What Would Judy Do?: Hunting Season

By Judy A. Smith | Oct 18th, 2012

Olivia PopeAs they say: the plot thickens. This week we find that secrets abound everywhere and there is the threat that many potentially damaging ones may soon appear.  When Artie Hornbacher, a low level data entry employee at NSA shows up ranting and raving about proof of a system being used by the government to spy on Americans, who can take him seriously. Judging from his appearance, mannerisms and rhetoric he would appear to be at best a nerdy, socially isolated man, given to all kinds of conspiracy theories. It is certainly how Olivia perceives him until he mentions knowledge of her late night calls with the President. Now the same behavior that led her to think Artie was a nutcase is suddenly perceived differently once she connects it with a truth that she knows, a truth she wants to conceal.

Perception is a strong element in interaction. How we perceive someone or something will usually dictate our judgment regarding that entity and in turn affect our behavior towards it. In a courtroom, what the jury thinks of the individuals involved in the proceedings go a long way in determining a decision. Granted the evidence and arguments presented are important but often much of that is to form a perception of those standing trial. Of course less substantial elements are equally important if not more so, such as body language, attire, reputation. In high profile cases, especially if those involved are publically known there is a certain bias that the jurors will most likely have. Although the screening process for the jurors tries to correct for this as well as the supposedly avoidance of public discussion or news about case while it is in process, there is still the court of the public, and you usually have to win there to win in the courtroom.

Those perceptions and images can also be manipulated especially in this day of information overload. Parts of what I do help to control and shape those images. Often it might be to alter it by focusing attention to other aspects. I am sometimes called a fixer because I fix problems and they often deal with how a client is perceived which can be a threat to their reputation. We view people in a certain light and don’t take kindly to discovering it’s an act. Much like in, “The Wizard of Oz,” when the curtain is pulled back to expose a manipulative, meek, bumbling man instead of the mighty and powerful Wizard, we are disappointed and usually angered; this despite the fact that the Wizard does have power and knowledge but in order to make people believe that he must create this illusion.

In the show Artie is not what he appears to be – twice. He is not the paranoid conspiracy theorist; well even if he is he’s right about the spying program – then when he would seem to be a patriotic hero he turns out to be a spy who has been stealing secrets from the NSA for years, his appearance causing him to be perceived as anything but.  In the White House the President and his wife present the image of a loving, devoted, couple when in reality we know what’s really up. Perceptions often mask the truth due to a complex mixture of our values and culture. Paradoxically, today’s age of information and access makes it both harder to mask truths for too long but also offer a tool to manipulate, build, and reinforce those same not wholly truthful images. The great fear is of course exposure which can lead to chaos, even for Olivia Pope.


Judy A. Smith is the founder and President of Smith and Company, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles as well as a Co-Executive Producer of ABC's Scandal. You can follow her on Twitter (@JudySmith_) or "Like" her on Facebook, and you can get more information about managing personal and professional crisis situations by visiting her site, judysmith.com.