Friday, October 29, 2010

This probably disqualifies me for a job on NPR, but like Juan Williams, I’m sometimes guilty of making snap judgments about people based on their clothing. Take Yankees fans. Please.

Sometimes it’s hard not to jump to conclusions about a franchise’s supporters. Of course, not all pinstripe-wearing Yankees fans are obnoxious. Probably.

But fans of extremely successful sports teams – like the Yankees – seem to have this in common: If their team beats your team they rub it in; if your team beats their team they say it doesn’t matter because they have 1,500 championship rings.

When I first became interested in baseball, back in the early 1960s, the Senators had just moved to Minnesota and become the Twins. Like most of the kids in my hometown, I was immediately hooked on baseball and the new franchise. Root, root, rooting for the home team wasn’t just a matter of loyalty, in my opinion, it was a sacrament.

Then I met Bud Sterling. Bud was a Yankees fan. A traitor to the hometown boys and those nice Cuban players Calvin Griffith signed. Bud wasn’t a transplant from the East Coast or anything like that, he just liked the Yankees because they had a lineup of powerhouse stars and a whole bunch of pennants and World Series rings.

I liked some of the Yankees’ players well enough. I went to grade school with Roger Maris’ niece, which was a pretty close brush with fame for that time and place. I admired Mickey Mantle’s skills and well-remember the time I saw him hit two towering home runs during a July 4 doubleheader at the old Metropolitan Stadium. I remember it so well, in fact, that I wonder if it actually happened.

I like some of the Yankees players today, too. It’s hard not to like Derek Jeter and I respect the skills of Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano and several of the other guys on the team. I’d like them better if they played for the Twins or Diamondbacks, of course. After all, as Jerry Seinfeld observed, being an American sports fan actually means you’re rooting for that team’s clothes.

I sometimes make exceptions for the Yankees, the Lakers and a couple of the Vikings’ football rivals, but in general I prefer to root for my teams rather than against someone else’s. Sometimes, though, the distinction isn’t that clear. At a Diamondbacks-Yankees game a couple of years ago my son and I sat a few rows in front of woman who obviously had consumed a few frosty beverages. Every time the Yankees captain came to the plate, made a play or had the audacity to appear on the field she loudly yelled, “Jeter sucks ass!” at the top of her lungs. This went on for a number of innings before she finally yelled out, “Hey … why am I the only one cheering for the Diamondbacks?”

Yup … sometimes it’s a pretty fine line.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

When bosses go undercover

I normally avoid reality shows like the Jersey Shore kids shun li-baries. But I admit to being hooked on “Undercover Boss,” which airs Sunday evenings on CBS.

You probably know the formula, which hasn’t varied a bit in the four episodes I’ve watched.

· The CEOs go undercover for a few days, posing as new employees of their company. The producers choose consumer-oriented companies (hotel, restaurant, retail store) with multiple locations and lots of lower-wage employees who interact with customers.

· The bosses assume the wardrobe and the role of regular employees working regular shifts, facing tasks as varied as frying donuts and cleaning up feces. “Never mind the cameras,” coworkers are told. We’re shooting a documentary on people changing careers.”

· The bosses invariable find most of their employees to be true working-class heroes, but note shortcomings in company policies, procedures and the operations themselves.

· They return to the boardroom with a list of action items for their staffs.

· Finally they reveal their true identities and change everyone’s lives.

The concept is sappy and contrived for sure. After all my years in corporate communications, I can imagine the jockeying that goes on behind the scenes to make sure the right locations, programs and employees are featured – “right” being defined as those that will make an interesting story while painting the company in a very positive light.

I chuckle each week when, without exception, one of the frontline employees does or says something that causes the producers to cut away to the image of a disgusted and disguised CEO who can’t believe what he or she just heard. Somebody on the boss’ staff is also going to hear about this. And it just might be the communications guy.

For example, on a recent episode the likeable president and CEO of Choice Hotels was working with a friendly and capable front desk clerk at one of the chain’s properties. She mentioned that she loved the hospitality industry and wanted to eventually become a hotel manager.

“Does Choice offer any training?” the undercover boss asked, knowing the answer. “Nope,” the woman replied. Cut away to horrified CEO. “I’m putting millions of dollars into Choice University,” he railed seconds later in an aside to the camera, “and her leaders haven’t told her a thing about it!”

