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Bittergate's Digital Import

BY Dan Manatt | Tuesday, April 15 2008

“Bittergate” and “Macaca” at first blush have almost nothing in common. Bittergate will not lead to Barack Obama’s defeat the way Macaca did to George Allen’s. Nor were Obama’s comments comparable to the mean-spirited epithet used by Allen. To the contrary, Obama’s comments, in context, reflect his understanding of and empathy with the frustrations of rural Americans, and their proclivity to turn away from politics when politics and government turn away from them. In substance, the two comments are worlds apart.

But Bittergate does serve as a key reminder of the Macaca Moment’s core communications lesson for 21st century campaigns:

Digital recording devices - video recorders, audio recorders, cell phone recorders -- are everywhere. All the time. They are small, discrete, often invisible – even when they are being used. And video and audio can be sent wirelessly from anywhere to anywhere, anytime – so that a comment made in San Francisco (or rural Virginia) may be instantly shown on national TV.

Combine (1) this rule of Digital Omnipresence with (2) the rules of Off-the-Record/On the Record (i.e. – nothing is ever truly, reliably, off-the-record), then you’ve got Bittergate.

What’s the upshot? Campaign managers should consider, on a daily basis, reminding candidates of their Digital Miranda rights – call it the “Macaca Warning”:

“You have the right to be recorded - and should expect you are being videotaped and recorded 24/7. Anything you say can and will be used against you by your opponents. Beware that something that sounds OK in one setting may be a gaffe in another setting...”

Then again, if the Macaca Warning were read to candidates, we might not have whiskey shots, Bomb-Bomb-Iran, or 100 Years Wars...