Monday, May 03, 2004

Thom Serafin, Head of the communication management consulting firm of Serafin and Associates and a Fox News Political Analyst, is featured on this week's City of Chicago edition of "Public Affairs." Serafin advises, on the show, President Bush and John Kerry on how to deal with PR and crisis management aspects of terrorist incidents; advises Jack Ryan on how to deal with sealed records, advises Obama, Ryan and Bush on what their campaign messages should be; debates and discusses with show host and legal recruiter Jeff Berkowitz who will win the Senate race, whether there will be a resurrection in the Illinois GOP, school vouchers , "Monkey Business," Gary Hart, when bad things happen to good politicians, Carol Marin and media bias or fairness.

A partial transcript of the show is included, below. The show will air in the City of Chicago on Monday night, May 3 at 8:30 pm on Ch. 21.

Jeff Berkowitz: …Within what period of time, one year, two years [when will there be another terrorist incident in the U. S.?]

Thom Serafin: From the perspective of being the crisis communicator, in that position, my attitude is, and I think the President is laying the groundwork for that and he has alerted everybody to that, this is a war, we are at war here, even though we are comfortable at home, and we have the wine and cheese set and we have the baseball games and we have summer vacations, we are at war and we have American soldiers dying- 88 in the last month, or three weeks in Iraq. So, this has been a tough month, a terrible month, but it has brought home to the United States the reality that this is a war. And, we are at war because we are concerned about another attack; there will be another attack- we hope it is not on our soil, but you saw what happened in Madrid, and what happened with the elections [there].

Berkowitz: Make a prediction; we are not going to let you off the hook.
There will be another [terrorist] incident in the U. S. ? Within what period of time?

Serafin: …I think they are going to try to do something between Labor Day and Election Day [Nov. 2, 2004]—sometime between September and the end of October.

Berkowitz: Are they trying to influence the [U. S.] Election just as they did in Spain by doing that? …They are disagreeing with you[r] [previous statement that a terrorist incident in the U. S. before the election would benefit President Bush politically.]

Serafin: Who is they?

Berkowitz: [Osama] Bin Laden. Al Qaeda. Because they are saying basically “We [Al Qaeda] are trying to skew this election toward John Kerry, and if we [do a terrorist] incident [in the U.S.], that will cause President [Bush] to lose credibility, lose strength, we will help elect John Kerry.” Their view is that John Kerry will be more sympathetic to the treatment of the terrorists. I am not saying that the terrorists are right. But that sounds like the strategic view of Al Qaeda.

Serafin: Right, and they have put John Kerry and his people on the spot. And, his influence on what happens in Washington. If you look at the responses he [Kerry] has had since Madrid, they have been very surgical on how the President is handling the Iraqi War.

Berkowitz: He is now becoming much more of a supporter of the War in Iraq.

Serafin: Well, he [Kerry] has to be very careful, because if he goes the other direction, and he becomes Bin Laden’s candidate for President-

Berkowitz: So, Kerry is moving toward the center.

Serafin: Yes.

Berkowitz: In any case, whether it is the typical movement of any politician having run in a Democratic Primary that is to the Left—just as the Republican Primary is to the Right—now Kerry is moving to the Center, but in addition there is this strategic military reason for doing so.

Serafin: Right, he is being very surgical with the language…He has been very quiet the last two or three weeks while the President seems to be twisting in the wind with this Iraqi situation.
Serafin: I became a journalism student because of Watergate…[The late Former Senator] Paul Simon was my journalism teacher at the time and he said, “let’s go change the world.”

Berkowitz: Did you? Did Paul? Paul was the U. S. Senator for--

Serafin: Well, you change the people around you and hope they go out and change other people around them. I don’t know if you change the world. One man can make a difference. One woman can make a difference…[Ed. Note, Talking about changing the world, Bono [U2] said, “I can’t change the world, but I know people who can. That’s probably the deal here.” Perhaps this was said with reference to his trip to Africa with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill to elicit more assistance from the U. S. to deal with HIV-AIDS in Africa. CNN Presents, Time’s 100 Most Influential People, 4/24/04.