I wonder if that’s true, but it doesn’t really matter. It's enough that the boss believes it to be true, because he heard it with his own ears. I also wonder how long it was before the communicator issued a reminder on the wonders of Choice University to all employees.

It’s a fact that even the smartest of bosses often react or perhaps overreact to the most recent input they receive, no matter how isolated, opinionated or invalid that input may be. It’s human nature and a fact of life for communicators who often find that – for some bosses – well-thought-out communications strategies, feedback mechanisms and measurement tools are not nearly as credible as chance encounters in the hall.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I seldom pay any mind at all to anything Glen Beck has to say. His charm eludes me completely.

But as someone who has spent a fair amount of time putting words in other people's mouths, I found something he said at the recent gathering at the Lincoln Memorial compelling.

Speaking of the Gettysburg Address and MLK's "I have a dream" speech, Beck told the crowd: "The words are alive. Our most famous speeches are American scripture."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Making the cut

Yesterday the Arizona Cardinals cut QB Matt Leinert, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner who once was heralded as the franchise’s savior.

After first losing the starting job to Kurt Warner a few years ago, Leinert seemed content to back Warner up while awaiting what many assumed to be his automatic ascension to the starter’s job. Despite his long apprenticeship behind a future Hall of Famer, Leinert wasn’t ready to take the reins and, by all accounts, did nothing to win the confidence of his coaches and teammates. A multimillion dollar bust.

I’ve seen this happen in corporations, too. Seemingly capable lieutenants work for years – sometimes decades – in the shadow of key executives and everyone assumes they’ll take over when their bosses move on to greener pastures or retire.

Sometimes it all works out. Sometimes the second banana is as capable and successful as the first. Sometimes he or she takes the organization to new heights.

Sometimes not. Sometimes the old boss leaves and it turns out the heir apparent wasn’t that apparent after all and the company promotes or hires someone else. Other times the backup gets the job, can’t hack it and is quickly replaced or, just as bad, rendered irrelevant.

The lesson, I suppose, is to assume nothing and prepare for everything. Sounds a bit trite, I’ll admit.

Not that many years ago I supported a CEO who was compelled to fire the person who had succeeded him. A multibillion dollar mistake, perhaps. I’ll never forget what he said as the search began for a new successor: “We have to find someone who views this job as a challenge, not a reward.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Everyone's a Critic

After 35 years the balcony is getting ready to close, permanently. Sometime in August ABC will air the final syndicated episode of the granddaddy of all movie review television shows, “At the Movies.” I for one will miss it.

For my money, the current incarnation with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott is the most insightful and entertaining since the days when Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel hosted the show. “At the Movies” is the most direct descendent of the original PBS series “Sneak Previews,” which broke ground by translating film criticism into the preferred language of my generation – television.

But the generational language has changed. Most of today’s moviegoers speak a digital dialect. They don’t read movie reviews, they access them. There’s an app for that, lots in fact.

Today’s movie goers don’t want to know what one critic thinks, they want to know what they all think. This has spawned “Rotten Tomatoes” and other websites that aggregate the opinions of hundreds of critics and spit out a single number that is supposed to express the quality and entertainment value of the latest release.

On reflection, maybe that’s not so much different than Gene and Roger’s trademarked “thumbs up, thumbs down” rating system, Michael and Tony’s “see it, rent it, skip it” system, or the hundreds of critics who award movies a certain number of stars, letter grades or boxes of popcorn.

If the ability to capture the opinions of a hundred bona fide critics in a whole number between 1 and 100 isn’t enough for you, the social media revolution has created a democracy in which anyone and everyone can be a critic. While it might not be all that helpful to know that your 16-year-old son thinks “Inception” rocks (he’s wrong) it might be meaningful that a dozen of your Facebook friends think “The Kids are Alright” is better than just alright (I agree).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly an elitist. I’m just an unrepentant movie lover. I also find the Internet to be a wonderful enabler of my film addiction. As evidence, I chose “movienuts” as my Prodigy screen name when I first began exploring the world-wild-web with a 28K modem.
No doubt I’ll continue to read reviews from favorite critics (including Phillips and Scott) online, share recommendations with Facebook friends, and use the IMDB to answer the frequent question, “Where have I seen that actress before?”

