a CBS legend in the same arena with Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid. Alas, I cannot say the same for Dan Rather(gate).

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57411010/60-minutes-icon-mike-wallace-dies-at-93/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/mike-wallace-dies-veteran-journalist-and-former-60-minutes-interviewer-was-93/2012/04/08/gIQAwzIu3S_story.html

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/edward-r-murrow/this-reporter/513/

http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=sevareideri

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18563_162-5170556.html

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