Thursday, June 9, 2011

Redrawing the Boundaries Weakens Crisis Response

This article also appears in

Why the Weiner Response is Failing
Unfortunately, we have another soon-to-be-classic example of what not to do in a crisis situation. When reports surfaced that lewd photos from Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account were sent to a Seattle woman, the congressman claimed his account was hacked. High profile hacking was in the news – