Obama’s Commander-In-Chief Moment

 Obamas Commander In Chief Moment

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Commander In Chief Barack Obama’s address to the nation on the Boston terrorist attacks.

He’s had to address the nation during four mass shootings and one major natural disaster, but President Obama has never had to deal with a suspected act of terrorism. But when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon this past Monday, Obama had to go from President to Commander in Chief.

The attacks in Boston took on another level of depth when the media announced that the President would be addressing the nation. Clearly his speech had been prepared, but it was without the gloss the campaigning orator is accustomed to – rightly so.

President Obama appeared before a shocked nation wearing an expression of stern concern. His voice was forthright, his delivery serious but not emotional. In the brief address, he made sure to say that he and Speaker John Boehner, usually his arch rival, were communicating and that on this issue, there were no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans. With no information to share he stated unequivocally that justice would be served. His delivery reassured a nation that in shock and proved the key crisis communications principle: Keep communicating, calmly, even if there is no news to be shared.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Commander In Chief Barack Obama’s address to the nation on the Boston bombing.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In times of crisis, what you say is nearly secondary to how you say it. Study carefully Obama’s face and tone of voice in this address and you will see a President in command. Even while conceding there was no information, Obama’s demeanor said that was only a matter of time. He asserted union of parties, gave a patriotic nod to Boston’s resilience, and wisely took no questions. If the antidote to chaos is control, the nation may have felt that the crisis was under control after this speech.

TSA Safety Reversal: Turbulence Ahead

 TSA Safety Reversal: Turbulence Ahead

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the TSA.

Lately, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) just can’t seem to do anything right. The agency, created after 9/11, has at various points been accused of failing to find weapons in undercover tests, conducting overzealous body searches, and allowing agents to sleep on the job. The latest snafu occurred this week, when it announced one of its most significant policy changes: it will begin allowing small knives (and various pieces of sporting equipment) aboard airplanes.

The change in the banned-items list was immediately met with harsh criticism. Pilots and flight attendants voiced the reasonable concern that allowing knives may imperil safety. Even passengers, who have chafed under the restrictive list, were disparaging. “It seems to be a poorly thought-out decision. I don’t pretend to understand the logic behind it,” Brandon M. Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, told the Los Angeles Times. After all, the September 11 attacks were committed with box cutters, which are smaller than the knives that will now be permitted.

For its part, the TSA noted improved safety features on airplanes since 2001 and said the change will bring it in line with international standards and allow it “to focus on threats that can cause catastrophic damage to an airplane.” It seems they’ve forgotten that small knives can, in fact, cause catastrophic damage to airplanes, and buildings, and lives.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the TSA. A poll conducted in September 2012 found that 90 percent of respondents thought the TSA was doing a “poor” or “fair” job in security screenings. This latest action won’t improve those results.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Cover your bases before making a controversial announcement. Although they don’t appear to realize it, the TSA has a brand – one it’s managing very poorly. The agency’s raison d’etre is to ensure the safety of  airline personnel and the air-traveling public. The smart tactic would have been to confer with key players ahead of time and gauge their sentiment on the potential policy change. That way, they are involved in the process, can raise objections privately, and everyone is on the same page when the media comes calling. A handful of public endorsements from interested parties would have made this announcement turbulence free. As is, they should fasten their seat belts.

Libya: The Devil Is In Giving the Details

 Libya: The Devil Is In Giving the Details

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Obama Administration.

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!

State Dept. vs. CNN: War of the Words

 State Dept. vs. CNN: War of the Words

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the State Dept. for its unusually aggressive language. CNN is facing full PR heat.

The State Department and CNN are embroiled in a an ugly fight over the recovered journal of Chris Stevens, the late Ambassador to Libya, who was killed in a deadly attack on the US embassy. Using unusually strong language, State Dept. spokesman Philippe Reines said that when it comes to airing the contents of the journal, “CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting” and that the cable news network “needed to be convinced to do the right thing.” CNN is now on the defensive. Has it been ethically caught out?

While the sequence of events is unclear, what is known is that CNN got hold of Stevens’ journal and used it in its reporting. Explaining that the journal was found four days after the attack, CNN says it notified Stevens’ family “within hours after it was discovered.” From there, the story gets messy.

The State Dept. says the network “completely ignored the wishes of the family” and reported on the contents of the journal before returning it to the family, despite the family’s repeated requests that nothing be used until they had a chance to review its contents. CNN went ahead with its story, saying it “felt there were issues raised in the journal which required full reporting.”

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the State Dept. for its unusually aggressive language. CNN is facing full PR heat.

The PR Takeaway: Self-interest rarely wins the PR battle. Having passed the journal’s contents around a newsroom and only then asking the family for permission for its use puts CNN in a ethically challenging spot. Unless CNN can get some ringing endorsement from the Stevens family, it has lost this PR battle. The State Dept. has the clear upper hand in this case, speaking on behalf of the family of the slain ambassador. Meanwhile, CNN is left looking like it might benefit from a refresher course in ethics and common decency.

Was Stevens’ journal fair game for journalistic reporting, or should CNN have abided by his family’s wishes? Give us your PR Verdict!