Berkowitz: Would you say that you tend to lean as a Democrat because of the influence of Paul Simon?

Serafin: …Years ago, I would have said, Yes. But, because of that influence, I have really been more of an independent. Not that I have not been able to identify with the Democrat or Republican Party. But, I have always kind of identified with a box of issues that have been important to me. I thought that Gary Hart was brilliant when it came to foreign relations. I worked for him…in the first campaign [83-84] as a volunteer; in the second campaign [87-88] I was actually working running the State of Illinois and back and forth to Iowa.

Berkowitz: Were you advising him how to deal with Monkey Business?

Serafin: Well, you know, that was a very, short brief two week period. We didn’t have a lot of time, unfortunately. I wish we had—

Berkowitz: Now Monkey Business was the name of the boat, right?

Serafin: And, Donna Rice was the name of the individual.

Berkowitz: And, …reporters suspected he [Gary Hart] was having an affair, a relationship with someone [while running in the Democratic Primaries for President]

Serafin: Yes, I went on Ch. 5 to talk with Carol Marin that evening and you know [if] he had an erection on a Wednesday evening, it became front-page news everywhere [on Thursday morning].

Berkowitz: He had a what?

Serafin: An erection.

Berkowitz: We can say that on TV.

Serafin: Well, we did that night, too.

Berkowitz: But, the point is, he was being followed by the press [because they suspected an affair] and he knew that and he told the reporters to follow him and they followed him and found him with Donna Rice. Was that kind of a dumb move, would you say?
Jeff Berkowitz: The question is—will it be a [U. S. Senate] race of issues. That is, will we see the clash of the articulate, conservative thoughts of Jack Ryan and the articulate, liberal thoughts of Barack Obama or will it be the rumor and innuendo about Jack Ryan and his sealed child custody records or divorce records or what is in those records and I raise that in the context of what we have just been talking about— Gary Hart’s Monkey Business. Has the nation and the state matured as to non-policy issues…and what a candidate has done, whether it is [Democratic U. S. Senate Candidate] Barack Obama or [Republican U. S. Senate Candidate]Jack Ryan?

Thom Serafin: Excellent point. The problem with Jack and the problem with Blair Hull is the way you respond to those issues. It is not the divorce or it is not the—in any divorce and I talk about this with my friends who have been divorced—you make wild charges back and forth, because you are leveraging whatever it is you are going to decide in front of a court of law. I am worse, you are terrible. He did this. She did this. Most of it is not true or it is exaggerated.

Berkowitz: So, what does Jack Ryan do. Give him some advice. Has he asked you for it. Have you been retained by Jack Ryan.

Serafin: No, No. I have not been retained. But, I know Jack. You have to put it out on the table.

Berkowitz: Transparency?

Serafin: Full disclosure

Berkowitz: Now, why isn’t he doing it.

Serafin: I think he is not doing it because he probably thinks there are things in there that he feels can be damaging to his personal

Berkowitz: you would say to Jack what when he told you that?

Serafin: I would say, Jack, it is a divorce proceeding. And, there are many people who have been divorced in this country. They understand what happens in those situations.

Berkowitz: They’ll understand?

Serafin: The line between love and hate is very thin.

Berkowitz: So, they’ll understand? Put it out there and they’ll understand?

Serafin: I think if you go out there and use third party messengers and you speak to that issue, the answer is yes.

Berkowitz; Third Party messengers?

Serafin: Well, you know-- he has a family. His wife is out there.

Berkowitz: His ex-wife [Jeri Lynn Ryan].

Serafin: His ex-wife. His mother. He has a great family.

Berkowitz: So, they should be talking about this for him.

Serafin: They should be speaking to his character. The issue is about his character. It is not about what is in his divorce proceeding.
But, the other side is going to take advantage of it and ride it all the way to victory, I think.

Berkowitz: Is that your prediction. You are predicting this evening, April 15, Barack Obama wins.

