Use of profanity is traditionally accepted as an occasional outburst reserved for situations of duress or frustration, but as recent events have demonstrated, it can also be used to ring in historic government change. By now, we all know that Vice President Biden said on-air, for millions of Americans to hear, that the new healthcare bill was a ‘big f***ing deal’. It sure is. However, as a PR professional, I find the response tactics employed by the White House and the national media disconcerting.
Putting aside all political alignment and opinions of the current administration, the fact remains that Vice President Biden and President Obama are international public figures and as such, the eyes of the world follow them and many aspire to one day achieve greatness like them. Is the use of profanity appropriate for the second-in-command of the free world? Of course it is…as long as no one catches you.
Moments after the bomb dropped, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tweeted, ‘And yes Mr. Vice President, you’re right…’ As surprising as this bluntness and lack of embarrassment may be, Mr. Gibbs was simply following suite with what was coming down from the big man himself.
President Obama was later quoted at a press conference saying “You know what the best thing about yesterday was? Joe’s comment.”
The White House further dismissed the incident as Biden told supporters at a fundraiser in Baltimore late Wednesday that Obama was not mad at what he delicately termed his “faux pas.”
CBS News later made light of the story by stating that Biden’s F-bomb was ‘the highlight of the day.’
From Twitter to late night television, the Biden F-bomb is being tapped as a source of comedy. With a bit of Googling, one can even find and purchase a t-shirt with an image of Biden and the phrase in question scrolled across it. Some comedic highlights from Tuesday night include:
Jimmy Kimmel suggested that Biden get a “swear jar” after playing the video on his show Tuesday night. Jimmy Fallon: “Joe Biden got himself in a bit of trouble. Did you hear about that? Apparently it sounded like Biden said to President Obama, ‘This is a big f-ing deal.’ In response, NBC picked Biden to host the show, ‘Big F-ing Deal or No F-ing Deal.’”
Jay Leno: “In my lifetime, I’ve been fortunate to hear presidents say great things. I heard John F. Kennedy say, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’ I remember Ronald Regan saying, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ On this historic day, I got to hear what Joe Biden said to our president. This is real.”
So, comedy is the answer, right? Well, what was the alternative – a formal apology? In my opinion, yes, a very brief formal apology would have been appropriate and would have shown Americans and more importantly children, that this is not an acceptable way to speak. I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine a child seeing someone they are taught to admire uttering this phrase and then seeing people respond by smiling and laughing about it, and then feeling comfortable repeating it. Perception is reality and I think that Biden and to a lesser extent Obama, have lost a bit of respect by shrugging this incident off. If history has taught us anything, it’s that public figures can do some pretty heinous things, but as long as they apologize, their halo will not remain tarnished for long.