[Newsletter] 1.9.24 | “We would never be psychotic enough to hard launch a first date,”January 9, 2024
A noteworthy month chock-full of examples and lessons. Blunders from Trader Joe’s (not racist), President Trump’s reading habits, Pope Francis, and Senator John Kerry. The Apologies Abound section is especially worth reading, led by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and the CEO of United Airlines. We include the link to Bloomberg News’ list of CEO mishaps in 2023 with our thanks and admiration to them for compiling such a compelling list.
THE WINNING COMMUNICATIONS BLUNDER
“We would never be psychotic enough to hard launch a first date,” said Taylor Swift revealing that she and Travis Kelce had spent a good deal of time together before being seen in public at the September 24 Kansas City Chief’s football game. Props to her for pulling it off although that wouldn’t have been our choice of a quote.
People, “Taylor Swift Breaks Silence on Travis Kelce Romance and Clarifies Timeline: ‘No One Knew,’” December 6, 2023
“We’re not some kind of heartless bureaucrats that just want to build this giant watchlist,” said a spokesperson trying to explain the U.S. terrorist watch list which has doubled in six years to two million people. “Those 2 million people who are on the list are on there for a reason,” one national security official said. “It doesn’t mean they’re a terrorist,” cautioned Russ Travers, a veteran of the U.S. intelligence community for four decades who helped create the watchlist. “It means there’s something that has led a department or agency to say, ‘This person needs a closer look.'” That didn’t help assuage the anger of those who believe they were wrongfully added and struggle to clear their names. The problem with the ‘closer look’ is that there’s no way to know if you’re on the list, no criteria for who’s named and no procedure for getting off it. All communication challenges our government should tackle.
CBS News, “U.S. Terrorist watchlists grows to nearly 2 million people—nearly doubling in 6 years,” December 19, 2023
“We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist,” said a representative of Trader Joe’s, the unique grocery store responding to a few millennials outraged by the chain’s longstanding tradition of naming foods – like Trader Jose or Trader Jacques for Mexican and French foods. Please. As several sensible commentators noted, these people are really searching for something to be offended by. Now, as to their quote: they should have said: “Our longstanding tradition of great food, great service and customer connection sometimes shows people are passionate, and we’re just glad to serve people from all walks of life and all points of view.”
The New York Times, “Trader Joe’s Defends Product Labels Criticized as Racist,” December 12, 2023
“I think it’s highly unlikely that Donald Trump has ever read Mein Kampf,” said Marc Short, former advisor to Vice President Mike Pence. The comment came as President Trump triggered a wave of criticism for repeated sensational remarks about immigrants that they were “poisoning the blood of the country,” which sounded to critics like the language used in Germany in the 1930s. Short’s explanation was that Trump was purposely saying outrageous things to infuriate his opponents and take the focus off his multiple legal issues. We have a lot of respect for Mr. Short, but this is risky. It also takes the discussion off positive solutions to pressing problems. The series of exchanges wasn’t helped by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-NC) saying it was just language and he “could care less what language people use as long as they get it right.” We disagree. Words matter.
ABC News, “Trump says he never read Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf,’ doubles down on anti-immigrant phrase,” December 19, 2023
“There is no intention to legitimize anything,” said the “document” from the Vatican allowing blessings for same sex couples. We identify it as a “document” because that’s what press reports called it, noting that it was extremely confusing in specifying when it could be applied – not with any liturgical trappings or as part of a religious service. From a communication point of view, the lessons here are first, the power of the word “blessing,” which is so meaningful that it made headlines around the globe. Second, after seeming to deny approval of same sex couplings, the document said its purpose was to “open one’s life to God” in a number of ways. The juxtaposition of the denial with the positive muddied the issues and will cause debate and confusion for months or years to come.
AP News, “Pope approves blessings for same-sex couples that must not resemble marriage,” December 19, 2023
“We are moving away from fossil fuels. We are not turning back,” said John Kerry, former senator and presidential candidate and current U.S. climate envoy about the COP28 meeting in Dubai announcing that all 200 attending nations committed to abandon fossil fuels…sometime. China didn’t get the memo as they are continuing to build new coal plants.
The Hill, “Nations strike unprecedented agreement to transition away from fossil fuels at COP28,” December 13, 2023
“I sincerely apologize to the Jewish community for any unintended outburst caused by my words or actions. It was not my intention to offend or disrespect, and I deeply regret any pain I may have caused,” posted rapper Ye, formerly Kanye West on Instagram dealing with the outrage over his antisemitic comments on and about his new album, Vultures. His “apology” made multiple news stories, always hedged by comments like, “I deeply regret any pain I may have caused.” These weasel-like apologies should be understood for what they are – another way of repeating the slurs while trying to avoid commercial damage. These were clearly planned for maximum effect. The Anti-Defamation League stated, “Actions will speak louder than words.” We agree.
USA Today, “Kanye West posts Hebrew apology to Jewish community ahead of ‘Vultures’ album release,” December 27, 203
“I sincerely apologize to our customers and our team members,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby who was caught taking a private jet to Denver from a New Jersey airport smack dab in the middle of bad weather which caused the airline to cancel 751 flights. Kirby’s apology included the line, “It was insensitive to our customers who were waiting to get home.” Lessons in this weak apology: first, it actually happened in June but lives on to make the year-end “CEO mishaps of the year” list, illustrating the reminder that mistakes will live on, and this was certainly a self-inflicted wound. The whole list compiled by Bloomberg News is worth reading and slipping into your C-Suite’s morning clips as a reminder that one of the most useful tools for a CEO is good communication advice which can prevent these debacles.
Bloomberg News, “From Topless Massages to Private Flights: CEO mishaps of 2023,” December 28, 2023
“You Don’t Say” is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say.