Hansen: Bo Pelini will have to carry burden of tirade with him - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:07 am
Hansen: Bo Pelini will have to carry burden of tirade with him

At the end of a Cornhusker controversy, after the fury from the final Facebook post has faded away, there sits one cold fact about the world in which our most public of public figures now live.

When you are someone as famous as Bo Pelini, the world is listening. Even when you don't want them to be. Even when that doesn't seem fair.

“You have to watch your words and watch your step every single second of the day,” says Chris Peterson, a political consultant who long worked for Sen. Mike Johanns. “And the explosion of social media, the explosion of the Internet, has made that more true today than ever before.”

I called Peterson because I wanted to run a hypothetical by him: What if a Nebraska politician he worked for had tongue-whipped Nebraska voters the way Pelini went after fans in a two-year-old audiotape leaked this week?

I also called an expert on Internet-age business and privacy to pose a similar question: What if a CEO of a publicly traded company went all Pelini on his shareholders?

What would happen to the politician and the boss? Would voters and shareholders forgive and forget, in part because the leak violates our own personal standards of privacy?

“My first response if that happened? That would be 'Oh, %*&@@#%!' ” Peterson said of the political hypothetical. “And then it's time to huddle, quickly craft a response ... and impress upon (the politician) the need to rapidly respond and calm the firestorm.”

Of course, we don't actually need hypothetical scenarios in order to talk about politicians recently burned by leaked recordings.

In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama spent months apologizing for and backtracking from a comment in which he suggested that some misguided residents of the Rust Belt cling to guns and religion.

He survived, but possibly only because, when the audio leaked, he held a healthy delegate lead over primary opponent Hillary Clinton.

In 2012, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney spent months apologizing for and backtracking from a comment in which he suggested that 47 percent of the country were no-good deadbeats who would therefore vote for Barack Obama. He did not survive, and many pundits believe the secretly recorded and leaked video contributed to his demise.

In both cases, the leaked comments fed into and strengthened negative narratives of each candidate, say Peterson and Kirsten Martin, the aforementioned expert on business ethics and privacy.

The narratives: Barack Obama is a leafy-green-eating, lefty elitist. Mitt Romney is an unfeeling multimillionaire.

And Bo Pelini? Well, he's a hothead.

“If everyone loved (Pelini), they would glance right over this,” says Martin, a business professor at George Washington University. “But when I listened to it, I thought ... there must be a history here. There must be something about it that rings true for some people.”

Martin tried valiantly and failed to come up with a real-world example of a CEO trashing his shareholders.

Why? Because a CEO would never go after his shareholders, even in private, like a clearly agitated Pelini went after his “fair-weather fans,” she said.

“You can't take stockholders for granted,” says Martin, who has written extensively about business, technology and privacy. “The stockholders will leave, and the stock will dip. There is an immediate correction.”

So, yes, the CEO would likely be gone if he called the people who invested in his company a bunch of naughty names. But the analogy isn't airtight.

Nebraska fans are less fickle than shareholders, she said. They are more willing to accept the idea that Pelini said what he said in a heated moment and that he has changed since 2011.

They aren't fair-weather, at least not compared to people who buy and sell shares every week.

They are in it for the long haul. They are more willing to forgive.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

“I understand that,” she says. “I went to Michigan.”

Peterson says he actually thinks Nebraska politicians who trashed Nebraskans in private — and then apologized in public — could survive. But only if they had a lot of good will banked with the state's voters.

And only if they apologized quickly and repeatedly, and then managed to change the conversation to things the politician was doing to help the state.

In this way, he says, the politician analogy doesn't fit, either.

It's easier for a football coach to survive a secretly recorded tirade because it's easier for a football coach to do something to change the conversation on Saturday.

“A politician can't just go out and beat Michigan,” Peterson said.

Which brings us back to the notion of our public figures and privacy. Whether their privacy matters. Whether it should.

Martin argues that it should matter, that everyone, even Bo Pelini, needs a safe space in which to vent his frustrations without being graded or judged. To live without this safe place, Martin said, “is a lonely existence.”

But Peterson says that even if it should matter, it doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter because no matter how many people take offense to how the information was leaked — in this case, an anonymous emailer sent it to Deadspin — the cold truth is that the information is now out in the world.

The tirade is out there, and we can't and won't un-know it. It will be on the lips of countless Nebraskans the next time Bo Pelini loses a game and frustrates fans, just like it would be right there the next time our hypothetical Nebraska politician voted a certain way and frustrated voters.

It will soon disappear from Deadspin.com, but it will still be in the back of many of our minds. That is now Bo Pelini's challenge. That is his cold truth.

Contact the writer: Matthew Hansen

matthew.hansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1064    |  

Matthew Hansen is a metro columnist who writes roughly three columns a week focusing on all things Omaha.

Cult murderer's death row appeal denied, but execution in limbo
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Police identify 21-year-old shot in ankle near 30th, W Streets
19-year-old arrested in connection with March shooting
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
Nebraska senators to study tax issues over break
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
< >
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »