THE BLOG
02/03/2009 12:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Lesson from Blagojevich

As the Illinois Senate considered the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich, the embattled governor went on an extensive media blitz - 17 interviews in 48 hours - to state his case. Given the incriminating tape of a damaging telephone conversation, the odds of his forestalling the inevitable were slim. But whatever chance of redemption Blagojevich had evaporated when he violated one of the basic ground rules of handling tough questions: answer the question. There's a lesson to be learned for anyone in any situation by examining the answers Blagojevich gave during his appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live."

You can see the full interview on YouTube, but the transcript of the key section provides a more objective view. Larry King showed Blagojevich a video clip of a press conference held by Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States attorney general investigating the case, in which the investigator told the world, "The governor's own words describing the Senate seat: 'It's a bleeping valuable thing -- thing. You just don't give it away for nothing.' Another quote: 'I've got this thing and it's bleeping golden. And I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing. I'm not going to do it. And I can always use it. I can parachute me there.'"

Larry King - live on national television - turned to Blagojevich and asked, "Did you say that?"

Blagojevich responded, "I haven't had a chance to hear any of the tapes, so I don't know."

King asked, "Well, but you know if you said that."

The transcript continues:

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I believe -- well, let me say, I know there were a whole bunch of conversations and discussions. And I had conversations with powerful people in America, with -- and I'd like to call them as witnesses. I want to call Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, as a witness. He has said publicly -- on a national TV show, that his conversations with me were appropriate. I'd like to call Senator Dick Durbin, who I talked to about the Senate seat -- Harry Reid and Robert Menendez.
KING: But you'd remember if you said that, wouldn't you?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well...
KING: I mean that's something you'd remember.
BLAGOJEVICH: I'd have to hear the tape. I'm not going to just assume or take that interpretation without having a chance to actually hear the tape. I will say this. There was a lot of talk over the period from the election -- a little bit before the election and up until that date when everything changed. And there was a lot of exchanging of ideas, asking questions, exploring all kinds of options, including Oprah Winfrey was part of the discussion. But never, not ever, did I ever have any intention to violate any criminal law and never was this about selling a Senate seat for any kind of personal gain for me. And...
KING: So then are you denying that you said that?
BLAGOJEVICH: I'm -- what I'm saying is that I have not committed any crime and I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing and that there were a whole series of conversations. And taking snippets of conversations, not allowing them in the full context, doesn't tell the whole story.

Larry King essentially asked the same question four times, and each time Blagojevich danced away from the answer. Granted, if Blagojevich had answered "yes," he would have incriminated himself; if had answered "no,' he might have perjured himself, but the larger point here is his digression. Shifting away from an issue to a positive point is known as spin. Spin is the lingua franca of politics, but is unacceptable in every other walk of life. In every other walk of life, accountability is obligatory.

Making positive points is an important maneuver in any exchange, but far more important is providing an answer to every question. Earn the right to spin by first answering the question.

This additive technique is called Topspin, and you can learn more about it by clicking here.