I will not, however, watch “Clash of the Titans” on my cell phone. That would be difficult enough in a theater. And they have popcorn.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

No waterfowl were harmed in the writing of this blog entry

The great American humorist Will Rogers observed that “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.”

BP is a case in point. Just months ago BP had once again earned its customary spot on the Fortune magazine list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, ranking respectably among such other petroleum exploration giants as Exxon, Shell and Chevron.

Of the nine criteria that Fortune covers in its annual survey, BP scored highest in “Social Responsibility.” You can insert your own punch line here.

Fast forward and BP is the foremost villain in an authentic tragedy that so far has few heroes. There are other bad guys, too. But BP is unlikely to relinquish its position as polluter in chief, rightly ordained to bear the brunt of responsibility for what is surely one of the worst manmade environmental disasters in human history.

Sadly, it may take decades or perhaps a lifetime for the Gulf to fully recover. It may take longer for BP’s business to rebound and longer still for the company to repair its besotted image. If that’s even possible. The company’s public relations missteps are already legendary. Company execs show even less talent for recovering their reputation than for recovering our oil.

The beaches of history are littered with the bleached bones of reputations never recovered.

  • The magnitude of the Gulf spill is measured in Exxon Valdezes, reminding us daily of that company’s 1989 incident.

  • The airline ValuJet decided to change its names rather than try to repair its wrecked image.

  • The Union Carbide pesticide plant disaster at Bhopal still haunts after a quarter century and Union Carbide is no more.

  • And we could talk for hours about homerun kings, Heisman winners and golf legends forever (or at least currently) more associated with crimes and misbehaviors than their exploits on the field of play.

Who knows if BP will suffer a similar fate? Not me.

But I will share this little parable, for what it’s worth. About 30 years ago I was driving my son home from a Little League game. No doubt we were engrossed in reliving his performance or perhaps I was giving advice about the elegance of a nice level swing.

That’s when I hit the duck. Who knows why it tried to cross the road? Maybe it darted in front of me. Maybe it failed to signal. Regardless, I ran over a duck. There was a noticeable bump. Andy looked at me with horror. We watched the duck hobble toward the park. I don’t know if it survived.

I think of that duck often, because Andy will never let me forget it. Never. He tells the story often, usually pantomiming the poor creature’s limping gait. Three decades and I’m still trying to live down the fact that I (possibly) killed one duck. BP has its work cut out for it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Close to You: Songs for Tight Times & Places

I recently traveled from Phoenix to Colorado Springs for a live taping of the always-entertaining National Public Radio news quiz program Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

I didn’t make my own flight reservations and didn’t pay attention to the details until it was too late. So I ended up killing a couple of hours in the vast and rambling Denver airport awaiting the second leg of the trip – a short hop from Denver to Colorado Springs on a commuter jet.

I’m not a big fan of these smaller airplanes. They’re an uncomfortable fit for anyone and I’m not just anyone: I’m a pretty big one. I was fortunate to be assigned a seat in an exit row, giving me a skosh more room. I was unfortunate to be seated next to a man who outweighed me by at least a c-note, maybe two.

Normally I enjoy the novelty of being around heavier people. Even as he walked down the aisle, eyes fixed on the seat next to me, I knew that my aisle-mate and I were destined to become close during what United Express published as a 37-minute flight. Very close.

Imagine my relief when the pilot announced that our actual flying time would be just 22 minutes. I figure I can endure almost anything for that amount of time, which I proved recently when I couldn’t locate the remote during a rerun of “Two and a Half Men.” No permanent damage.

Shortly after takeoff the flight attendant came on the PA to announce that there was no service on this flight because of its short duration, but if we needed anything we should, well, keep it to ourselves I guess.

Then she said something that made me laugh so hard that my sides would have shaken, had there been room: “You may now turn on personal electronic devices … for the next four minutes.”

I didn’t take advantage of this small window of entertainment opportunity because I couldn’t reach my iPod (or move my arms, for that matter). But I’ve spent some time since trying to figure out what song I should have played. A few candidates:

• One, Three Dog Night (3:03)
• Rocky Mountain High, John Denver (4:43)
• Four Minutes, Madonna (4:04)
• Give Me Just a Little More Time, Chairmen of the Board (2.41)
• Close to You, The Carpenters (4:36)
• One Song Glory, Cast of Rent (2:43)
• Uptight, Stevie Wonder (2:54)
• Out of Time, Rolling Stones (3:41)

Your suggestions are welcome. The more the merrier. The next time I need to get from Denver to Colorado Springs I’m going to drive, so I’ll need a whole playlist.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Any magazine that would have me as a reader...

