Author Topic: Is the White House Lying or Just Bad at Crisis Communications?  (Read 104 times)

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Offline Chieftain

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By Ron Fournier

July 21, 2014

President Obama's decision to stick with his schedule of fundraisers and photo opportunities amid twin foreign policy crises elicited one of the strangest statements you'll ever see from a White House.

"It is rarely a good idea to return to the White House just for show, when the situation can be handled responsibly from the road," said Jennifer Palmieri, the White House communications director. "Abrupt changes to his schedule can have the unintended consequence of unduly alarming the American people or creating a false sense of crisis."

Where do I start?

First, the phrase "just for show" is indicative of the Obama White House conceit that their guy is above politics. The fact is, all presidents do things just for show, because the office is inherently political, and one of the levers of power can be found in the public theater. Think of Abraham Lincoln's split rails, William McKinley's front porch, Theodore Roosevelt's whistle-stops, Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats—oh, and Barack Obama's entire 2008 campaign, not to mention his "bear-on-the-loose" jaunts with ordinary Americans.

The hypocrisy is staggering. How is playing pool and drinking beer with the governor of Colorado not "just for show"? Obama and his team consistently respond to criticism by dismissing the media's focus on "optics," even as they craft and control the president's image more aggressively than perhaps any previous White House.

Second, while Palmieri is correct that gutting a presidential schedule is rarely a good idea, there are times when it is. You could make an argument that Thursday was one such time, when the Gaza Strip erupted with violence and Russian President Vladimir Putin's allies shot a passenger plane from the sky. A president can bring calm and clarity to a confusing situation, or he can add to public anxiety.

About the time a Russian news agency reported 23 Americans were aboard the downed liner—a report that was responsibly attributed and distributed by U.S. news agencies—Obama was ordering lunch with a single mother at the Charcoal Pit in Delaware.

Ron Fournier        ✔ @ron_fournier

Where WH reverses course to acknowledge that optics do matter. Just that #MH17 and Gaza Strip aren't real crises:
8:53 AM - 20 Jul 2014

That tweet was based on my knowledge of how a White House works in crisis. It happens: Harrowing news pierces the security bubble, and a presidential aide tells the president, "I think we should go, sir." Let's figure out what's happening, and make sure we're not the part of an embarrassing split screen on cable TV.

The Russian report was wrong, which isn't a surprise, and which doesn't substantially alter the urgency of the moment: Let's go, sir. Later on Thursday, I confirmed with a White House official that there was a discussion among presidential aides in Delaware about the poor timing of the restaurant stop.

The third problem with Palmieri's quote is the most obvious—"unduly alarming the American people or creating a false sense of crisis."

Unduly alarming? False sense of crisis? A ground war in the Middle East and raining bodies over Ukraine are cause for alarm. These were no false crises—no more than the string of second-term controversies that have undermined Obama's credibility are "false scandals."

This points to the fundamental problem with Obama's communications ethos: He and his advisers are so certain about their moral and political standing that they believe it's enough to make a declaration. If we say it, the public should believe it.

That's not how it works. A president must earn the public's trust. He must teach and persuade; speak clearly, and follow word with action; show empathy toward his rivals, and acknowledge the merits of a critique. A successful president pays careful attention to how his image is projected both to U.S. voters and to the people of the world. He knows that to be strong, a leader must look strong. Image matters, especially in an era so dominated by them.

In the story that quoted Palmieri, New York Times journalist Michael D. Shear reported that White House aides "gave no consideration to abandoning the president's long-planned schedule" on Thursday. No consideration, really? Is this White House so stubborn and out of touch that presidential advisers didn't even consider tweaking his schedule? Unless the White House lied to Shear, the answer is yes.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2014, 10:09:44 PM by Chieftain »

Offline mountaineer

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Re: Is the White House Lying or Just Bad at Crisis Communications?
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2014, 09:54:00 AM »
No, “The Bear” Is Not Loose: He’s Surrounded By Sycophants
July 24, 2014 By Mollie Hemingway

The Bear is loose! No, Andrew Sullivan isn’t meandering around after having had too much to drink. The Bear is loose is the message the White House has asked reporters to convey about President Obama’s recent photo-ops where he meets supposedly normal people on the streets and in the restaurants of the U.S. of A. Here’s a recent Politico story:
The bear was on the loose on Tuesday evening — this time in Colorado.

 President Barack Obama greeted supporters on a walk following dinner in downtown Denver, a night that resulted in shaking hands with a man in a horse mask, and shooting pool and drinking beers during a chance encounter with Gov. John Hickenlooper.

 Shortly after landing in the Rocky Mountain State, the president dined at the Wazee Supper Club in downtown Denver with five people who had written him letters. “I’m so glad you’re here,” the president told his dinner companions, according to a White House pool report.

 After dinner, Obama — who has begun to venture out in Washington, D.C., and interact with more average Americans — decided to walk down Denver’s 15th Street and talk to members of the crowd. Obama spent about 10 minutes speaking with people, according to the pool report, including an interaction with one crowd member wearing a horse head.

 The president handed out “high fives, fist bumps,” as he put it, to many of his supporters there.

There are multiple problems with this.

•For one thing, whether you unabashedly enjoy this president or shake your head in embarrassment at his domestic and foreign policy, “bear” is not the animal that comes to mind when thinking of him.

•Then there’s that weird way the media go along with whatever the White House asks. “You want us to say ‘The Bear is loose?’ Sure, guys, right on it! Anything you ask, sirs!”

•But more than anything, it’s that the President is not, in fact, meeting normal or average Americans. For the most part, he’s meeting people who wrote him letters, who then happen to match up with what some public relations and elections firm has determined is a much needed demographic. Apart from that, he’s meeting people who can stomach waiting on sidewalks to see him, or who are boozing or smoking it up in bars. Typical American, it is not.

I actually think it would be a good idea for the president to meet real Americans, but that is not what he’s doing. Not that, you know, Mr. Horsehead isn’t an accurate representative of Colorado. I’m a native of that glorious state. He is. But in general, it would be good for the president to meet someone who belongs to that sector of the population that doesn’t, well, hang on his every word. ...
Read the rest at The Federalist
“Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or at least that he ought not so to do; but rather he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.” Samuel Adams, April 16, 1781.

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