Damage control, City Hall-style: Hire a lightning rod
I had a good laugh reading Mayor Cohen's spokesman Jeremy Solomon's fiery letter to the Newton Tab and criticism of editor Greg Reibman on August 30. Here's the meat of Solomon's rant:
For a long time now, Greg has simply been unable to hide his animosity toward Mayor Cohen.While careful readers of the Newton TAB may pick up on the paper’s propensity to print sensationalistic headlines and articles with negative slants, it is only now that Greg has made it personal.Unfortunately, the Tab editor is taking the letter way too seriously in the Tab blog, not realizing that it's an old ploy from the PR professional's bag of tricks: Deflecting attention from an unpopular issue or your unpopular boss by making provocative statements in your own name about a completely unrelated issue. Here's how Borderline responded in the Tab blog:
Shame on you Greg Reibman. For someone who claims to care about our community and who serves as a newspaper professional, to disparage our city leaders in a Brookline media outlet is unprofessional at best, and slanderous at worst.
Given your stated opinions of the form of government and our elected officials here in Newton, as long as Greg Reibman is the Editor-in-Chief, it is clear that Newton residents should not expect to find unbiased news coverage of our city in the Newton TAB.
On the face of it, it looks like an attack on you, Greg, as well as the Tab, but there's more to the story than that. Remember, as a hired PR gun, Solomon's job is to make the mayor look as good as possible. A large part of that responsibility involves deflecting criticism from Mayor Cohen, who has a serious image problem, as evidenced by his hiding from the media and public scrutiny. What better way to draw attention away from Cohen than to send a provocative letter to the Tab? He's setting himself up to be the lightning rod for people critical of City Hall, as next week's crop of letters to the Tab are likely to prove. This takes attention away from Cohen, just as things are starting to heat up on the NNHS and NFD fronts.There's no doubt that Cohen has a tough job, but the way he's handling the media -- deferring all questions to Solomon and refusing to answer unscripted questions on his own from the city's no. 1 media outlet -- is really quite sad. Answering tough questions from the media is part of the job of being a public figure. Hiding behind Mr. Solomon — an unelected official whose job is to make Cohen and the city government look good — is weak and doing the public a disservice. Mayor Cohen’s job is to lead the city, and explain his policies — which often means answering tough questions off the cuff. Mayor Menino gets five microphones shoved in face every time he appears in public, and is not afraid to answer questions that deal with ugly or unpopular topics. Why not Cohen?
Don't let yourself be played by Solomon, Greg. Stay focussed on Cohen and the city's real problems.