To Politicians, Is Hate Speech Actually Good PR?

Here we are in 2020. We’re 155 years past the Civil War. We’re 75 years past the end of World War II. Shouldn’t the easiest thing in PR be to decry, denounce, condemn or disavow any use of hateful symbols such as Confederate flags or Nazi images?

We would think.

But apparently for some political leaders here in Michigan, that’s too much to ask.

Conventional wisdom says by speaking out against insignias that represent slavery and genocide, you wouldn’t offend anyone. Or at least anyone that matters. This should be PR “layup,” shouldn’t it? But apparently for some in politics, the safe thing to do is to leave it unsaid.

When some protestors showed up at the State Capitol two weeks ago waving Confederate flags, the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives expressed “support” for the protest overall, without any criticism of the overt imagery. Last week, when a State Senator was caught on TV wearing a mask on the Senate floor with an obvious Confederate pattern, leadership of that body never criticized him. The Senator tweeted that he didn’t “intend to offend anyone,” begging the question what was his intent? Then today, when an additional Capitol protest included signage with a swastika, the Speaker of the House proclaimed that “There’s nothing more American” than a protest like the one that went on, without any condemnation for the widely-reported imagery.

We are living in an unquestionably difficult era. Emotions are running high as patience is running low. But here’s some free PR advice that these “leaders” in the State legislature should keep in mind, whether they are receiving bad advice or just ignoring good counsel: If you don’t speak out against this hate speech you are giving it a de facto endorsement. If you don’t publicly decry it, you are, in effect, embracing it.

It hasn’t happened yet and it may not ever happen, but if they don’t speak out against the actions of a few – they will send a message to the many about wanting the votes of racists and bigots of all varieties. If that’s a PR strategy, then it’s not a part of PR that we want to even try to understand.