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Will John Edwards Become the Al Gore of Poverty?

I watched Edwards’ interview Friday night and it was pretty clear that he had help from crisis communication experts, delivering a narrative about a man who had come from a modest background only to succumb to hubris in his quest for power. With his southern charm and his trial lawyer poise, I thought it was a brilliant performance, though questions obviously linger about payments to his mistress and whether or not he really is the father of the child.

Of course, going head to head with the Olympics, only 3 million people actually watched the interview, but that was part of the strategy.

Yet, despite Edwards best attempts to bury attention to the revelation, and even though the story broke on a Friday, it still generated a considerable amount of overall news attention. According to Pew, the scandal registered as the #4 most widely covered topic of the week, filling 4% of the newshole in comparison to 6% for domestic terrorism, 11% for the Olympics and 24% of the newshole filled by the election.

So what should Edwards do now? The former candidate should stay under the political radar until late 2009, then re-emerge sporting a beard, having gained some weight, and dedicating the rest of his life to combating poverty. Edwards should become the Al Gore of poverty.

(Ok, I was just joking about the beard.)

Indeed, for Edwards, it would be a public communication challenge just as daunting as breaking through to Americans on global warming. I wrote a report about this challenge last year, arguing that poverty needs to be redefined in terms of social inclusion and low wage work.

I don’t pretend to have the answers for a breakthrough on poverty, but the report does address the current problems with many contemporary communication efforts and points to several ways forward.


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