Serafin: Well, I don’t make predictions. But, I certainly think he is going to win this race.

Berkowitz: By what margin.

Serafin: Oh, I don’t know. If you look at generic polls: if people are going to vote Democrat or Republican in the fall, the generic polls that I have seen- The Republicans are behind 52 to 36 [in Illinois].

Berkowitz: So, a lot of this problem is not Jack Ryan’s problem, it is the problem of the Republican Party versus the Democratic Party in Illinois.

Serafin: The Republican Party in Illinois is on Life Support and even then I think people have already pulled the plug on it. So, you need a message, you need messengers, you need leadership—

Berkowitz: You need a resurrection. We just passed Easter. There was a Resurrection—Christians would believe.

Serafin: But, you are talking about a great man who was resurrected. In this situation, a great—

Berkowitz: Christ. Jesus Christ. You are saying Jack Ryan is no Jesus Christ, is that your point?

Serafin: That’s correct. [Laughter] You are really good.

Berkowitz: He may be- [that] in the Republican Party, if he leads a resurrection. That might change your mind. He might be able to walk on water.

Serafin: That’s right.

Berkowitz: I don’t mean that in a sacrilegious way. But, they need somebody almost with that, if not a miracle, that kind of accomplishment. You know, what about—

Serafin: What’s the message? What’s the message of the Republican Party?

Berkowitz: Well, the message of Jack Ryan, you have heard him, right. It’s about, it really kind of takes after Jack Kemp: Hope, Growth, and Opportunity. The difference is—Jack is taking something and made it a theme--Education. You folks are working with Students First [Foundation—], Right?

Serafin: Right.

Berkowitz: And Ron Gidwitz?

Serafin. Right.

Berkowitz. And, their approach is we need to spend more money on education, basically.

Serafin: Right.

Berkowitz: And, Jack says no. He says what we need to do is give people school choice. You know, you have seen this backpack.

Serafin: Yes

Berkowitz: We take our—oops, I wonder if I brought my $9,000. Jack says almost the same thing. We spend $9,000. Here we go. We spend $9,000 on education in the City of Chicago [Public Schools] per kid, per year. That is the operating cost. If you include capital costs, it is $11,000 [per kid, per year, that we spend.] …
Berkowitz: … My point here is not to say Jack Ryan is good, Barack Obama is bad because they are both good gentleman- I like them both. And, we will let voters decide. We are fair and balanced, here. We are sort of like Fox—tough, but fair. So, I am not taking a position on a candidate. We will let voters decide. But, you said, is there an issue? Well, this is a very dramatic issue. It is the first time that I know of—of a major Republican candidate across the state of Illinois saying he cares about low income people across the state of Illinois enough to put his neck on the line, to take on the teachers’ unions- who, you know, are adamantly opposed to this [School Choice, school vouchers]. That is an issue, is it a winning issue?

Serafin: It is part of a winning issue. And, that is part of a winning message. What you need is—you need a more sophisticated system of education here in Illinois. And, what he is talking about is a tactical solution to a specific issue. But, then, those children that are left behind, those children that won’t have the kind of sophisticated teaching—

Berkowitz: Wait a second, who is left behind? Everybody can go. They all have the choice. If all 440,000 kids want to go to a private school, they go.

Serafin: What private schools do they go to? There aren’t enough private schools.

Berkowitz: Well, you understand [what happens] in capitalism. Demand creates its own supply. So, when we give people four billion dollars-- we are currently spending 4.9 billion dollars [on the CPS] in the City of Chicago. If we give people essentially 5 billion dollars of purchasing power to spend at the school of their choice, within very short order, you will have lots of entrepreneurs, and lots of private schools, and lots of choice in a spread of geographic areas…

Serafin: …I happen to agree with the [school] voucher program—I support—

Berkowitz: So, you favor school choice- school vouchers?

Serafin: Yes. I grew up in Milwaukee and the program is working in Milwaukee.

Berkowitz: It is working in Milwaukee. It is working in Cleveland.

