Choose a size for the type: Large Medium Small
While The Gaz carefully laid out what was known about the Fordgythe Foundation, The Register spouted rumors and assumptions as if it were a whale with a size XL blow hole. If you were to believe the article on its front page, the Fordgythe Foundation was a plot by outsiders to undermine the moral fabric of our town, its money very likely came from drug lords trying to “launder” their cash so the tax people couldn’t trace it, and it was out personally to sink The Register by pretending to give money to charities for purchases made at local stores.
Most interesting of all to me were The Register’s clear hints that it was on the verge of exposing who was behind the Foundation. Since I knew that I wasn’t a drug lord laundering cash, I also knew that The Register wasn’t truly close to figuring it out. The one thing they’d gotten right, though, was that the Foundation was trying to sink The Register, if by “sink” you mean “keep The Register from sinking The Gaz.”
Here’s the thing my father figured out that The Register didn’t. My father understood, based on nothing but intuition, that the Fordgythe Foundation was personal. It may have the word “foundation” in its title, but it’s really about one person – and his two friends – helping out other individuals. The Register assumed it was a heartless organization giving cash to other nameless individuals. People so often see their own reflections when they look at others. That’s why The Register missed the point.
There was only a week until the debate, and I knew my family life was going to be busy and tense. But I decided it’d be worth it to try to throw The Register off. I didn’t want The Gaz to find out who was behind The Foundation, but I definitely wanted The Register to be very wrong in public about it.
Meanwhile, another of my plans was about to kick in. This one was only a little bit sneaky, though. I had asked Julia, my employee, to find someone who could help my father do better in the debate. She had done some research and found a “media consultant” named Mischa Buskin, who claimed to have worked with the biggest stars, politicians and heads of companies, teaching them how to come across well on TV. Julia sent me the Web address for Mischa’s company, which was called TeleSuccess, Inc. The site said that the company would teach you how to hold your hands while on camera, how often to smile, and “The Seven Gestures of Success.” Sounded pretty dumb to me, but if you’ve ever seen someone interviewed on TV who didn’t know where to look or how to hold his hands, you realize that there are some simple, dumb things that make a big difference.
So, my father got a fat, glossy package from TeleSuccess, Inc. sent to him by The Fordgythe Foundation. Because of the Foundation’s interest in eliminating state lotteries, the letter said, it was paying for a three hour session with Mischa Buskin. Further, because the Foundation understood how busy my father is and how soon the debate is to be held, rather than requiring my father to fly out to Los Angeles, they were flying Mr. Buskin in. He could be there any day of the week. The letter ended by saying that a representative of the Foundation would call immediately to set up the visit.
Because the envelope was from the Foundation, it was the first one in the daily pile my father opened when he came home on Monday night. He read it once, shook his head in disbelief, and then read it again. “I’ll be,” he said, not telling us what he would be. “I’ll be. What sort of Foundation is this?”
“What is it, Dad?”
“The Fordgythe Foundation is trying to bribe me.”
“What?” I said in genuine surprise.
“They’re trying to bribe me,” he explained completely unhelpfully, waving the paper in my face. “They’re offering to fly some bogus media consultant out here to teach me how to fake being sincere.”
“Really?” I said.
“Take a look,” he said, handing me the packet. I read again the letter that Ms. Minden had written; I’d read it two nights before. “It doesn’t sound like a bribe to me,” I said.
“A bribe doesn’t have to be money. If you get out of a speeding ticket by offering to wash the cop’s car, that’s still a bribe.”
“Would that work?”
“Of course not! But that’s not the point.”
“I know,” I said. “But I don’t read this as a bribe at all. They’re not trying to get you to change your opinion about lotteries. They’re trying to help you do better.”
I interrupted my own father. “If they said we’ll give you media training or wash your car or leave $5,000 in your mailbox if you come out against the lottery, or if you’d do badly in the debate on purpose…that’d be a bribe.”
“May I get a word in edgewise?” my father asked. “I agree that it’s not your standard sort of bribe. Nevertheless, as I’m exposing the Fordgythe Foundation in the paper, if it were to get out that I’d accepted money expensive media training from them, it’d look very very bad. Journalists can’t do that sort of thing.”
“It’s a matter of Journalistic Ethics.”
You could practically hear him capitalize the phrase “Journalistic Ethics.” Those capitals meant the conversation was over. But this time I wasn’t giving up. “But, Dad, you know how you just said, ‘May I get a word in edgewise?’ when I had only talked for about a minute? That’s exactly the type of little thing that puts people off. It’s what you need media training for.”
“Gee,” said my father, “you seem to know an awful lot about media training all of a sudden.”
“He’s right,” my mother said, entering the room. She’d been listening from the den. “I’m sure there are a hundred little ways anyone’s presentation skills could be improved. Something like ‘May I get a word in edgewise?’ is the type of little thing that can prevent an audience from hearing what you’re actually saying. And that’s the point.”
“I’m going to be myself on TV…” my father insisted.
“No one is saying you shouldn’t be,” my mother said, sweetly. “That’s what we all want. But how much of an expert are you on how to present ideas on TV? A big expert or just a pretty big expert?”
“I’m not an…”
“No, you’re not an expert at all. But I promise you that Mr. Dunn has been through the training. He’s an expert. And that means it’s going to be easier for the audience to agree with him than it will be to agree with you. I think you ought to take the Foundation up on the offer.”
“Out of the question. I simply cannot accept gifts of any kind from an organization I’m investigating. And I will not become something I’m not on TV just because some media expert thinks he knows what type of phoniness looks really sincere. That’s all there is to it.”
And that was all there was to it. I emailed Ms. Minden and told her to tell Mischa not to bother packing his bags. He charged us “only” $2,000 for reserving the time to see my father.
After dinner, I had an idea about how to throw The Register off the scent. I called Ms. Minden again and asked if she could meet me at the Soda Squirt.
“Sure, boss,” she replied. Wow. I was a boss.
She was there right on time. “What’s up, boss?” she asked.
“Could you stop calling me ‘boss’?”
“Sure thing … boss. Ok, I’ll stop.”
“But you are my boss, you know.”
“Ok, ok, and you’re my slave. But can we just keep it down?” There was no one else in the restaurant.
“Ok. How can I help you, oh my little captain?”
“Suppose the money for the Foundation were coming from Germany,” I said. “Would there be any receipts or forms or anything that would show that?”
“Yes, sure. Depending on how the money was transferred from Germany to here, there might be a few different types of forms that get filed. Why do you ask? Are you thinking of moving your money to Germany?”
“No, I’m thinking about ways to give The Register the entirely wrong idea about who’s behind the Fordgythe Foundation.”
“Aha!” Ms. Minden said happily. “You want to get one of those forms, don’t you?”
“Yes. But not an entire form. I just want to include a scrap, as if by accident.”
“But not enough for him to be able to trace it back to a particular bank in Germany because he’d find out that there is no bank account there for the Fordgythe Foundation.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” I said.
“And it’s a darn good thought. That shouldn’t be a problem. I can photocopy a real one from a different account and tear it so that he can see that it came from Germany but not see which bank or which account.”
“That sounds perfect,” I said.
“And best of all, it’s not even illegal! I like working for you, but I’m not willing to go to jail for you.”
“’No lies, no actual crimes.’ That should be the motto of the Fordgythe Foundation.”
“I can do this tomorrow. It’ll be fun!” Ms. Minden slid out of the booth and out the door, smiling.
I paid for her coffee. I was, after all, her boss.