Newsweek is on life support. The Washington Post put the newsweekly up for sale last week and there’s been speculation that it may go the way of U.S. News and World Report, which ended print publication altogether.

Editor Jon Mecham appeared on Reliable Sources this morning to discuss the magazine’s fate. Naturally, he hopes Newsweek continues to exist in something close to its present form. A job is a rare and wonderful thing for print journalists these days.

He also talked about what, at least on the surface, seems like a questionable business plan. Newsweek has actually been trying to cut its circulation in half to deliver a more elite and affluent audience to advertisers. That may seem counterintuitive, but Newsweek probably hopes to reduce production costs and charge advertisers a premium for delivering an audience willing to part with bigger chunks of their disposable income.

Newsweek has doubled its subscription prices, presumably to winnow out the less desirable elements. Like me.

I’ve subscribed to either Time or Newsweek for decades. I’ve switched back and forth between the two several times. I’m well aware that some people perceive Newsweek to have a more liberal slant, but frankly I don’t really see that much difference between the two in terms of political perspective. Time seems “newsier” to me than Newsweek, but I certainly have no empirical data to back up that impression.

I get Time these days for a very mercenary reason. Someone gave me a gift subscription a few years ago. So I didn’t continue Newsweek when my subscription was up. But, now that I think about it, I don’t think they sent me a renewal notice.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I don’t follow you on Twitter.

Nothing personal. I don’t follow anyone on Twitter. Not Ashton Kutcher, Glenn Beck or Shaquille O’Neal. I choose not to keep up with the Kardashians at all, much less on Twitter.

It’s not that I’m anti social media. I blog, though not enough. I use Facebook, probably too much. I use LinkedIn. I actually have a Twitter account, though I’ve yet to tweet, much to no one’s disappointment.

I think I understand Twitter, but I really don’t get it. Who needs to know that Ashton just paid $10 for a vodka tonic at the hotel bar (a real tweet) or that someone I once met at a conference just had a strawberry yogurt? Yum.

Of course I know that there are other kinds of tweets, too. Sometimes tweeters report real news in real time. Articulate people express cogent thoughts in remarkably few syllables. Generous folks share information and insights from conference sessions seconds after the words are spoken. Discerning people recommend articles, books, movies and such that would undoubtedly interest me and enrich my life.

As valuable as these things might be, I don’t have time for them. I already have a TMI (too much information) problem. I cannot begin to absorb, process, understand and use all the information that I choose to receive already via television, e-mail, the Internet, podcasts, books, newspapers, magazines, radio and other sources. It’s all more than my 20th Century brain can handle sometimes and that frustrates me.

I once read about a CEO who was so overwhelmed by the volume of e-mails he received that he occasionally declared “e-mail bankruptcy” by erasing everything in his In Box, with the full confidence that the senders would follow-up on anything that was really important.

I could never do that. But I do erase a lot of subscription and newsletter-style e-mails – some valuable I’m sure – without ever reading them. Magazines I intend to read stack up and sometimes wind up in the recycle bin unopened when I declare “magazine bankruptcy.” I record programs that never get watched and download podcasts that never get heard. I live and work among piles of books I fully intend to read.

So, for now at least, I choose to not subject myself to 140-character messages from friends and colleagues, movie stars and politicians, opinion leaders and industry experts. They would only remind me of all the things I’m missing. Including the vodka tonics and frozen yogurts. Yum.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Start with a laugh ... end with a tear

Liz Carpenter had three simple rules for writing a successful speech:

Start with a laugh to put the audience in a good mood and get their attention.
Put the meat in the middle by addressing your main points.
Wave the flag at the end by inspiring and motivating the group to take action.

That’s pretty good advice, upon which Carpenter elaborated in her practical, charming and often funny 2000 book, “Start with a Laugh.” The book is filled with lessons learned, tried-and-true advice and wonderful anecdotes from the author’s long public life including, of course, her days in the Johnson White House.

