Capital Chatter: Get to the point

Dear Gov. Kate Brown, school superintendents and other elected officials.

Please, get to the point.

Tell us the news. Don't "bury the lead" ("or lede" as it sometimes is written).

If ever there were a time for effective communication, this is it. Pandemics should not breed obfuscation, even accidentally.

Recent days have brought countless examples of political and public school leaders prefacing the news — the important stuff — with long-winded expressions of expressions of appreciation and commiseration. The words are heartfelt but misdirected, mistimed and misused

As you remind us, "We're all in this together." So let us be frank.

Empathy is important. But timing is everything.

You inadvertently waste your energy if you start important announcements with lengthy recitations of empathy and appreciation. Give us the news first. We're waiting. And you're wasting our time when you recount all that you, and we, have done so far instead of saying what's new. Save most of the commiseration and history for the end. By then your audience may be more receptive.

Ponderous prologues and prefaces merely irritate the audience, especially during times of high anxiety and short attention spans. Audiences have no interest in listening to commentaries that stand between them and the actual news that affects them. Your heartfelt expressions resonate with you but turn out to be counter-productive.

What matters to any audience is what they want to know, not what you want them to know. Address their immediate concerns first and then, if you must, get on to whatever else you feel compelled to add.

This is Communications 101.

Here's another reality: Praising yourself also is potentially irritating and thus counterproductive. To say, "We're doing everything we can to …" is inaccurate. In actuality, what you mean is, "We're doing everything we can based on what we have thought of so far, our time and our finances and other resources."

I'm not suggesting you switch to that verbosity. Instead, respect your audiences. Leave it up to them to decide whether you're doing all you can.

In a similar vein, it's unrealistic when you say, "I know what you're feeling … ." It could be accurate to say, "Your emails and phone calls have shown … " But none of us ever completely know what anyone is going through, because we're not that person. That's true whether the other person is our governor or our partner or our offspring.

As for empathy, it can be seen through one's actions, not by declaring empathy.

Mama bear is on patrol: Brown and state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum drew praise for their coronavirus response from Oregonian members of AARP during a conference call this week.

Rosenblum's down-home demeanor seemed to resonate. Talking with one caller, Rosenblum started with, "Hi, Arlene, this is Ellen here."

Discussing the role that the state Department of Justice plays in consumer protection for Oregonians, Rosenblum said, "I sometimes refer to myself as the mama bear looking out for her cubs."

She urged people to report robocalls, scams and price gouging to the DOJ but not to go overboard by investigating on their own: "We don't expect you to be a Nancy Drew detective."

Speaking of lawyers: Misha Isaak, who had a controversial time as general counsel to Gov. Brown, has rejoined the Perkins Coie law firm as a partner in its Portland office. He had left the company to work for the governor's office, first as deputy general counsel, in 2015.

Brown appointed him to the Court of Appeals last year. Isaak ultimately turned down the appointment after outgoing Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall said the governor's staff, especially Isaak, inappropriately tried to influence her work and restrict her independence.

Before choosing Isaak for the appellate court, Brown had not publicly announced the vacancy, which would have enabled others to apply.

Perkins Coie's announcement of Isaak's hiring noted: "During Misha's tenure as general counsel, he managed all legal affairs in the Governor's Office, representing Governor Brown in settling the state's most significant litigation during her tenure, including its dispute with Oracle, the hoteling of foster youth, services for the intellectually disabled, treatment of transgender inmates, and sale of the Elliott State Forest. Misha also managed the appointment of a historic number of state judges, including more than half of the Oregon Supreme Court, Oregon Court of Appeals, and Multnomah County Circuit Court, significantly increasing diversity of the state court bench."

One last rant about words: "Guidance" has become everyday language from school and health officials, but it's not straightforward. It's often difficult to tell when the guidance is a mandate, when it's a strong recommendation and when it's a mere suggestion.

Tell me your stories: I'm interested in readers' experiences with the pandemic, such as: How are the disrupted supply chain and unavailability of goods affecting you? If you work in social services, are you getting the "guidance" and personal protective gear you need? What about if you work in other industries? If you've applied for unemployment how has that gone?

My email is below. Please send me your thoughts.



Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at ,, or

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