Serafin: But, that only takes a small layer of it. You have to deal with all of those other children that don’t have the same opportunity and won’t have the opportunity to use those vouchers.

Berkowitz: Who won’t have the opportunity?

Serafin: The school system we have—

Berkowitz: All right, we don’t time to go further on this. [But] I got quite a concession. You like school vouchers—we are going to move on because we don’t have too much time [left]. But, anyway, you can see that could be a major issue….

Berkowitz: My point is, all of that [that you raising about education] takes time because that is a political negotiation. The thing that Jack Ryan is suggesting [vouchers] can happen right now without altering political power.

Serafin: You think he is going to make that the cornerstone of his campaign?

Berkowitz: You have to listen to this guy, yes. He is talking about lowering taxes. He is talking about increasing jobs. He is talking about, what-- helping low income people have access to the free market. This is one of his themes. Now, we will see—the question is, how fair is the press going to be in covering this.

Serafin: Well, if you are relying on the Fourth Estate, my old career, journalism, to be fair, you are going to be out of luck. It is not about—

Berkowitz: They are not fair? Ch. 11 is not fair.

Serafin: No, I mean—

Berkowitz: You are saying, No, they are not fair?

Serafin: No, I don’t think anybody in the business is fair. Because we are not looking for fairness. You are looking for copy and putting people on the air and newsmakers, television is looking to put the hot story on the air that night—

Berkowitz: Wait a second, wait—

Serafin: They have six crews and you have 22 stories and you have to make decisions about what you are going to put on the air and you have to be able to do it in a minute and half package and you do a stand up and then you have to write a lead in, so you can’t deal with these complex stories--

Berkowitz: Well, no, wait a second—we are going to continue to speak as the credits roll…

Berkowitz: …why doesn’t fairness sell? You know, there is very little politics [discussed] on 2, 5 and 7. Even Ch. 11 {WTTW, Public TV], Chicago Tonight used to be a half hour [of Public Policy issues programming]. They expanded it to one hour and then they cut the public policy [discussion] down to fifteen minutes. Now, what kind of a way is that to run a railroad? You want to be critical of Ch. 11, WTTW tonight?

Serafin: No, time is money. I am not being critical of anyone. The facts are—

Berkowitz: No, it’s supposed to be an educational program. It is public TV. Why would they add gadgets, gizmos and movie reviews and cut down their public policy. Where is their balance on WTTW? They have Tavis Smiley on there, who is quite a liberal. They have Bill Moyers [who is far left]. This is from the national aspect of Public TV. Where is the conservative? I am just saying—where is the fair and balanced?

Serafin: That’s a good question. That’s a good question.

Berkowitz: So, you agree with me.

Serafin: Our country has attention deficit disorder. That’s why people deal in sound bites. That’s why USA Today is such a wonderful newspaper for most of the country—the stories are short and written at the fourth grade level.

Berkowitz: So, what is the message for Jack Ryan that you would tell him that he needs to win.

Serafin: He needs to grow taxpayers. Growing taxpayers means educating their kids, getting them good jobs.

Berkowitz: What is the message for Barack Obama?

Serafin: Barack Obama has got to move a little bit more toward the middle and appeal to the moderates a little bit more. I think he is in pretty good shape. He could ride this all the way—

Berkowitz: What is the message for George Bush? Can he win?

Serafin: George Bush can win if he can solve and get a victory in this war.

Berkowitz: Get a victory?

Serafin: You know, capture Bin Laden- bring some peace for three or four months.

Berkowitz: So, capturing Bin Laden might do it?

Serafin: You can’t win with 88 Americans dying every three weeks between now and Election Day.

Berkowitz: Is it “National Security, stupid,” Is that the issue? Or, is it “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”

Serafin: It is the War on Terrorism.

Berkowitz: So, it is National Security. It is not the Economy. It is not jobs. It is not health care.

Serafin: No.
Thom Serafin, Interviewed on Public Affairs. The show was recorded on April 15, 2004 and will be cablecast throughout the City of Chicago on Monday night, May 3, 2004 at 8:30 pm.