Transcription – Chris LaCivita Interview

Q: How did that come about? Since only a few people saw it?

LACIVITA: The sheer volume of press coverage at that point in time.

Q: And that was the strategy, right? Run this —

LACIVITA: Yes.

Q: — ad (inaudible).

LACIVITA: Force the press to cover it. Force them. And we’re not just talking about newspapers, we’re talking about TV news, the vast — nothing against TV, I mean nothing against newspapers, but most people get their news from the TV. And they still do, even with the internet. And the internet was big in 2004, but from a political standpoint it was an infant to where it is now. But we recognize that, we had, you know, we did stuff online and, you know, we’re making 200– raising $200,000 a day once things finally took off.

Q: My timeline from the —

LACIVITA: Right.

Q: — back of the [01:00:00] Harvard book, Campaigning for President 2004, shows the ad running first on August 4th.

LACIVITA: Right. Yeah, last week it was the 10 year anniversary of the ad.

Q: Which was — that’s right. Because five weeks be– well, three and a half weeks before the Republican convention.

LACIVITA: Right. OK, so it was a little further.

Q: So here you had basically the month of August —

LACIVITA: Vacuum.

Q: — and what did you expect the Kerry campaign’s response was going to be, if this got the kind of news coverage that you ended up getting?

LACIVITA: Well, we knew that because we are in politics too, Rick and I. And by then, we had brought on Greg Mueller and Keith Appell, they’re with a PR firm called CRC, CRC Public Relations. And they actually did John O’Neill’s book, did the PR for the book. But [01:01:00] —

Q: Which sold almost half a million copies.

LACIVITA: Yeah, oh yeah. It just took off. And Greg Mueller, who’s the principal in the firm, he’s an old warrior. I mean, he was Pat Buchanan’s comms director, I mean, so this guy is, you know, used to hand to hand combat. So —

Q: You mean when Buchanan ran —

LACIVITA: When he ran for president in 1988. So —

Q: Ninety-two.

LACIVITA: Ninety-two, ’92, thank you, for the nomination. And so, we brought Greg on to handle the day to day interaction with the media. Because you want to talk about a real slugfest, they all wanted to get me, you know, but — and Greg’s job was to — I’m like look, you know, Rick and I aren’t doing interviews, the guys are doing it. It’s not about us. The press wants to — their first reaction, let’s get to the political guys. And it’s not about us telling these guys’ story, it’s about these guys telling their story. So, we did — Greg devised this brilliant media strategy, earned media strategy at that point, [01:02:00] even though it was a filter, that wasn’t built on newspapers. We knew we had to deal with the newspapers, but we wanted TV coverage. Because TV coverage, by and large, if they’re interviewing them, with — aside from editing, you’re going to get most of your points across. And it was such a sexy, you know, issue that what we decided was we started bypassing — I mean obviously the [Sean] Hannitys of the world were all over us, and we more than happily obliged them. But what we — Greg wanted to do was, and we ended up doing, was we set up these satellite tours. And people didn’t see this going on. But we would bring in four or five veterans who had a connection to a particular state, and we’d call producers and say, “How would you like” — for a local TV station in Cleveland, and say “How would you like to have our guy on your show live via satellite for the six o’clock news?” (laughter) None of them [01:03:00] said no. They were all like yeah, that’d be awesome. So we did these in key markets. We did it in Florida, we did it in Pennsylvania, we did it in Ohio, we did it in — I mean we did it everywhere, in states that mattered. And even some that didn’t. But — so we were force multiplying in a big way, in terms of the messaging, but doing TV for — by doing it via satellite, shipping it out to people, and talk radio, and all of these things were going on. So, you know, it was a very well executed, organized operation. Our biggest problem at the time was keeping up with the donations. And then, you know, we’re into week three or week four, and we’ve — we’re a bona fide political operation now. And [01:04:00] we’re in a rhythm, and that rhythm is, you know, attacking, counterattacking, defending, on any number of points at any given point in time. And so, you — when we’re trying to maintain a long-term 30,000 foot level, but we’re also — you know, and Bill Franke is trying to run an international company, and he’s running the day to day of the operation, and John is doing — John O’Neill is probably the, you know, one of the best — I mean he was the best spokesperson for the group. This is a guy who debated John Kerry in ’72 on the Dick Cavett Show. And what’s funny is, I remember talking to Boone, Mr. Pickens, about, you know, who was helping us organize. And I said, well, I said, “You know, John O’Neill.” He said, “John, that son of a bitch,” he says, “That lawyer sued me and won.” He goes, “I’ll get in with him.” [01:05:00] I mean, you know, they had a history in Texas. (laughter)

Q: I want to — I want you to — again, what did you expect the response of the Kerry campaign to be?

LACIVITA: Well, thank you. The — we expected two things. One, that they would ignore us. Because we were all political operatives, so we knew that when you make an accusation, the last thing you want to do is pour gas on the fire. You’re just praying that the story ends, right? That the story ends, it just goes away. So we knew the initial reaction would be dismissive. And move on, and try and change the subject. But, you know, the ads weren’t going anywhere, and because we not only decided to air an ad, but then we decided to put the men themselves out there on a daily basis, I mean we sat them down in some very hostile — I mean, [01:06:00] we put them on MSNBC with — oh.

Q: With Chris Matthews?

LACIVITA: With Chris Matthews. I mean, and I remember we — I can’t remember his name, but he was a Swift Boater, you know, he was a Swift Boat captain, Thurlow, Larry Thurlow. What a great guy. Farmer from Kansas. So, big guy who, you know, fought in Vietnam and probably saw more than any man should see in a lifetime, and came home, did his duty for his country, came home, and worked the earth. This guy comes out as part of our — you know, and we send him — put him on — I remember we made the calculus, we put him on with Chris Matthews, and we knew that Chris Matthews, we knew Chris Matthews was going to blow him up. Just that Chris Matthews was going to be Chris Matthews. And that Larry Thurlow, [01:07:00] the farmer from Kansas, was going to be respectful, quiet, make his points, no sir, and Chris Matthews was going to put on a show. And we knew that was going to backfire on them. And it did. Those types of things we did continuously, so it was more than just TV ads, it was in how you utilize your primary messengers, and that your primary — and we would always tell our guys, look, just speak from the heart and speak from what you remember, and don’t change your story, and be consistent and, you know, everything will be fine, and I think that’s what helped — I think that’s what made the Kerry no comment, if you will, or we’re not going to legitimize this with a response, I think that’s what hurt him. And then we started debating the process. Because the press loves to talk process. So then we got into a discussion about why wasn’t the Kerry campaign responding? [01:08:00] (laughter) And that’s when I knew that things — that we were going to grow roots at that point in time.