- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Washington struggled Tuesday for a solution for the Wall Street mess but settled on what to blame for the failure of a $700 billion package - the word “bailout.”

Lawmakers argued that it wasn’t so much the size or scope of the package they wrote, but rather that they allowed their giant, complex bill to be boiled down to one pejorative that sunk it.

Now it’s “rescue” to the rescue, as those who want a bill pivoted to the R-word, hoping that will help them win votes in an expected redo later this week.

“Let’s not call it a ‘bailout.’ Let’s call it a ‘rescue’ because it is a rescue. It’s a rescue of Main Street America,” Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain said Tuesday morning on CNN.

He was followed later in the day by White House spokesman Tony Fratto, who said that by using the word bailout, the press had adopted “the language of the critics.”

“I think it’s really unfortunate shorthand for a very complicated issue,” Mr. Fratto said.

“Our critics took the language of a ‘bailout for Wall Street.’ And I think it’s undeniable that the media chose the branding of this debate. … We’re going to continue to communicate on this, and hopefully we can do a better job of making clear just what our goal is, and what we’re trying to fix.”

Financial adviser and radio host Ric Edelman said the Bush administration has mainly itself to blame.

“This is a public-relations disaster that was accidentally prompted by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson when he went to Capitol Hill and used the term ‘$700 billion bailout.’ That moniker stuck. The media used that phrase, and consumers accepted it at face value,” Mr. Edelman said.

“This has been poor use of jargon by policymakers who are used to talking to each other, not the public,” he said.

Never mind that dictionary definitions suggest that “bailout” and “rescue” can be used interchangeably - which is exactly what most newspapers and newscasts have been doing during the past two weeks.

In Tuesday’s headlines, The Washington Times called the $700 billion bill a “historic bailout,” while the New York Times and Wall Street Journal also labeled it a “bailout.” The Washington Post and USA Today both called it a “rescue.”

“I’d hate to be doing PR for the government this week,” said Richard Laermer, a Manhattan-based public relations executive. “All they’re doing is covering their own butt and helping others cover theirs, which is a terrible way to live.”

But, he agreed, “Bailout is a terrible word. It should have been disallowed in any conversation. You want good terminology, not spin.”

Mr. Laermer added that the White House “made a huge mistake not showing the doomsday scenarios with more clarity to the public. The people would have called their congressmen and said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to be on a bread line.’”

Story Continues →