B²: Debate Attacks

People attack when they’re scared.

Enter Donald Trump and his admission during last Thursday night’s GOP debate that the focus on Cruz’s citizenship was a direct result of Cruz “doing a little bit better” in the polls.

While many praised Cruz for defending himself, at least 7 minutes were devoted to a back-and-forth between Trump and Cruz. 7 minutes! It’s understandable that Cruz wanted to set the record straight as he should, but can it be considered a win if talk of his citizenship dominated the headlines the next morning? DMG says no.

Do you know how to craft a message that slaps down ridiculous accusations but then pivots to highlight a way forward?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here’s this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “Well, aren’t you just (blank)/aren’t you just trying to do (blank)?”

B²: “That’s not the case. My record speaks for itself. What voters are interested in is <insert talking point>.”

A red herring is meant to distract, so don’t let it. Quickly correct the false premise (“that’s not the case” or “not at all”) and block and bridge to who you are or what policy position you support. It’s understandable that you want to set the record straight…and you should. But be mindful of the headline that will write itself if you spend too much time on defense. Don’t give the audience a reason to conclude, “thou dost protest too much!”

B²: SOTU and Executive Action

Executive actions/orders/overreach are kinda President Obama’s thing. If he doesn’t like how Congress acts (or fails to act), he’ll go it alone. As he said in last week’s press conference, “Until we have the Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives.”

You can expect similar rhetoric in tonight’s State of the Union address, with a likely insistence that his final year in office will not be categorized as “lame duck.” In anticipation of more executive actions/orders/overreach in the next year, do you know how to respond to a reporter’s question about policy while making it clear that the right process is important?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here’s this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “What do you think about the President’s position on X?”

B²: “While it’s important to discuss policy, a greater concern is the President’s default position to bypass Congress. Any policy proposal should be viewed through the lens of Congress’ approval as well as the President’s. And a solution we should consider is… <insert talking point>.”

Wherever you take the conversation next, know that separation of powers is a thing…even if the President refuses to play by the rules. You can quickly call out his strategy and still have time to propose your solution to the problem. It’s a win-win to point to what works while, hopefully, keeping misuse of Presidential power at bay.

B²: Predicting 2016

Welcome to 2016! Not only is it a brand new year, but we’ve officially entered election season. Whether the days and months leading up to November 8th seem exciting or torturous (or a little of both), the flurry of campaigning, debating, and primary voting can easily change the focus of media questions, specifically in reference to predicting an election or two.

Here’s a potential New Year’s resolution – Don’t predict the future unless you’re a pollster!

Many have tried and failed (i.e. all the pundits who’ve said “Donald Trump’s campaign is over” in the past 6 months…and yet he remains in the race). Since there is very little room for you to succeed if you do make a prediction, it’s best to err on the side of caution and redirect to policy…especially if you work for a non profit.

Do you know how to respond to prediction-making questions AND keep your tax status in check?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here’s this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “Do you think Donald Trump will win the primary?”

B²: “That’s for the voters to decide, but whoever wins the ultimate prize on Nov. 8th will have to deal with <insert policy talking point>.”

If you don’t make a prediction, you can’t be added to the now-long list of people proven wrong. And if you work for a non profit, you’re actually prohibited from supporting a candidate – a worthy excuse to use to your advantage with reporters. Instead, focus on policy. You’ll be able to give a more substantive answer and highlight the issue you most want the media to cover. Whoever occupies the White House will need good solutions, so give him/her a few. In the end, it’s a win-win.

B²: Holiday Dinner Table

The holidays are prime time for miscommunication. Whether the topic of conversation is the Syrian refugee crisis, Obama’s strategy (or lack there of) to combat ISIS, Donald Trump’s seeming popularity, or every other issue related to the 2016 election cycle, there’s much more than the weather to discuss this Thanksgiving. Even SNL said so this past weekend:

Given the many hours it takes to prepare that pesky turkey and your family’s assumption that a D.C. (or state capital) address qualifies you to speak authoritatively on most policy issues, you face too many opportunities to lose your cool over the cranberries.

We love our families, but we don’t always agree…politically. And that’s ok. But when your goal is Kumbaya and not WWIII, it’s imperative you know how to navigate the conversational minefields that await you this holiday season.

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day. In this week’s edition, DMG will teach you how to block and bridge your family so Thanksgiving remains a day of…thanks.

Here’s this week’s likely question from dad, grandma, and/or Uncle Bernie (we all have one, right?):

Uncle Bernie: “What do you think about this ISIS stuff? Shouldn’t we just go over there and bomb the Middle East?”

B²: “Uncle Bernie, I understand your concern. While the Middle East is a mess and the US needs to outline a clear strategy for its involvement, I’m so glad we live in a country that sets aside a day to give thanks for all we’ve been given. I’m personally thankful for <insert talking point>.”

