How to Create a "Bridge to Somewhere" When You Get a Tough Question

Last Updated Oct 10, 2008 12:41 PM EDT

There was an interesting moment in the McCain-Obama debate on Tuesday when Tom Brokaw asked both of them "Who do you have in mind for Treasury Secretary?"

It was a pretty stupid question, actually, since Brokaw knows full well that neither is in a position to reveal this information even if they know for sure who they would nominate. But sometimes in media interviews you get stupid questions, and you still have to answer them with something other than "no comment."

Unfortunately for McCain, he had to go first, so he stumbled around a bit before trying to "bridge" his answer to safer ground talking about the economy in general. Then Obama got to go, piggybacking on McCain's suggestion of Warren Buffett (very unlikely, totally safe suggestion) to give a direct answer and then bridging to his safer ground of talking about the economy.

And that's the point -- when you get one of these questions, you first have to give some sort of credible answer, then "bridge" with a line like, "but the larger point is..." to your safe ground of your pre-prepared talking points.

The transcript follows to further demonstrate what I'm talking about:

Brokaw: Senator, we have one minute for a discussion here. Obviously the powers of the treasury secretary have been greatly expanded. The most powerful officer in the cabinet now. Hank Paulson says he won't stay on. Who do you have in mind to appoint to that very important post?

Sen. McCain?

McCain: Not you, Tom.

Brokaw: No, with good reason.

McCain: You know, that's a tough question and there's a lot of qualified Americans. But I think the first criteria, Tom, would have to be somebody who immediately Americans identify with, immediately say, we can trust that individual.

A supporter of Sen. Obama's is Warren Buffett [chairman of Berkshire Hathaway]. He has already weighed in and helped stabilize some of the difficulties in the markets and with companies and corporations, institutions today.

I like Meg Whitman [former CEO of eBay and current McCain campaign adviser], she knows what it's like to be out there in the marketplace. She knows how to create jobs. Meg Whitman was CEO of a company that started with 12 people and is now 1.3 million people in America make their living off eBay. Maybe somebody here has done a little business with them.

But the point is it's going to have to be somebody who inspires trust and confidence. Because the problem in America today to a large extent, Tom, is that we don't have trust and confidence in our institutions because of the corruption on Wall Street and the greed and excess and the cronyism in Washington, D.C.

Brokaw: All right. Sen. McCain -- Sen. Obama, who do you have in mind for treasury secretary?

Obama: Well, Warren would be a pretty good choice -- Warren Buffett, and I'm pleased to have his support. But there are other folks out there. The key is making sure that the next treasury secretary understands that it's not enough just to help those at the top.

Prosperity is not just going to trickle down. We've got to help the middle class.

And we've -- you know, Sen. McCain and I have some fundamental disagreements on the economy, starting with Sen. McCain's statement earlier that he thought the fundamentals of the economy were sound.

Part of the problem here is that for many of you, wages and incomes have flat-lined. For many of you, it is getting harder and harder to save, harder and harder to retire.

And that's why, for example, on tax policy, what I want to do is provide a middle class tax cut to 95 percent of working Americans, those who are working two jobs, people who are not spending enough time with their kids, because they are struggling to make ends meet.

Sen. McCain is right that we've got to stabilize housing prices. But underlying that is loss of jobs and loss of income. That's something that the next treasury secretary is going to have to work on.

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.