A good many years ago, I was contacted by a couple of speechwriters and policy folk for one of the presidential candidates to ask me for help with “the vision thing.” I gathered that they were talking to a lot of people. Since the specific issue they were asking about was one I know something about, we had a conference call.
You must not imagine that this happens to me often; in fact it was the only time. That may give you a clue as to how the talk went.
I told them that I thought P about the issue. That didn’t satisfy them, because they wanted to know what their candidate should say about it. Naturally, believing P, I said I thought he candidate should say P. Then they told me he couldn’t say P.
I asked why he couldn’t say P. Did he find P difficult to explain? Perhaps I could help with that. No, that wasn’t it. The reason he couldn’t say P was that the media always framed the issue in terms of Q. I told them I understood that, but Q was a misleading way to frame it. So, I said, their candidate needed to reframe the issue for the public in terms of P, and explain why Q was misleading. And I suggested some of the ways he might do this.
They began to get irritated. As they explained, they weren’t interested in reframing the issue in terms of P. All they wanted was for me to tell them how the candidate could justify his position in terms of Q. Why? Because – as they said again -- that’s how the media framed it.
So I put my point just a little more strongly. If their candidate allowed his opponents to get away with framing the issue in a misleading way, he would lose the argument. If he wanted to win the argument, he would reframe it.
As though they were talking to a dimwitted child, they repeated that reframing the issue was impossible.
I answered that it is never impossible to reframe an issue: That’s what you do in a republic. You have to frame it so tersely and memorably that even a hostile media can’t resist quoting you, and the quote can’t be taken out of context.
I said the other side understood this very well. That was why it was winning the argument.
That’s when the gentlemen lost patience with me.
Don’t you understand? The media are all-powerful! It doesn’t matter how they frame an issue, because once they do, it’s set in stone! Nobody can challenge it! It has to be accepted! NOW will you tell us how our candidate can make his argument?
I said you would be able to guess how it went.