By PR Cracken
Alistair Campbell maintained that if the press are still circling your minister after two weeks… then it’s time to say goodbye to the minister.
Sorry Paisley Jnr, but as you told Nolan on Wednesday this has been going on for four months. How much longer?
The media want your head. They consider you so accident prone, so arrogant, and so self-indulgent that they feel that it’s simply a matter of time before you must resign.
You need to get out of this. Meagre and insignificant advice it may very well be, but what would we advise Ian Og do?
The media consensus is that you must go. That’s precisely why you shouldn’t. The media created a stink and now its asking where the smell came from. From our humble position, PR Cracken understands the massive lack of trust/credibility gap that exists between public and politician in this place. But the unpleasant sight of a self-adulatory media back-slapping themselves towards an MLA skeet-shoot is no less unpleasant.
A useful Minister stays put. To a NI media bored by everyone getting on so well, you’ve just ascended into something akin to Britney territory. Everything you do is of interest. So look out for the hack in the hedge with a long lens camera. The next time you meet someone with an interest in property development, the media will know. Let ’em see something else. Push up all those worthy-press-the-flesh visits – get out and get busy. Lots of VIPs photo (of which you do very little) sends out a signal that the important work of government goes on, and that you’re not going to ground. [As only the guilty and the desperate ‘go to ground’, you’re neither. Right?]
Go see a religious leader. The press would like the look of a mea culpa and associating oneself with the moral & religious elite wouldn’t go a miss under the circumstances. People will tolerate a grey area in political ethics but not a critical lack of personal morality. That is fatal. Show how well you choose your friends and revel in how well they reflect upon you. Go see a religious leader. (A Presbyterian moderator would be okay but the Dalai Lama would be better.)
If you’ve screwed up, just come clean. So no more phrases like – ‘I know of him’. Jeez. Everyone can appreciate the journey of a repentent sinner – no one likes the selfish meanderings of an inveterate liar/arrogant wanker. Coming clean may put an end to the drip feed. It’s important that you control the story by releasing and shaping the dissemination of sensitive information. Release it in a time of your determining and in a fashion of your choosing. Meet the drip feed head on, and out of a desire for clarity and transparency, be generous and release ‘inevitable’ information. (That applies to the information the DoE committee wanted from Arlene. The DUP has to be more amenable to scrutiny. Monolithic control breeds suspicion.)
Misdirect and gain some breathing space. Learn from New Labour. The feeding frenzy on donorgate drew in so many top Labour figures, political and administrative. Then Hain fell inside the crosshairs. Like you Ian Og, Hain is dreadfully unpopular with the hacks and so the frenzy following him is more furious and vicious. But coincidentally out of the white heat of Hain baiting, the George Osbourne story emerged. A classic piece of misdirection. The Stormont Village is small… release information about a rival. Get the scriptwriters to hang someone out to dry.
Someone suggested an inquiry into all these issues. Yes. Agree to it but go further. Remember the supine Committee on Standards in Public Life? Create something similar. If you create a wide-ranging committee you can allow your Party colleagues to broaden the remit and it becomes possible to see focus shift to discuss all lobbying issues. Funnel the media into process and red tape. And the next story to emerge from such a committee may not be about you. Your demands for a higher standards of accountability will precipitate the committee’s creation, but you will not singularly form the focus of such a committee’s conclusions. Politicians can’t help muck-raking, so the Committee will inevitably go into mission creep. Everyone gets sucked in.
Tell your dad not to step aside. The Frank Millar piece is interesting. And if Ian Snr moves on any time soon, surely the new incumbent will make an example of you. And if they do – they acquiesce to the media. What a precedent. If you go, who will a feral media not come for next? So sit your dad down and suggest he sticks to his word this time.
Never again let your family go onto the media to defend you. Remember John Gummer? Not good. There is one life on this type of defence. And you used it up on Nolan. Once you create the precedent the media will demand similar access again. The media are like vampires insofar as once you invite them into your home they think they can enter whenever they want.
Visit a gay support group. The five church leaders railed against sectarianism. The BP chairman came to discuss a shared future. The CRC is seriously animated. Equality lies within your purview Ian. Get involved in anti-sectarian policy implementation. Baffle media expectations and visit a gay support group. Challenge the media on the facts of lobby-gate and on their perceptions of you as an individual – visit the gay support group.
Get OFMDFM to appoint an official spokesperson. Similar to PMOS in Westminster. Appoint a lobby spokesperson for OFMDFM and let the OFMDFMOS operate as a firewall to media attacks on you. But this can also be spun as aiding transparency and it guarantees dissemination of government lines (so DFM should agree it). But do not avoid the media. Be available for colour pieces but never for lads mags. Learn from your mistakes.
Never, ever, ever, use phrases like smoking gun ever again. Why? Because no such thing exists, right? Even referencing a smoking gun raises the question of whether it can truly be said to exist or not. This has been your worst error… the attitude of all but daring the media to find something incriminating. Dumb. Stupid. Idiotic. Change that attitude, show some circumspection and listen to advice.
The media will find you guilty of something. You are a story that’s of interest to the media, and less so for the public. In the final analysis it’s better that the media show the effort was worthwhile by finding you guilty of something. Wouldn’t it be better to be found guilty of merely being a wanker? It’s not a resignation offence and you can revel in showing how you’ve changed. Because the prodigals soulsearching must be rewarded, and because there’s nothing so admirable as the appearance of an honest confession. Make your peace with the media and show them how you’ve change/how they’ve changed you. Be meek and survive, or stay ignorant and be pensioned off.
I could go on… but that’s the general idea.
PS When you get asked by the media to list your mistakes – stop telling them. You’re merely confirming to them that they’re right to hound you… coz of all the mistakes you keep listing. Tell Nolan that scrutiny comes through party discipline, the PAC and the media. You wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of a job or rob them of the satisfaction of finger wagging.
© Copyright PR Cracken. Human beings return next week.