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Perceptions, Debates, and Reality
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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As I’ve said repeatedly in my blogs, PR professionals must always keep in mind the powerful influence perceptions have in shaping reality. This has been shown to be none so true as with the two presidential debates thus far and the sole vice presidential debate.

As Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, says on its first page, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  Perception...perception...perception.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan said in here article “The Year the Debates Mattered,” the post-debate period for each of the debates thus far has been even more important. She noted, “It's a two-part wave now, the debate and the postdebate, and you have to win both. In a way this has always been true. That's why there are spin rooms. But this year it's all more so—more organic, more spontaneous and powerful. And everyone knows what spin is. They're looking for a truth room. Through a million websites and tweets they're trying, in some rough, imperfect way, to build one.”

A truth room? Very interesting indeed. As I noted in my earlier blog, “Lair, Liar...”, using the L word in the past was so fraught with risk that hardly any politician dared come right out and say it. But not in this campaign. In referencing the Hofstra University town hall style debate, Ms. Noonan said about Mr. Obama’s performance:

“This was the president of the United States standing with the other major party's presidential candidate and saying things that were harsh and personal—you're selfish and greedy, you care for nothing but yourself, you have no sense of responsibility to others. Later Mr. Obama called Mr. Romney "a good man" who "loves his family," but it sounded pro forma and hollow because it was. He does not think Mr. Romney is a good man: He'd started the evening telling us at some length that he was a bad one.

"What the president said at the debate was nothing he hadn't said on the trail. His campaign has been personal, accusatory and manipulative. But there in the room on a tiny stage, for a sitting president to come out with that kind of put-down—I couldn't imagine a JFK doing it, with his cool, or a Jerry Ford with his Midwestern decency, or a Reagan, or the Bushes. When you are president, you don't stand next to an opponent and accuse and attack. You keep a certain almost aesthetic distance. You know the height of the office you hold. You let the debate come to you, and if at some point you get an opening to uncork a joke or a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger criticism, you move.

"The president was trying to look strong and commanding, to take control. Did he look strong, or did he look like a hack, like a tough Chicago pol who isn't quite big enough to be where he is?”

Perceptions, post-debate talk and reality... plus the search for a modicum of truth... again... very interesting. Ms. Noonan continued, “It was Mr. Obama's aggressive foray that allowed Mr. Romney to diss him in return. When he said the president is weak on energy—"I don't think anyone really believes that you're a person who's going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal"—he wasn't critiquing a policy but a person. When Mr. Obama attempted to jump in, Mr. Romney stopped him cold: ‘You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking.’”

Incredible. As I said all along, this presidential race was going to be interesting and so far, that has been true enough. Perceptions do influence reality....true or false?

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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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