Mark Penn, former Burson-Marsteller CEO and President Clinton’s pollster, and Dana Perino, press secretary for President George W. Bush and now a Fox News commentator, looked at the presidential election from the Democratic and Republican sides at the Institute for PR’s annual dinner last night in the Yale Club, New York.
Perino was a last-minute substitute for Karen Hughes, former counselor to President Bush and now vice chair of Burson-Marsteller, who was unable to get a flight from Texas in time for the dinner.
Penn, who used a half dozen video clips to illustrate his points, said a key mistake of Republican candidate Mitt Romney was picking Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate when some GOP advisors were urging the selection of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Penn and Perino in New York Thursday.
Romney skipped a key chance to appeal to the Hispanic voting bloc that has grown to 10% of the electorate, he said.
Perino, second female White House press secretary, serving from Sept. 2007 to January 2009, defended the choice of Ryan, saying that Romney wanted the best qualified candidate whatever his or her ethnicity and regardless of the “politics” involved.
Some in the blue chip audience of 300 corporate and agency executives thought that Romney’s VP choice was as disastrous as John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin four years previously.
Perino told several stories and anecdotes from her more than two years as press secretary.
Penn, former CEO of Burson-Marsteller and now corporate VP for Microsoft, repeated many of the Democratic campaign themes, the main one being that the economic problems President Obama inherited from President Bush were so severe that they could not be solved in four years and more time is needed.
Slide from Penn's presentation.
He pleaded for the Republicans to work with the Democratic president the way Clinton worked with the Republicans in the 1990s which gave the U.S. perhaps its greatest period of economic growth.
James Murphy, former chief marketing and communications officer for Accenture and now in his own firm, who received IPR’s Alexander Hamilton Medal for contributions to PR, said “The political process seems to have reached a point where truth seems almost irrelevant. The ‘spin room” is a remarkable development. Fact checking has become a new sub-industry.”
According to Murphy, “What wins the day is how well the story is spun, regardless of where the truth really lies.” He added that he faults both Republicans and Democrats.
PR has a major role to play in this area, he said. “The term ‘truth well told’ is an excellent definition of public relations. Of course, who defines truth is always the issue.”
Too much advocacy “can leave the truth behind,” he added. “With each new political cycle, that line stretches further away from truth.”
Concluding, Murphy said, “We risk too much if we forget that at the end of the day, truth does rule, no matter how we may try to ‘spin’ it.”