Friday, July 31, 2009

Issues - The Ones that Turn us on

My favourite litigator and I ended up in a discussion that I believe most professionals end having with the general public. He was dissapointed that the local media had not given more in depth coverage to a trial he was involved in. As far as a the local media was concerned, the trial was dry and boring and the moment they knew they a politician who was mentioned in the opening statement would not be taking the stand, most of the media lost interest in the case.

While client satisfaction on the legal efforts and media relations was achieved, my friend had brought up a very important point - namely the fact that the public is easily distracted and the things that professionals see and consider important are quite often the things that the public find dry and boring.

Look at trial that got us onto this conversation. In legal circles, this was the equivalent of watching a Mohamed Ali:Joe Frazier bout. You had one of the world's largest shipping companies taking one of the most respected men in the shipping world to court. The Shipping industry press understood the significance of what was going on. Despite not providing a large contingent, they gave fairly extensive coverage to the more significant elements. By contrast, the local press remained fairly oblivious to the case - nobody died, nobody had sex and more importantly, a local politician who was named in the opening statement was not going to be a part of the case. As far as the local media were concerned, there was nothing in it for the readers and therefore nothing in it for them.

In a way, this was a blessing. In terms of theater, the figures in the opposition provided better actors. The public likes a good act and by that, so does the media. Thankfully, the one reporter who hung around managed to dig for a deeper story and look beyond the rethoric. This is unfortunately not the case, which in a way is a blessing to Press relations people in parts of the world where public opinion has a strong sway in how politics and even justice is formed.

I'd love to say that the lack of interest in anything deeper is a uniquely Singaporean trait. It's not. The public is swayed by issues that sometimes baffle the professionals and the best thing that professionals can do is to accept that the public is interested in different issues and exploit the fact.

Take the Lewinsky affair - or should I say the "Blowjob that nearly brought down the Presidency." Til today, the Lewinisky affair is known as being all about the "blowjob." Because everyone was so obsessed with the blowjob the President was getting under the table - the American public said...."So What," and subsequently made sure that the good Senators would aquit they're favourite rascal.

Now, take a look at the fine print. Nobody would ever have realised that their knowledge of the now infamous blowjob only took place because the President had "misled" a court while he was under oath - which is ....illegal and the President happens to the be nation's Chief law enforcement officer. Just think about what all this implies about the rule of law in the country.

But hey, a blowjob is simply more interesting than lying under oath in a court of law. Nobody gave two hoots about the fact that he had lied under oath, thus placing his ethnical ability to run the nation into question - they were too busy thinking about the blowjob. The President's PR team should have been enriched beyond their wildest dreams by the simple framing of this debate.

The public is shallow and the best one can do is to feed that shallowness, particularly when one's head is on the line.

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