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    What Anthony Weiner Can Teach Us (Really)

    Thanks to stupitityiscontagious.com for the image.

    Presumably you haven’t been a serial sexter, and you’re not running for mayor of New York. You haven’t quit your job as a member of Congress, apologized to your wife, gone through therapy, resumed sexting, and then restarted your political career. If you had done all those things and asked me, an expert on screwing up, what to do…

    I’d tell you to quit. Quit right now. Find a shrink who will coauthor a book on sexual addiction.

    But wait. You’re not quitting just yet? Then here’s what I’d tell you. (You’ll find more detailed advice in new edition of my book, Thank You for Arguing.) It applies directly to any kind of public mistake, as well as most private ones.

    1. Set your goals.

     Our first instinct in a screw-up is to get defensive—or, in Weiner’s miserable case, to cover up until it’s too late. But in many cases, a mistake can actually become an opportunity to improve your reputation. It’s a chance to talk about your values. I’d tell Weiner to describe himself as a man who has applied great discipline to his public life, and that drive has opened cracks in his private life. He now knows that therapy isn’t enough. He must apply that same self-control to every part of his life.

    2. Be first with the news.

    Every PR person will tell you this, for good reason. Get all the news out. All of it. And put it in a personal context. “I have made this mistake, and I made it again. Here are the sordid details. I am revealing everything so that you know how I violated my own code, and so that I can explain how I’m working to keep it from happening again.” The latest news about Weiner didn’t come from Weiner. Shame on him—literally. 

    3. Pivot to the future.

    Weiner should have given a solid reason for staying in the race, and that reason should be New York’s future. He should paint a stirring picture of a bright and shining city, and add that that future is too important to abandon to his mistakes. Part of that future, of course, needs to offer convincing proof that those mistakes won’t happen again. Maybe his wife will agree to screen all his private emails. In any case, the real future is New York, with Weiner leading the way.

    4. Enhance your ethos.

    That’s what rhetoricians call character, the leader’s projected image. Ultimately screw-ups are all about ethos. Your job, rhetorically speaking is not just to recover your reputation but to enhance it. To come out with a better, shinier, more trustworthy and likable image than you had before the scandal. Look at Obama after the Jeremiah Wright incident, or—to go way back—Richard Nixon during the Checkers affair.

    My advice has helped numerous corporate clients and individuals. Would it save Weiner? Frankly, I doubt it. Screw up once, shame on you, but we can get past it. Screw up twice—the same sordid screw-up—and, well, you might get a book deal.



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    Reader Comments (5)

    As a danish rhetorical adviser, speechwriter and public speaking coach, I find your post today hilarious, but so very right. Right in a rhetorical way, in an etic way and right in a political way. I had fun reading it, while I nod my head. Thanks from a danish colleague:)
    I Will link to the post on twitter!
    July 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrine Nebel
    Jay, I loved your book and gave a great review on Amazon. This post is right-on and says so much about standing up to one's poor judgment and improper behavior. It is similar to the advice I give to the cheater when I work with a couple trying to survive infidelity.
    Anthony Weiner has shown his bad character. I wonder if he is a person of poor character and this is just one of the areas he's been caught, or, is he a person of good character who let his character "slip" after temptation or after a major life-stress event. Or, perhaps he is somewhere in-between. Thanks for your thoughtful post. I tweet -Twitter name is efgunz - about character and other things regarding marriage.
    July 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Gunzburg
    By the way, I'm going to tweet this article to my followers at @efgunz. --thanks again.
    July 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Gunzburg
    Thanks, Frank, I appreciate that. Of course, in rhetoric it's about the audience's perception and not the soul of the screwer-up. In marriage, I like to think it's a little different. Same tools apply, though!

    Trine, I emailed you separately. No offense, but the idea of Danish and a wiener made me hungry.
    July 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Very funny yet true email. We'll see what happens in his political race
    August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Smith

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