“Texts from Hillary” vs “Songs from ?uestlove”

Perhaps you’ve heard of this meme, “Texts from Hillary.” Yesterday, news spread like crazy that not only did Hillary Clinton know about the site and like it, she contributed to it. Just Google that; stories like this one from today’s Morning Edition on NPR, are everywhere.

This was a brilliant piece of image development work by Clinton’s staff. Brilliant. This shows how much good will and buzz can be had from having some fun with what otherwise could be seen as embarrassing or unwanted uses of your image. Clinton saw the humor in this and rather than hiding from it she decided to not only embrace it, but participate in it.

I was immediately reminded of how Michele Bachmann dealt with the situation she found herself in back in November when she was still in the race and made an appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” As usual with guests on a late-night show, Fallon’s band, The Roots, led by a dude named ?uestlove, played music as Bachmann walked out on stage. The song they played for her was Fishbone’s “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” You can read the details in this Hollywood Reporter story.

This ambush gave Bachmann and her campaign a glorious opportunity to develop her image and to humanize her a little bit

Instead, Bachmann dealt with it by going on news-type shows and whining about how she was “a serious candidate for President of the United States” and how she was insulted and America should be insulted that she was treated the way she was. She came off looking like a completely humorless cyborg. It was ridiculous, and it’s probably not a huge surprise that her campaign didn’t last much longer after that incident.

For what it’s worth, had I been working with Bachmann, I would have told her to deal with that situation by going back on Fallon as soon as possible (she was a presidential candidate; the producers would’ve bumped somebody to get her back on the next night after the story broke). I would have told her her walk out on stage, tell ?uestlove from Fallon’s band that she appreciated the gesture and she had a song for him, too, and then have the show’s producers play Denis Leary’s “You’re an Asshole.”

She’d have never in a million years done that. But can you imagine how much different that story would’ve been if she had?

Did that situation kill her campaign? No; she was trailing badly in the polls by that point, and she probably wasn’t going to recover. At the time that show aired, she was polling around 15 percent. But, by completely mishandling her response to what happened, she missed an enormous opportunity to grab that by the throat and do something that would have developed far more buzz for her — and for her campaign. Who knows what might have happened.

Finally, I do want to clarify one thing — Bachmann being angry about the way she was treated was *not* wrong. Regardless of what you think of her or her politics, for her to agree to go on Fallon’s show and then be ambushed by ?uestlove was wrong. It was a childish prank by the band, and it probably did long-term damage to the show’s ability to attract other guests similar to Bachmann in the future without a lot of headaches for the producers. But I think her anger could’ve been put to work for her (and for her campaign) in a far more productive fashion than to go on political talk shows and complain that ?uestlove was mean to her.

She missed an opportunity to do what Hillary Clinton has done with “Texts from Hillary.” She missed an opportunity to spin a situation and take control of the message.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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