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‘Etch A Sketch’ comment shows perils of candor in viral age

March 23, 2012

[Getty Images]
[Getty Images]

In many ways it was a good week for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He won the Illinois primary on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday received an endorsement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But instead of rejoicing, Romney and his team find themselves on the defensive over an aide’s remark about a children’s toy — an example, The Washington Post reported, of how even a small comment can snowball into a big image problem in today’s world of 24-hour cable news, social media and viral marketing.

Erik Fehrnstrom, one of Romney’s top aides, made the now-infamous remark during a television interview with CNN on Wednesday morning: “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” he’s quoted as saying. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch – you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

Romney rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were soon seen toting Etch A Sketch toys on the campaign trail — a symbol, they said, of Romney’s lack of conservative convictions. The Democratic National Committee sent 16 separate e-mail messages to reporters highlighting the comment, and even produced a Web video mocking it, The Washington Post noted. What may have seemed like a throw-away comment at the time, the Etch A Sketch line may haunt Romney and his campaign for the foreseeable future.

The Etch A Sketch remark is also becoming big news in journalism circles, as FishbowlDC pointed out. NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is upset that the flap overshadows more momentous news. "It is sort of striking how this cycle, more than any, is nothing but the gaffe police," he said during MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown" yesterday morning.

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press called it "tidbit journalism."

"It's all about the little bits that make their way onto YouTube or handhelds," she said on MSNBC.

The incident serves as another reminder for communicators about the lasting power of words.

"Pithy one-liners tend to fix themselves in our mental machinery far more easily than complex ideas. They capture a personality, a moment or an idea in a few compelling or amusing words," Michael Wolraich wrote on CNN. "Once embedded in the great Etch A Sketch that is American political consciousness, these ideas cannot be shaken free for decades, sometimes even centuries. People still say, 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too' some 170 years after the campaign slogan was coined, though few have any idea who it referred to or why." — Greg Beaubien


Steve Radick says:

Oh give me a break. This doesn't show the "perils of candor" - it shows just how terrified we've become at saying something, anything, that offends anyone. Why even justify this kind of garbage with a response? Apply the same principles we learned as little kids - laugh it off as ridiculous and stick to your guns. Stop pandering to everyone and everything.

March 23, 2012

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