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Spinning the media machine

by Archives September 16, 2008

It may not be beautiful, but it’s certainly romantic.
Our love for political theater is certainly crimsoned this season, with two heated elections to rock our boats. We watch what each candidate will do for us – to win. “Lend me your ears,” they cry, and we reply, “but alas, tell us something worth listening to!”
And so, they talk dirty. And we listen.
Who’s writing the script to this battle for hearts (using spades)? Guys like Warren Kinsella, a Liberal lobbyist and media consultant. His second book, The War Room is about getting under your political opponent’s skin and winning battles for your boss. Weird eh?
A war room is an around the clock media command center, where political strategy is planned, ergo: the right way to counter or the right way to throw an allegation. Most importantly, a war room figures out how to get the message out efficiently and effectively. Kinsella lived that; he is the paragon of the Canadian war roomer.
Surprisingly, the almost 300-page read is light and amusing. Kinsella writes about an Iliad of political media battles and how to drive your campaign message out in the right style. He writes boisterously, like a buddy telling you stories from a bar stool. Expect a couple of vulgarities thrown in for good measure.
Claiming not to be an academic, but someone who listens to those smarter than him, the book is not a history lesson in politics for the politically afflicted, it is much less and much more.
Kinsella writes for the political newbie, musing over his time with the Liberals. Under Chrétien, Kinsella, the “dark prince,” as his opponents named him, was fighting the daily battle for public support, using messages that he would serve up fresh through the media in the form of prepackaged press releases.
The book is organized pragmatically. Listed are war room lessons that relate to everyday struggles, because to win an inch is to win nevertheless.
Kinsella also shares the other side of the coin, albeit with less enthusiasm and more sincerity: to lose is to learn.
The War Room is brimming with interesting observations, salient Canadian history, and the good-hearted battle that is Liberal vs. Conservative.
Remember when the Campbell Conservatives ran ads showing Chrétien’s signature mouth flapping in slow motion asking “does this look like a prime minister to you?” Kinsella was there.
Remember when Stockwell Day’s platform was derailed because of a Barney doll during a political panel – ostensibly attacking his creationist views? That was Kinsella.
Remember when Eisenhower showed Daisy – a girl who can’t count holding a flower – with the countdown to an explosion in her ears, and the reflection of a mushroom cloud in her eyes, to allege that opponent Goldwater was nuke crazy? Kinsella wasn’t there, but his media consulting company, called Daisy Consulting, was named after that girl.
If you don’t remember these events, then this book enthusiastically tells you about them. If you know all too well about politics, then this may offer little more than a ruminating, but zesty, chew.
Still, think of this, a war room is kind of like the politburo, but with competitive rivals, so it’s basically a politburo without cheat codes. Everyone loves cold war 1984, right?
He points out that since the conception of the war room (1992, during the Clinton Campaign), they have become essential to winning. No comment doesn’t cut it anymore, you have to be on the offence to win, and you have to be on the defence growling back “within minutes, at most within hours” to show you have gall.
Politics has without a doubt become – thanks to sound bites, headlines, media spin and cunning types like Kinsella – a drama of words and the ultimate test of character. One thing this author/punk bassist points out lightly is that the majority vote with their hearts, and not with their heads.
Romance is, as politics are as well, someone playing with your heart (and in Kinsella’s case, your headlines).

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