For example, I chuckled when I read Carpenter’s advice for handling quotations, which stemmed from LBJ’s reaction to a quote someone put in one of his speeches.

“LBJ was so determined to make his words understood by the people that once, when he came upon a speech draft quoting Aristotle, he turned to the startled writer and said. ‘Aristotle? Those folks don’t know who the hell Aristotle is.’ Then he took his pen, crossed out the reference to Aristotle and wrote in, ‘as my dear old daddy used to say.’”

When Carpenter died last week, most of the obituaries identified her as Lady Bird’s former press secretary. But she also should be remembered for writing the 58 impactful words that a clearly shaken LBJ spoke when upon arriving at Andrews AFB on that terrible day in November 1963:

"This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep personal tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help and God's."

Typically humble, Carpenter was reluctant to take credit for those words. “God was my ghostwriter,” she said.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Shared Experience Becomes Experience We Share

This is a guest blog recently posted on the BurrellsLuce "Fresh Ideas" blog. Reprinted here for those who didn't have a chance to see it there.

Instead of being a “shared experience,” TV is quickly becoming “an experience we share.” That observation, made on a recent episode of NPR’s always-enjoyable Culturetopia podcast, really rings true for me.

I’m a first-generation television kid and am old enough to remember when the television dial was really a dial with 13 numbers. There were just three networks plus an educational channel and an independent channel or two that mostly showed old movies. Miss “The Twilight Zone,” “Ed Sullivan,” “Laugh-In” or, later, “Saturday Night Live” and you risked being left out of the lunchtime conversation.

That was pretty much the way of the world until the first video recorders began appearing in homes and offices in the 1980s. Almost overnight it became possible to borrow a missed episode of “Cheers” from a coworker who hadn’t forgotten to set his VCR (as long as he didn’t have a Beta machine).

This opened up a whole new world for communications professionals. Suddenly it became possible to record, copy, and share cassettes of the annual meeting or positive media coverage with employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

Fast forward a decade or two and digital technology made it possible to post videos on company websites and e-mail links – or even short clips – to your key publics. Even more importantly, you could forward clips of cats playing the piano or bears catching fish to your friends.

Technology has continued to advance at warp speed. You can now see most of your favorite shows online or buy them for a couple of bucks on iTunes. More than 65,000 videos are posted on YouTube every day. And someone somewhere almost certainly watched the Super Bowl on his cell phone.

With more than 100 million viewers, the Super Bowl is one of television’s few remaining shared experiences, something almost everyone watches at the same time. Maybe Michael Phelps swimming at the Summer Olympics or the finale of “American Idol” also qualify. I’d like to hear your nominations.

So what does all this mean for professional communicators?

In some ways it makes our jobs harder. We have more channels to monitor and more competition for people’s attention than ever before. We have to do a better job of training, prepping, and equipping our spokespeople, because screw-ups can live on and on in cyberspace. And we’ve got to be more prepared than ever to respond quickly, effectively, and creatively to disasters, rumors, and PR challenges that didn’t even occur to us a few years ago. Bad news can go viral faster than you can bathe in a KFC sink.

On the opportunities side of the ledger, we also have more tools at our disposal than ever before. We can respond to negative press overnight or, ideally, even quicker. We can set up dedicated YouTube channels, as Best Buy, Mercedes Benz, Apple and hundreds of other companies have done. And we can get the word out – from executive speeches to news clips – faster and to a broader audience than ever before, with a few mouse clicks.

Six decades after television took over America’s living rooms, its power to communicate, persuade, and entertain continues to grow. What are you doing to tap into the power of television in the social media age?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A little less conversation a little more action

There is a wealth of useful information inside Snapple bottle caps. Recently a 12-ounce Diet Peach informed me that a Frenchman named Michel Thaler published a 233-page novel without a single verb.

In a Wikipedia citation, Thaler called the verb an "invader, dictator, usurper of our literature ... the verb is like a weed in a field of flowers. You have to get rid of it to allow the flowers to grow and flourish.”

In honor of Thaler, I’ll phrase my rebuttal in the form of a noun: bullshit. That will make your flowers flourish, my friend. By the way, the title of his verb-less book translates as “The Train from Nowhere” and I’m not buying a ticket.

