Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Repetition Sells, Repetition Sells, Repetition Sells

by Steve Young

McClellan is good - the 45th time he had the same eager earnestness as the first time

There's an old advertising adage that states: Repetition sells. How else do you explain the success of the Ch-ch-chia Pet? How do you explain Sean Hannity repeating the same litany of bull every show, five times a show? If anything is repeated enough times you'll never forget it. You can't. It's drilled into your brain's limbic system. I left the army over thirty years ago and I can still spout out RA13994372 at the drop of an enemy interrogation, and with nary a glance at my dog tags.

Repetition can be obnoxious and nowhere does it do the job better, or more obnoxiously, than in talk radio and politics. At a May 12 press briefing, presidential press secretary Scott McClellan used some variation of the phrase "protocols were in place and followed" forty-five times, to explain the choice not to interrupt President Bush's bike ride to tell him that the Capital, and his home, might be under terrorist attack. It certainly wasn't necessary to repeat the same phrase forty-five times to be understood. Forty would have been plenty. Though if the Lords of Loud had found that say, Harry Reid had repeated the same thing a couple times in a row, that would have been enough for them to ridicule. But not a word from the LoL on Scott's staggering regurgitation.

Some might think Scott could have at least had a thesaurus handy so to vary from "protocols were in place" to "rules were in position" or "guidelines had been established." But making the press secretary more loquacious is not the object of this production. Being on message is. And the message was the single explanation the White House had supplied McClellan to respond to what reporters felt was so seemingly incredulous. It was what the administration wanted the press to report... exactly. It was what they wanted the public to hear...exactly. Variation muddies the message. Doesn't allow it to roll off the tongue. No one need wonder if this administration had protocols in place or if they were followed. In fact, fifteen times during the same press conference, he used the time-honored "after 9/11" to punctuate the whys and wherefores of having... protocols in place.

QUESTION: Is (the president) satisfied with the fact that he wasn't notified about this?

McCLELLAN: Yes. I think you just brought up a very good point -- the protocols that were in place after September 11th were followed.

Q: Shouldn't the Commander-in-Chief have been notified of what was going on?

McCLELLAN: John, the protocols that we put in place after September 11th were being followed... And we appreciate the job that was done by all those who worked to make sure that the protocols that were in place were followed. That was one of the President's priorities after September 11th, was making sure that we were prepared for a situation like this. And the fact is that the protocols were followed.

Q: Even on a personal level, did nobody here at the White House think that calling the President to say, by the way, your wife has been evacuated from the White House, we just want to let you know everything is okay.

McCLELLAN: Actually, all the protocols were followed...

Q: Isn't there just an appearance problem?

McCLELLAN: The President was never considered to be in danger. The protocols that we put in place after September 11th, I think, worked.

Q: Was this not a missed opportunity for the President to speak out and at least clarify what -- that he was informed, and what was taking place at that time? If not even during the 15-minute window, why not later in the day?

McCLELLAN: The President did lead, and the President did that after September the 11th when we put the protocols in place to make sure that situations like this were addressed before it was too late. And all the appropriate security personal and Homeland Security officials and others were acting to implement those protocols. And we commend all those that worked to follow those protocols and make sure that this situation was addressed. And it worked, in terms of the protocols.

If you're wondering if this be a one time situation, this week McClellan used the phrase "up or down" seventeen times in a press briefing to emphasize the judicial filibuster crisis.

And McClellan is good. Didn't muss a feather pitching the central idea. The forty-fifth time he told us that protocols were in place had the same eager earnestness as the first time. But if you're not practiced it may appear awkwardly obvious. Like say Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell this past weekend on Fox Sunday when he had obviously received the marching orders to rename what was once known as the "nuclear option," before it was known as the "constitutional option."

MCCONNELL: Well, first let me say, we ought to call this the Byrd option because Senator Byrd employed the technique of having the majority vote on a precedent interpreting the rule, on four occasions when he was majority leader. So if you're asking about the Byrd option, as it may apply to these judges, these senators will have to speak for themselves if they want to issue a public statement about how they will vote if we have to exercise the Byrd option. My view is that if we have to exercise the Byrd option, if all additional discussions fail, if the cloture vote on one of these judges fails, I believe we will have the votes to exercise the Byrd option if that becomes necessary.

If you didn't catch it, McConnell was talking about the Byrd option. Ignoring the clumsy repetition for a moment, how truly horrifying is the wholesale insidious corruption of language, as evidenced by the switch from "nuclear option" to "Byrd option." Not dangerous and lethal and explosive, but an elderly Democrat. See how Republicans are reasonable and non-partisan?

Repetition eclipses value or validity. No matter the quality of the product or the accuracy of the message, if the consumer hears it enough times, when it comes time to make a decision they're more likely to go with what's familiar.

The best thing about repetition is that when you want to change your message, you just replace it through even more repetition. Say, if Rush Limbaugh was demonizing Bill Clinton, but wanted to vary his demonizing by demonizing Hillary Clinton.

Don't believe me. Try it yourself. First, repeat "WMD" one thousand times. Got it? Good. Oops. Time to change the message. Okay. Repeat "Get rid of a vile dictator and bring freedom" one thousand and one times. Now, what was the first message? See. Works every time.

Steve Young is author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful," (Tallfellow Press), a senior fellow at the Extreme Far Centrist Foundation and host on KTLK AM 1150 (Sat, 1-4PM)

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor May 18, 2005 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.