How a newsjacking senator strutted into a TV host’s crosshairs

Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, tried to latch onto and invert Jimmy Kimmel’s emotional plea on behalf of the Affordable Care Act. The late-night comedian issued a scathing response.

Never cross a late-night television host.

That’s a lesson Sen. Bill Cassidy is learning after Jimmy Kimmel scorched his new health care bill on Kimmel’s program last night.

Why the high-profile feud? Kimmel is the eponym of Cassidy’s health care litmus test. Cassidy introduced the “Jimmy Kimmel test” after Kimmel shared the story of his own son’s congenital heart disease.

The HuffPost reported:

Kimmel tearfully told his audience his son was born with a congenital heart disease and had undergone open heart surgery that may not have been covered by insurance before Obamacare was enacted.

“You were born with a pre-existing condition, and if your parents didn’t have medical insurance you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition,” Kimmel said at the time. “If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.”

That’s when Cassidy (R-Louisiana) saw an opening. He ran with the coverage Kimmel was getting to advance his own position on health care.

The HuffPost continued:

Shortly afterward, Cassidy said that principle ― access for all, regardless of income or medical condition ― should guide Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. He even appeared on Kimmel’s show.

Now, Kimmel is calling out Cassidy’s health care approach after multiple sources claim the bill fails to meet the test’s requirements and millions could lose coverage.

Kimmel spent a full seven minutes, a relative eternity in late-night television, excoriating the senator’s plan:

Others tweeted their thanks to Kimmel for calling out the new proposal:

Kimmel finished his monologue on the subject by asking Cassidy to stop using his name. His suggestion for a new moniker? The lie detector test.

Here are three takeaways from the senator’s high-profile spat with Kimmel:

1. Use caution when newsjacking. You might get more attention when you include celebrity testimony, but you also give that celebrity a lot of power over your messaging. In the senator’s case, he afforded Kimmel a megaphone to criticize his legislation.

2. Always ask permission when making someone the face of your message. Even if a particular person is on board with your message and strategy, the conversation could reveal potential conflict before it tanks your PR campaign. Cassidy went on the late-night show after he coined the “Jimmy Kimmel” test, so the cat was already out of the bag. If Cassidy had spoken with him beforehand, the senator might have learned that Kimmel would make a poor spokesman for his agenda.

3. Beware of late-night comedians. It’s their job to be funny and topical—and they have a writer’s room. Political double-speak will lose to heartfelt honesty (or pinpoint derision) every time. Unless you are partnering with them, late-night hosts are a risky asset to tap when trying to convey your message.

Communicators, how might Cassidy respond—or is he better off dropping this particular gambit?

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