Daily Dose: About Scott Walker's letter on NFL player protests and domestic violence...

October 17, 2017

There is a great deal of political messaging strategy behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's letter to NFL leadership and players. After reading news reports and the letter itself, the ideas Walker evoked (i.e., NFL and the players should worry more about domestic violence and give up their protests about inequality and racism) sounded very familiar to me - I've heard them somewhere else before. And State Representative Melissa Sargent had it exactly correct in her statement:


"...after seven years in office, I’m glad Scott Walker finally woke up this morning and realized domestic violence in the NFL is a problem."


More to the point, we know Walker has no original ideas. He's fed everything by the vast conservative think tank network - including the power of a well-framed message to influence public discourse, in spite of the facts. It starts with the power of the vast conservative think tank and dissemination network.


I had heard (actually, read) Walker's talking points before. They came from one of the top "scholars" at one of the top conservative think tanks - the American Enterprise Institute. Marc Thiessen is also a frequent Fox News contributor and editorial writer for the Washington Post.  On September 25, 2017, he wrote an op-ed that ran in newspapers nationwide. Here is the excerpt introducing the Walker talking points connecting flag protests with domestic violence. Clearly, there is a conscious effort to spread this message. It is very likely Walker was fed these ideas by a think tank:


"If the NFL won’t stop its players from disrespecting the flag, then maybe Congress should take a second look at some of the federal benefits the NFL enjoys. For example, the NFL gets a special antitrust exemption in U.S. law. Democrats in Congress have already been debating whether the league should be stripped of this exemption because of its weak response to domestic violence allegations against players."


Besides trying to use Democrats' adherence to issue messaging against them, the talking points above make use of the exact same messaging strategy Walker used during the Act 10 protests in 2011. Here's how.


First, let's go back to 2011 and the Act 10 protests. The video below is the first press conference (February 18, 2011) Walker gave after protests erupted at the State Capitol. As always, he evokes the important framing ideas within the first minute. See if you can hear what they are, and what the conservative strategy is based on the message:


Walker starts by "acknowledging" the protestors and their "right to be heard." He then THANKS the "300,000 plus" state employees (i.e., the vast majority) who "didn't SKIP out" and "showed up" like the "good, hardworking public servants" they are, and "we" (as in, Walker himself) "hope they continue to be." So why is this important framing?


Because the above message evokes these important conservative ideas: "The protestors are the undisciplined, immoral minority who "skipped work" (think of a delinquent child skipping school) and require punishment (Act 10) as discipline. The good, moral, disciplined people went to work and did what I expect of them (as the authority figure), and will continue to do so." 


The critical conservative ideas of authority, discipline and punishment are evoked immediately. And it worked - divide and conquer worked so well, that even union activists unconsciously reinforced Walker's strategy by calling themselves "union thugs." What does this have to do with Walker's letter based on the AEI talking points? Everything - it's the same message, and the same divide and conquer.


Here's the important part of his statement:


"...stand for the American flag and the national anthem out of respect for those who risk their lives for our freedoms, and then take a stand against domestic violence to keep American families safe."


Walker is depending on a cognitive state known as "salient exemplar" (applying the behavior or state of a small sample size of people to the larger population) to make this message effective. Conservative think tanks know that when most people read/hear this message, this is what their brain will process and accept (not necessarily agree with, but accept) - especially as it will be repeated over and over again: "The NFL players who are protesting don't respect the flag or the people who risk their lives for my freedom - this makes them immoral and undisciplined. So they must also be the players who betray their families by committing acts of domestic violence. This makes them and their protests even more immoral."


Players who protest are bad, players who don't are good. The same message as Act 10. Knowing the state of this message and why it's so effective is an important first step. The next step in countering it effectively by evoking a stronger message of empathy and unity.


That's what I'll discuss tomorrow!