I like verbs. I think most sentences should have them. Headlines too. But, as the previous fragment proves, I’m not so much a language purist that I won’t skip a verb now and then for effect.

This would no doubt cause the nuns who drummed grammar rules into my knuckles to peer over their glasses and shake their heads in unison. An early career mentor, on the other hand, would shrug and assert that once you know the rules, you’ve license to consciously break them in the service of effective communications.

If verbs are so inferior to nouns why do so many nouns have verb envy? I remember when such words as “impact,” “target” and “friend” were things you had not things you did. I cringed every time an Olympics analyst said someone would “medal,” instead of “win a medal.” The use of “podium” as a verb was even more grating.

Anyway, verbs are good. Nouns are good. It’s nice when they can agree. Active verbs are better than passive ones. I bore myself when I write too many sentences with verbs like “is” and “are” and “were,” which means this paragraph isn’t too exciting, even to me. Skip it if it’s not too late.

Friday, February 5, 2010

On the nature of storms & stormy times

On a recent morning I took a walk down a favorite beach in Oceanside, just after a week of torrential rains soaked Southern California. Eroded by pouring rains and pounding seas, the beach was hardly recognizable as the wonderland on which my grandkids frolicked and in which they buried each other mere months ago.

A few intrepid surfers bobbed offshore, ignoring the cloudy skies and relishing the hefty swells. A handful of joggers pounded the well-packed sand near the waterline. Two older men with rolled-up pant legs and metal detectors walked side-by-side, searching for treasure and sending the shorebirds scurrying.

Constant battering by the waves had interrupted the beach’s normal gradual descent to ocean with a sand ridge high enough to sit upon. Great mounds of seaweed had washed ashore, intermixed with all manner of flotsam and jetsam coughed up by the sea.

A couple of soggy tennis balls. Lots of plastic containers and bottle caps. A light bulb. Old sneakers and flip-flops. Some PVC pipe. Dozens of beach toys, faded by sun and sea, gathered by beachcombers or sea sprites on a picnic table, ready for adoption.

Storms are part of nature and part of the nature of things. They are certain, cyclic and unavoidable. Seas get rough. Rain must fall and wind must blow. Damage is done. Pain is felt. The sea purges itself of things it neither wants nor needs.

But eventually the sun comes out. The ocean resumes its regular breathing. Flowers bloom and chicks are hatched. We pick up the pieces and healing begins. No doubt the beach will be back to postcard condition well before the first giggling beach angel shows up in the summertime.

There must be a metaphor here. Economic storms, political storms or whatever, followed invariably by fair weather, soft breezes and drinks with fruit slices and little umbrellas. But I’ll leave that part to you.

Oh, one more thing. I saw a rainbow over the ocean later that day.

Monday, January 4, 2010

How many Kennedys does it take to make a point?

Esquire's annual "The Meaning of Life" issue features a wide range of people, some of them famous, relfecting on the nature of life. The Kennedy brothers are featured on the cover.

Inside, Esquire has assembled quotes from JFK, RFK and EMK, taken from public and private writings and utterances. They cover an incredibly wide range of subjects - from war, politics and statesmanship to personal relationships and family matters to descriptions of interludes with prosititues (a reminder to be careful what you write and, these days, post!) Interesting reading.

As a communications consultant and frequent ghostwriter, I found it particularly instructive how well and often the Kennedys used humor to diffuse controversy or make a point. Here are a couple of my favorite examples:

I just received the following wire from my generous daddy — "Dear Jack, Don't buy a single vote more than is necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide." — JFK, Gridiron Dinner, 1958

What advice would I give to a young man interested in politics? If I just trace my own career, I went to college and then law school and I started out as just a lawyer ... at the Department of Justice. And I worked very hard and I was diligent and I stayed late at night and I made a great deal of effort, and then ten years later I was made attorney general. So I don't know whether it's just ... I think if you can get your brother elected President of the United States, that helps. — RFK, 1964

It was easy — they sank my boat. — JFK, to a high school student who asked how he had become a war hero, 1959

The question was, "How about me and President Johnson?" What about it? Are you trying to start a fight or something? I said in the past that it's possible to have a coalition government in Saigon, but that doesn't mean it's possible here in the United States. — RFK, 1966

My point is that humor is a valuable and effective tool that most writers and speakers use too sparingly. Which reminds me: Did you hear the one about ...