PR 101: When You Need a “Clarifying Statement,” Don’t Improvise It

Today’s lesson in How to Bollocks Up Publicly comes to us courtesy of my very own state legislature! From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

A state representative is drawing heat for saying that his father had told him when he was young that “some girls rape easy” as a way to warn him that a woman could agree to sex but then later claim that it wasn’t consensual.

That’s the lede, so you know the story is going to be a real pooch-screwer. And sure enough, when Rep. Roger Rivard (alliterative fellow, that) took the time to “clarify” his remarks it just started looking worse and worse.

First, the context:

Freshman Rep. Roger Rivard (R-Rice Lake) in December discussed a case with the Chetek Alert newspaper in which a 17-year-old high school senior was charged with sexual assault for having sex with an underage girl in the school’s band room.

The newspaper quoted him as saying his father warned him, “Some girls rape easy” – meaning that after the fact they can change what they say about whether sex was consensual. On Wednesday, Rivard told the Journal Sentinel that the article did not provide full context of his comments and that his father’s exact words had been slightly different from how they appeared in the Chetek Alert.

Now, notice the “in December” part of that — this story has been around for a while.

But the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is a rather different beast from the Chetek Alert. The J-S is the largest newspaper in Wisconsin, and it still dabbles in the largely anachronistic art of “investigative journalism,” so politicians fear it.

Which is perhaps why, when contacted by the Journal Sentinel, Rep. Rivard opened his big mouth and started telling them more of his thoughts on girls who rape easy:

He told the Journal Sentinel that his father had advised him not to have premarital sex, and he took that seriously.

“He also told me one thing, ‘If you do (have premarital sex), just remember, consensual sex can turn into rape in an awful hurry,’ ” Rivard said. “Because all of a sudden a young lady gets pregnant and the parents are madder than a wet hen and she’s not going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I was part of the program.’ All that she has to say or the parents have to say is it was rape because she’s underage. And he just said, ‘Remember, Roger, if you go down that road, some girls,’ he said, ‘they rape so easy.’

“What the whole genesis of it was, it was advice to me, telling me, ‘If you’re going to go down that road, you may have consensual sex that night and then the next morning it may be rape.’ So the way he said it was, ‘Just remember, Roger, some girls, they rape so easy. It may be rape the next morning.’

“So it’s been kind of taken out of context.”

But he, Rep. Roger Rivard, is here to provide that context! So chill out, you guys, he was just talking about that thing that totally happens all the time, where some slut gets pregnant and then she’s all blaming it on you and shit, like the harpy that she is. Because babies, jesus.

Now the best part of this story — for me — is what comes next: Rep. Rivard’s staff obviously gets a hold of his comments to the J-S and shits a good, hard brick.

About three hours after speaking to the Journal Sentinel, Rivard issued a written statement that he said was meant to further clarify his points.

“Sexual assault is a crime that unfortunately is misunderstood and my comments have the potential to be misunderstood as well,” his statement said. “Rape is a horrible act of violence. Sexual assault unfortunately often goes unreported to police. I have four daughters and three granddaughters and I understand the importance of making sure that awareness of this crime is taken very seriously.”

You might notice a slight difference in tone between this written statement and the Representative’s spoken ones. Did you notice the difference? You can scroll back up and read them one after the other if that will help.

This is what is called “damage control,” and it’s what your clarifying statements are supposed to do (notice that I don’t say they’re meant to clarify — they’re not).

Unfortunately for Rep. Rivard, he went ahead and made his own clarifying statement to the Journal Sentinel, instead of letting his staff write it like a good boy, and hot damn, did he clarify his position.

Which is heinous.

So some poor schmuck — probably the one with “constituent relations” or “media relations” or something like that in his job description — got to write a second clarifying statement, in a heroic effort of barn-door closing that made the whole thing look even worse than it already did.

The Journal Sentinel article mentions that “Rivard’s original comments were made 10 months ago but have resurfaced as Rivard finds himself in a tight race against Democrat Stephen Smith.” Can’t imagine why.

  1. I had a massive case of RAGE-FACE when I read the J-S article earlier. And then it started me on a rant about how “I have daughters/grand-daughters/a wife/aunts/sisters/female co-workers! I can’t possibly be a misogynistic prick-face!” is SO. NOT. OK!!

    ARGH. Ok. This is me, not ranting all over your blog-comments. Because I have self-control, yes I do.

    • Yes, I suppose I could have spent more time and thought on the actual sexual politics at work here, which are, as I said, heinous.

      But I figure there’s lots of blogs out there already to cover the “privileged white guy says ignorant, offensive thing and we are offended by it” angle, and they do it better than I (privileged white guy that I am) probably could. Hence the PR angle.

      You can still feel free to get angry about the sexual politics though. I don’t mind anger in the comments section. Keeps people talking!

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