When dad, grandma, and/or Uncle Bernie asks a prickly question, start by acknowledging their concern. There’s a lot going on at home and overseas, and the way forward doesn’t seem obvious or pleasant. But quickly redirect to the point of the holiday – naming our blessings and listing what we ARE thankful for. If you can block and bridge your way out of a TKO at the Thanksgiving dinner table, your family will thank you for what is sure to be the most peaceful and (therefore) BEST Thanksgiving ever…not an exaggeration. No one will even notice the overdone turkey.

P.S. The block and bridge discussed above was designed with Christmas in mind too. The family gatherings don’t start/end with Thanksgiving, so feel free to B² your way through the holiday season. The DMG staff plans to do so.

P.P.S. This is the last B² for 2015! These weekly emails will return on January 5th. Try not to miss DMG too much.

B²: Paris and Climate Change

All eyes are focused on Paris. In the weeks and months to come, the world will watch and pray as the City of Light recovers and begins to move forward in the wake of Friday’s attacks.

Part of the movement forward will be highlighted later this month as leaders from across the world, including President Obama, plan to meet in Paris at the UN Conference on Climate Change with hopes of securing an international agreement aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The anticipation of this conference combined with the President’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline, his introduction of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in August, and his claim that climate change is a national security threat suggest that your next media interview could be tricky to navigate.

While many scholars and policy analysts offer accurate and strong counterpoints, specifically focused on the high costs of these policies without any significant reduction of CO2 emissions, a reporter’s questions can easily throw you off your game. With such varied and vast policies, it’s impossible to know every angle of every question. Instead, you can focus on combating the inevitable label of “polar bear hater” the media will try to affix.

Do you know how to show compassion for the environment while outlining the harmful consequences of these policies?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here’s this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “But these policies will reduce carbon emissions and, therefore, reduce our energy footprint. Isn’t that something we should strive for?”

: “We should strive for policies that make our energy use clean while keeping costs low for those already struggling to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the policies outlined do little to fulfill either goal because <insert talking point>.”

Wherever you take the conversation next, first establish common ground. Once you communicate unity over a shared concern for the environment, then you can call out bad policy and advocate for a better solution. Vilifying those who champion climate change will get you and your narrative nowhere. A winning message starts with common ground, calls out bad policy, and offers a more workable solution – in that order.

B²: 2016 – Persona vs. Policy

The saga that is the 2016 Presidential Race continues this week in the form of two debates – one Republican, one Democrat.

Both sides anticipate narrowing down the field in order to name someone “nominee,” but the media chatter is ripe for distraction. We’ve heard a lot about Rubio’s finances, Jeb Bush’s reset button in the form of “Jeb can fix it,” Ben Carson’s alleged fabrication of a West Point scholarship, Trump’s success on SNL, and Fiorina’s “war” with the women on The View.

Headlines like these have been the drumbeat of every election cycle, but that doesn’t mean they should define the electorate’s scorecard. So, how can you shift the media spotlight away from persona and focus on policy?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here’s this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “What do you think of the <insert candidate’s name> controversy?”

: “We’re a year away from the election and voters will ultimately decide whether this narrative rings true. But regardless of who wins the presidency, he/she will have to focus on <insert policy issue> because <insert talking point>.”

Wherever you take the conversation next, talk about policy and its importance to the next POTUS regardless of party affiliation. Controversies either ruin a candidacy or fade away, but the need for good policy remains true. If your talking points prop up policy rather than persona, you’ll retrain the spotlight on a winning narrative.

B²: CNBC vs. the GOP

If there was any doubt the mainstream media leans left, last week’s GOP debate proved it. Barbs thrown by the moderators, including a question to Rubio about whether he hates his day job and the comparison of Trump to a comic book character, left both GOP supporters and some left-leaning news outlets criticizing CNBC.

In response, candidates called out the moderators on the spot (enter Ted Cruz), or called out the mainstream media as a whole (hello Marco Rubio), as it was clear the questions strayed from substantive policy discussion to personal attack.

But what the GOP candidates succeeded in doing on Wednesday night may just be a one-hit wonder. Why? It was them vs. the moderators, and everyone watching knew it – the questions were unfair, a few called it like it was, and the audience rejoiced. But, what if you’re attacked personally and it isn’t so obvious? What if you don’t have a two-hour window to still explain your talking points?

In that case (which is where most of us find ourselves), it’s best to quickly acknowledge the question as incorrect and then B² (block and bridge) away from the bias to articulate your message so that you control the narrative. But how do you do that?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here is an example of an unfair question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “People have said that your organization is just a political front. Isn’t that true?”

B²: “Not at all. The only time I hear that narrative is when a lack of information exists about who we are and who we fight for. The <insert organization or campaign name> is about… <insert talking point>.”

Wherever you take the conversation next, know that it’s a better use of your answer time to stay on message. The audience knows if/when a host is attacking a guest and you don’t want to sound like you’re whining…that’s never attractive. Instead, quickly acknowledge that you disagree with the question but then B² (block and bridge) to your answer.

If handled correctly, not only will the audience see through the bias but you’ll gain extra points by keeping your cool and championing your message anyway.

B²: Clinton vs. Gowdy

Last Friday’s headlines told the same story – in the matchup at the Benghazi hearings, Republicans lost and Hillary won.

