Obama and Palin comms extremes extend rhetoric debate

This week, the American public saw examples of two communications extremes in response to last Saturday's shootings in Tucson, AZ.

This week, the American public saw examples of two communications extremes in response to last Saturday's shootings in Tucson, AZ.

Sarah Palin's video statement response to media speculation that her rhetoric led to the shooting was unapologetic, harsh, and critical. On the other side of the spectrum, President Obama's speech at the Tucson memorial event was calm, compassionate, and uplifting.

Being a good communicator isn't just about what you say and how you say it – it is also about knowing your intended audience.

President Obama's speech won praise among the media with some even going as far as to say it transformed his presidency back to the feel-good days of his election campaign.

Obama spoke to all of America – an audience that wanted to see a heartfelt and passionate response.

Sarah Palin's statement was met with a backlash in large part due to an unfortunate use of language, using phrases such as “blood libel.”

One thing that can be said, though, is that Palin wasn't speaking to the whole of America. She was speaking to her supporters and she stayed true to the political poise that made her famous.

The stark comparison between the two further showcases what has been debated all week - can rhetoric and dialogue lead to empowering the people behind these tragedies?

Two PR pros who discussed the matter with PRWeek agreed that dividing rhetoric and political discourse don't align with what the American public is looking for right now.

One said “people who use harsher voices will continue to marginalize themselves in the important, substantial debate.”

Another said “there are overzealous elected officials or political talking heads who feel the need to use these opportunities to talk about or to trade political barbs.”

However, despite all the signs above, a CBS poll actually showed that 57% of Americans found no connection between “heated political rhetoric” and the Tucson shooting.

This is an indication that, while in the weeks following the shooting politicians and political pundits may watch what they say, it may not have a lasting effect – and Palin might have read her constituency correctly in her response.

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