Could PR get any worse for the Obama administration after the HealthCare.gov debacle? Last week, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates released Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, which reads like a secretary declaring war on a sitting president.
Highlights include Gates writing of a meeting on the war in Afghanistan in March 2011. “I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his… For him, it’s about getting out.” Similar candor was used to describe Congress and US Vice President Joe Biden.
Why write a scathing memoir about a sitting president and a war in progress? The media’s verdict is that Duty could be retitled Betrayal. In interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Gates obliquely said, “My objective was to…try and provide a non-partisan look at the kind of issues that have riven our country and riven our government for the last number of years.” Which doesn’t explain the need to do it now as much as another statement: “Why was I so angry all the time? …because getting anything done in Washington was so damnably hard.”
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Candor guarantees media time. While Gates has been criticized for the harshness and timing of his book, he has dominated the media. In a sea of watery apologies from politicians, Gates comes off as a strong and outraged voice. He may inflame, but if nothing else he’s seen the trend of growing impatience with politics and has acted on it. Right or wrong? Immaterial; the answer is, effective.