Susan Rice and the Springsteen Strategy

“No retreat, baby, no surrender.”

Bruce Springsteen defiant line from the song, “No Surrender,” on his famous Born in the U.S.A. album is often employed as a media strategy, especially by those under some sort of public pressure.  The latest high-profile example is from America’s ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, defending her comments following the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Rice, reportedly the top contender to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, was blasted by Republican critics who questioned her statements on several Sunday talk shows about the genesis of the raid which killed 4 Americans.   At least one, Senator John McCain, suggested Rice should now state publically that she was incorrect.  But after several weeks of remaining silent (although getting strong support from the President), Rice would have none of it…She was going with the full Springsteen “No Surrender” strategy.  In her follow up statement at the U.N., Rice stood her ground, saying her comments were based on the information she was given and nothing else.

This plan, at least initially, seems to be working.  Senator McCain has since backed off his earlier hard-line position on Rice’s potential nomination, saying he’d be willing to listen to her explanation.  Time will tell whether Rice’s move will end up working to her benefit.

However, even if Rice weathers the storm and gets the White House gig, it’s important to remember that any “No Surrender” media strategy comes with both tremendous upside…and tremendous risks.  The media landscape is littered with those who defiantly stood their ground only to see their steadfast proclamations go down in flames (think Rafael Palmeiro or Anthony Weiner, for example).   Conversely, those who do refuse to back down and are found to be correct can end up with huge positive public approval (think tobacco industry whistleblower Jeff Wigand).

If you feel the need to use a “No Surrender” media strategy, it’s vital that you not only are absolutely sure of your position, but also that you anticipate the potential slings and arrows (some which may be outright false) that others may throw at you.  And if something comes to light after the fact which punches a hole in your argument, react immediately and offer an explanation or a mea culpa.  Don’t ever try to defend an indefensible position or act as if the new information doesn’t exist.  Remember, the cover up is ALWAYS worse than the crime.

Update:  Since this was first written, Rice went to Capitol Hill and softened her position a bit, admitting to have given an incorrect assessment of the Benghazi attack but insisting it based on the best available information at the time.  However, this conciliatory tone only seemed to raise the ire of her GOP critics.  It will be interesting to see if Rice’s change of strategy will help or hurt her chances of becoming Secretary of State.  Stay tuned!

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