Friday, January 25, 2013

Crisis Communications -- Two Short Case Studies

As you may recall, David Petraeus resigned as CIA director because of an affair with journalist Paula Broadwell.  The affair came to light because Broadwell had imagined that Tampa socialite Jill Kelley was flirting with Petraeus, and she sent Kelley threatening emails, which Kelley reported to the FBI. As a side effect, the investigation turned up "potentially inappropriate" communication between Kelley and General John Allen. (For a graphic of the scandal, see here.) The resulting media treatment of Kelley was, to put it mildly, unflattering.  Kelley hired Judy A. Smith, a "crisis communications" specialist.  At the "Mullings" blog,  Rich Galen tells how Smith worked to close the books on the scandal, at least as it involved Kelley and her husband.
  • On January 22, 2013 the an Op-Ed was published by the Washington Post signed by both Jill and her husband Scott Kelley. I have no doubt that it was not written by the Kelleys, but I have made a pretty penny ghostwriting op-eds and letters to the editor ever since I was a young press secretary on Capitol Hill, so no harm there. 
  • In the 717 word essay, the Kelleys laid out what happened, what didn't happen, and why they believe their lives were turned into a Kardashian episode through no fault of their own. 
  • Ok. Fair enough. They get to make their case and they made it. 
  • But, that's not what makes excellent crisis management people excellent crisis management people. 
  • On the very same day as the Kelly's piece ran in the Post, former Post media reporter - and now Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsweek/DailyBeast site - Howard Kurtz published an exclusive interview with Jill Kelly in which she more-or-laid out what happened, what didn't happen, and so on.
  • Ok. Op-Ed in the Post and an exclusive interview by a well-respected Washington insider. Pretty good. 
  • But, here's the capper: Also on January 22, 2013 the Pentagon announced it was closing the case of Gen. Allen and the correspondence he carried out with Mrs. Kelly via email. 
  • Three. For. Three. 
  • And, for extra credit, the next day the White House announced that Gen. Allen's nomination to be the top military officer at NATO was back on track. 
  • That's not just good. That's magical good. 
Rich also writes of another case study:
  • On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified on Capitol Hill about what she knew and when she knew it about the Benghazi attacks. 
  • I am a huge fan of Secretary Clinton. I thought she was a great Senator for New York (note, please, she was not the Senator from Georgia or Texas); and I thought she presented the U.S. in an excellent light when she traveled the world as Secretary of State. 
  • But. It was no secret that Members of the House and Senate committees have been rubbing their hands in anticipation of her testimony. That testimony was delayed when she fainted, fell down, bunked her head, and ended up in the hospital. 
  • The Obama Administration owes Mrs. Clinton a lot for carrying its water at State. Moreover President Obama personally owes former President Bill Clinton an enormous debt for jumping into the recent campaign and (at least publically) wholeheartedly supporting Obama's re-election bid. 
  • So, what did the White House do to partially pay off its bills? They had Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announce - maybe as Secretary Clinton was testifying - that he was rescinding the rule against women serving in combat roles. 
  • As the comms people at the White House knew it would, the Panetta announcement diluted - if not completely rinsed out of the public discussion - Hillary Clinton's testimony. 
  • The Clintons may not have burned the mortgage they hold on the Obamas, but they know there has been a serious pay-down. 
  • As someone who has spent most of his adult life in this arena, I can only stand and shout Bravo!.

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