Yes, that "Hillary," but no, not that "Bill."
This month's public relations losers, My Turn-to be- President Hillary Clinton and Don't Ever Doubt Me Bill Ackman, stand as object lessons as to what happens when you don't know when to shut up. Both Bill and Hillary spoke up when nobody asked and, in so doing, raised new questions not only about their credibility but also their intelligence.
Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman is what is known as an "activist investor," generally defined as one who actively involves himself in the affairs of a company in which he invests.
In reality, most activist investors are sharks who often short a stock and then spread the word – through friendly and enabling media, most principally CNBC – that the company they've shorted is doomed. In the old days when the Securities and Exchange Commission paid attention to such things, this used to be known as "selling one's book" and was strictly prohibited; today, not so much.
So when Ackman commandeered time on his homeboy CNBC network last week to trash the nutritional supplements company Herbalife, it wasn't new. Indeed, in two years Ackman had spent $50 million on a campaign to bash Herbalife, in the hopes that his claims of Enron-like corporate fraud and imminent government sanctions would finally tank the stock and make a profit on his huge – and so far, disastrous -- short position.
This time, with his broadcast enabler providing ample time for the same old anti-Herbalife case, the Ackman attack on CNBC sparked an immediate $4 drop in the stock price; all-in-all, a pretty good day's unchallenged trashing. Now a normal, greedy investor would have been happy to walk away with his stunning public relations victory and substantial monetary gain and call it a day.
But not Ackman.
Ackman's probably a lovely guy and wonderful family man, but he also is pompous, pretentious, and the textbook definition of "unctuous;" the kind of know-it-all whose pants you secretly wish somebody would pull down. And so to close his virtuoso CNBC performance, with the kind of hubris that would've made Oedipus Rex look like Derek Jeter, Ackman vowed that the very next day he would make "the best presentation of my life" and deliver a "death blow" to Herbalife.
And so the next morning, to a packed crowd at a New York auditorium and millions of others viewing on the Net, Ackman painstakingly laid out his case to take down Herbalife.
And his pants fell down.
Well, not literally, but ... as Ackman talked, Herbalife's stock started to climb. The more damning his words, the more the stock rose. As the stock climbed 10%, then 15%, then 20%, all of those gullible lambs that Ackman and CNBC had led to slaughter, bailed to cover their shorts. By day's end, Herbalife stock had bolted up 25%, and Ackman and his credibility lied in tatters.
The egocentric activist investor, too smart by half, had, at his peril, defied Public Relations Principle Numero Uno, "Always downplay expectations."
Which brings us to Hillary Clinton, putative 45th President of the United States, and her perpetual propensity to violate Public Relations Principle Numero Dos, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
After taking her victory lap for not doing anything wrong as Secretary of State, Hillary could have – and should have – gone back to Chappaqua to rest on her laurels, as the current President dithers away the rest of his term. Then, sometime next year, she could have reemerged, ready to begin the trek to assume the mantle that the Clintons believe is rightly theirs.
But nooooooooooo. Hillary had to author a memoir.
Listening to wrongheaded advisors who figured she'd be able to explain away and get behind her, her embarrassing -- not to mention deadly -- failure to act when American diplomats were murdered in Benghazi, Hillary agreed to have somebody ghost a book for her.
Not only did the book not put Benghazi behind her, but it also reminded people that not only did Hillary "not do anything wrong" as Secretary of State, she didn't do anything! -- except maybe fly around a lot. Moreover, she revealed herself, as she had in the past, as a poor interview – always defensive, constantly on edge and ever prone to put her foot in her mouth. How else would we have learned how "penniless" she and Bubba were when they took that last helicopter-to-limo-to-chartered flight out of the White House?
Moreover over, Hillary's book was also a colossal box office flop for its publisher (although she most certainly got hers in advance). Perhaps most unfortunate for the woman who would be Prez, the book's publication enabled a rival book, Clinton critic Edward Klein's hatchet job, "Blood Feud: The Clintons v. The Obamas," to rocket past it on the best seller lists. And that, no doubt, gave added impetus to the emergence of Democrat challengers to the Clinton throne, most notably liberal firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
So the Hillary book did nothing but hurt her formerly-positive possibilities for 2016. Such a strategic miscalculation and public relations blunder had to leave objective observers shaking their heads and wondering about the question that party loyalists would never ever utter: "How bright is Mrs. Clinton, really?"
Oh well, at least she didn't go after Herbalife.