Nearly three weeks after the deadly attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the murder of the US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the Obama Administration still seems caught up in its own shifting accounts of what happened and when. Its messages are muddled. Could simple PR basics help?
Things got off to a messy start as Twitter feeds at the time of the US consulate attack indicated that rioting was taking place following discovery of the now infamous anti-Muslim film on YouTube. Tweets from State Department employees on the scene described the riot as spontaneous. On day two of the attack, President Obama was at pains to describe it as “an act of terror.” Susan Rice, his Ambassador to the United Nations, then muddied the waters by saying the attacks were “spontaneous” and related to similar film-ignited protests in Cairo. Since then, both versions have been revised.
Intelligence officials have been quoted in the media as saying the attack, while not planned months in advance, was organized by a group with sympathies to Al Qaeda but not linked directly to them. The FBI says it has been unable to investigate the murder due to the extreme danger of the area. Who is right?
The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Obama administration in its handling of this issue. What happened, and more importantly, who now has the responsibility to explain?
The PR Takeaway: There’s nothing wrong with buying time. The problem the Administration is getting into is directly related to its previous rush to explain. A few simple comments at the outset, making it plain that it was too early to fully explain what happened, would have given the Administration more wiggle room three weeks ago. The key now is to pass the issue to a non-partisan spokesperson at the State Dept or FBI. If not, then playing politics with this issue is the most likely continued outcome – never ideal with only five weeks before the election.
What’s your opinion of how the Obama Administration has handled the attacks in Libya? Give us your PR Verdict!