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Guest Column

All the world's a stage

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cartoon courtesy of Cagel Cartoons

With modern media, know this: you can run off at the mouth, but you can't hide.

It's surprising how many media-savvy folks fail to grasp that. Some politicians still think they can say things in the hinterlands and not have the remarks rebound on the Internet. Some pundits believe they can let loose in relatively small corners of the blogosphere, or on local radio stations, and not be taken to task as they would in larger national forums.

Those who misjudge the viral nature of today's communications do so at their own peril.

A recent victim was Paul Krugman, the noted columnist who writes for the New York Times and someone whose work I often admire. Mr. Krugman had some provocative thoughts about 9/11, most notably that our memories have been "irrevocably poisoned," and the anniversary is "an occasion for shame."

Rather than publish these views in the newspaper, Mr. Krugman chose to write them only in his blog, deep within the Times' website. Perhaps he took comfort in believing that the volatile assertions would reach fewer people. Moreover, he probably assumed the remarks would be seen only by regular readers of his "The Conscience of a Liberal" blog, who might be more accepting of his views than those in a larger, general audience.

Mr. Krugman not only sought safety in the blogosphere's back room, he also tried to stifle debate by stating that he would not post any feedback, for what he called "obvious reasons."

Naturally, it took only hours to blow up. Conservatives raged on the Internet and on cable-TV; Donald Rumsfeld even huffed that he was canceling his subscription to The Times (odd, since the item never appeared in the paper).

By the next day, Mr. Krugman was compelled to clarify his position with a second posting in which he softened his stance somewhat. Still, his head must have been exploding. Like so many who underestimate the potency of today's media, he was no doubt surprised that his quiet little blog had created so much noise.

Professionals who should know better - both liberals and conservatives - often use less restraint on smaller stages. Lately, Glenn Beck's declarations are even more outrageous than they were on cable-TV, now that his outlet is a small Webcast. Sean Hannity, whose barbs are plenty sharp on the Fox News Channel, is even more vicious on his daily radio program.

Politicians who go on local radio back home tend to adopt a "just between us" approach. Over the summer, for example, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) was interviewed on radio in Denver and likened President Barack Obama to a "tar baby." When it went viral, Lamborn apologized.

After Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his presidential campaign, President Obama advised: "this isn't like running for governor or running for Senate or running for Congress, you've got to be a little more careful about what you say."

Perry has had more than his share of small-forum remarks that don't play well on the national stage. Among his worst was the 2005 insult to a local TV reporter in Houston following a testy interview: "Adios, mofo." In flunking Media 101, Perry later said he didn't realize the tape was still rolling.

Perry's book, "Fed Up!" is chock full of cracks and quips that are not only difficult to explain to a national electorate, but also reflect a misunderstanding of media. While the audience for most books, even best sellers, is relatively small, nothing on the printed page is safe from national scrutiny. Following publication Perry acknowledged as much, saying the book provided "the best concrete evidence that I'm really not running for president."

New media creates an unusual dichotomy: communication that is more personal and intimate, yet is preserved forever and potentially glimpsed by anyone.

Those in the public eye should commit to memory a media version of Miranda Rights: everything you say can and will come back to haunt you.

- Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His columns are distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. (www.CandidCamera.com).

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