Carol Anne Costa: Open Mic, Insert Foot

Thursday, January 09, 2014


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Comments made over hot mics have caused many a scandal, but many could use a healthy dose of perspective when judging them.

I must preface this column with the admission that I have tasted more than my share of shoe leather…

Stop the presses! It seems RI is all a-twitter, as 2 politically connected professionals were “caught” sharing rumors and speculations on an open mic. As reported by GoLocal’s Political Team, it seems Brown Political Science Professor Wendy Schiller and WJAR’s Political Reporter Bill Rappleye were discussing some innuendos and rumors which generally speaking circulate in the political winds like that famous cyclone in Kansas. In a campaign season, the tall tales and rumor bombs increase exponentially. It is the ugly underbelly of politics and provides low hanging fruit for fodder on so many levels. And, yes we all share the guilt.

Some of the worse campaign ideas I have ever been privy to started with the words, “Guess what I heard?” And some of the best reactions to those potentially disastrous directions included the response, “Who cares!” The bottom line is that rumors happen and unfortunately, get passed along. But, it is the people who stand up in the grassroots and push back whom I truly admire. The folks along the political path who reject the base instincts and ask about the record, the passion, the talent, and the drive of the individual under scrutiny are the citizens who keep us all grounded. We should emulate that behavior, but sometimes fall short.

Campaigns, Polls, Rumors & Bad Words: An Unfortunate Reality

Here’s a newsflash: sharing rumors, tales and speculations is what happens in politics, media, and the campaign world. It’s that darn open mic that is a long-time problem. So, if I may quote Veep Biden, is this a "big f--ing deal"? My answer to that is yes and no. Look, there have been many open mic blunders over the years, large and small and on both sides of the political aisle...and yes by many a journalist. I remember well when Mark Halperin was exiled to MSNBC Siberia and issued the obligatory apology, as he blundered over a Morning Joe hot mic when he referred to President Obama in not so flattering terms. More recently, Melissa Harris Perry’s on air round table of comedians devloved rapidly around a picture of the Romney family and spawned a genuinely remorseful and tearful mea culpa from the professor and journalist. The list of questionable comments overheard goes on and on. I cannot help but mention one of my personal favorites: When “W” on the 2000 campaign trail referred to a New York Times reporter as a “Major League A#$%”. Sorry, libs, but that made even me want to have a beer with him. But I digress.

Let me let you in an a little secret. Reporters, politicians, campaign managers, party bosses, and even professors of political science would be worthless if they did not listen to all the intel—and yes, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is what they do with it that speaks volumes. I would bet my next paycheck that Wendy Schiller did not go back to class and began her lecture with. “Guess what I just heard?” And I for sure did not see Rappelye on a WJAR political report chronicling the rumors. These are, for lack of a better word, the “tools” of assessing the political climate writ large. Don't kid yourself; they exist on every level of the political, media, and campaign food chain.

Politicians are human, as are reporters and even political scholars, but always remember those pesky voters are too. Pollsters, managers, and down ballot contenders are all keyed in mostly to empirical data but they often times are moved, swayed or tempted by the slithery anecdotal info as well. Where does that get us? We political junkies are trained to listen to everything, and sometimes we share with people in the “game”, and sometimes are tight lipped. At the end of the day, its about the lay of the personal political land. The calculus remains: does it get votes, does it get scoop, does it promote an agenda, does it sell ads? Russell Moore helped us with that last one in his Mindsetter column this week.

Hot Mics Abound...

We live in a world where an entire network is poised, pointed and ready to spread gossip; to catch every stumbling, stupid move made by the celebrities who we revere and revile at the same time. It’s the American way. Believe it or not, planting a stumble, foible, or bad picture reaps press and exposure. Ahh, as Irish Dramatist Brendan Behan once said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity, except your own obituary.” But, for the viewing public it is a conundrum, as we want to hear it all and then when we do, we shoot the messenger. So to Wendy and Bill I say, “mic check!” I’m cool, let’s move on.

In this age of cell phone journalists, plugged in citizens, and hot-wired social media, we must all evaluate this recent open-mic incident with a measure of healthy skepticism. Let’s face it, the world is an open mic and this could happen to any one of us; who knows, maybe your cubicle neighbor is recording your volatile conversation with your spouse, lawyer, or lover as we speak. Be careful, you could be next…and from personal experience, shoes taste terrible. It is largely on the public’s shoulders to raise the bar.


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Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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(Photo: Alan Levine, Flickr)

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