Though a possible indictment by the FBI will diminish cries of “victory,” the calm, cool, and collected Hillary Clinton who sat on the other side of Republican finger pointing for 11 hours did a whole lot to bolster her public image and her campaign. Add to her stellar performance Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (SC-04) concession that no new information was learned, and, well, Hillary Clinton had another good week.

True, there was a lot of pressure to prove the committee’s relevance leading up to the hearings. Thanks, in large part, to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) and his suggestion that one of the committee’s goals may have been to take down Clinton’s campaign for President of the United States. But the nail in the coffin was Gowdy’s interview at the end of the day. When asked if he learned anything new from Clinton’s testimony, he said:

“I’d have to go back and look at the transcript”


Gowdy probably could’ve said ANYTHING else and lessened the blow. But his admittance that 11 hours of testimony highlighted no new information about what happened in Benghazi validated every skeptic of the committee’s existence.

So, what should he have said? And what do you do when you’re asked to comment on a situation that didn’t go as planned?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here is the media question Trey Gowdy was asked and the B² (block and bridge) that could’ve set the narrative straight:

Q: “What new information did you learn today?”

B²: “What we learned is that Hillary Clinton still isn’t giving us straight answers, but we were able to get an honest answer about <insert talking point>.”

Regardless of whatever talking point Gowdy inserted, a good answer would’ve looked like this: underline what didn’t go well (with the finger pointed at Hillary) and then transition to a new piece of information. If you find yourself in a similar situation, do the same. If something doesn’t go as planned, admit it. And if there is a specific, uncontrollable reason why it didn’t go as planned, admit that too. But never forget to B² (block and bridge) to the good and/or an important piece of information the public should know.

Every answer is an opportunity to sell your message. Don’t let a reporter’s questions dictate your narrative. If you do, you’ll lose every time!

B²: The Debt Limit Debacle

The United States is close to maxing out its credit card…again.

Yep, the U.S. owes more than $18 trillion ($18 trillion!) and is on track to exhaust its allowance in 2 weeks (November 3).

In an article on CNBC.com, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew made his position clear: “not increasing the debt limit would be ridiculous…” He “insisted that a hike is not a commitment to new spending but an ability to pay the bills on money already spent.”

What Secretary Lew failed to note is the frequency of this discussion. Congress finds itself in this position too often and refuses to address the root cause – out of control spending! In other words, increasing your credit card limit doesn’t force you to stop buying things you can’t afford.

Another interesting point to the debt limit controversy is the pesky fact that the amount the U.S. owes reportedly exceeds what the U.S. produces in goods and services (GDP). Basically, we owe a lot of money, and the amount of money we owe now exceeds what our country can produce. Not good.

As we get closer to the deadline, the news cycle will create a panicky narrative full of questions like: “Where do we go from here?” “Should the limit be raised?” “Are you suggesting we default?”

Are you prepared to talk about the debt limit and offer possible solutions to address the spending issue rather than raise the limit?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here is this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “The U.S. runs out of money on November 3. Shouldn’t the debt limit be raised to cover what we owe?”

B²: “Congress has raised it before and they may do so again. But increasing the debt limit doesn’t solve our country’s spending problem, which is the root cause. We’ll find ourselves here in a few months, but with more bills to pay, if we don’t…<insert talking point>.”

Wherever you take the conversation next, insert talking points that put this issue into perspective. Focus on how absurd it is that we’re in this position (AGAIN) and then offer viable solutions to prevent this from happening in the future. Those solutions may be painful, but a nation that owes more than it produces cannot sustain itself.

B²: McCarthy’s Mishap

If Kevin McCarthy taught us anything last week, it’s that words matter.

With one impassioned statement, he not only took himself out of the running for Speaker of the House, but called into question the motive behind the Benghazi hearings and gave Hillary the lifeline she needed.

In an interview with Sean Hannity on September 29th, tension was high from the start. But the wheels came off the moment Hannity asked McCarthy to grade Boehner.

When Hannity disapproved of the “B-“ response, a visibly agitated McCarthy tried to take control of the interview by asking HIMSELF a question – “The question I think you really want to ask me is, how am I going to be different?” His answer to his own question included the now-infamous comment proudly displayed in a Hillary Clinton attack ad.

McCarthy clearly stepped in it, but the catalyst was his frustrated response when asked to grade Boehner’s performance as Speaker. How common is this question? More common than you think. With any major departure in DC, the “report card” question is often asked. Do you know how to answer so as to satisfy the host while keeping your cool?

Good thing it’s Tuesday, B² day.

Here is this week’s likely media question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “What grade would you give Speaker Boehner?”

B²: “I’d give him a passing grade for handing over the gavel without a knock-down, drag-out fight, but the reason he had to step down in the first place was because people want leadership that <insert talking point>.”

If you are asked to give a grade, stick to a “passing grade” or a “failing grade,” and then block and bridge to YOUR talking point. Giving a specific letter grade will often not satisfy the host who then has more ammunition for disagreement. Wherever you take the conversation next, don’t get mad – composure will always trump frustration.