Preempting Problems with Reporters: Case Study-The Messy Divorce

Preempting Problems with Reporters: Case Study-The Messy Divorce

This week. Some Case Studies in how embarrassing problems from a candidate’s past were preempted in pre-announcement meetings with reporters.

Today: How a messy divorce story died before it was written.

I once had a client running for public office who confided in one of our early meetings that he’d gone through a difficult divorce. How difficult? “The divorce papers are really ugly,” he said.

Divorce is now common. But the material and allegations in the divorce papers can be a bloody mess for a candidate running for public office. And although you may think that divorce papers are “sealed” – I can assure you they have a way of getting into the hands of your opponent and you should assume they will.

My client freely admitted that the breakup of his first marriage was mostly his fault. He was young, immature, not ready for marriage and he’d cheated on his spouse. In his pre-announcement interview I made sure that he gave the reporter a copy of the divorce papers and I had him candidly explain why the marriage had failed, why it was his fault, what he’d learned from the experience and how as a result of learning from those mistakes he’d had a successful second marriage and raised three children. When his opponent later sent a copy of the divorce papers with a suggestion that the reporter do a little digging, (write a story) the reporter responded that he was already familiar with the matter and that he regarded it old news.

Luck? Perhaps. But imagine what would have happened had the story been “news” to the reporter, and had the reporter reprinted the salacious material on the front page of the newspaper.

Will this always work? No. There are three things in politics that are usually fatal—allegations of child abuse, physical spouse abuse, and relationships or inappropriate exchanges with minors. (Think Anthony Weiner) Voters will not excuse that, nor will most reporters.


A family drug problem and how one candidate turned a big lemon into lemonade.

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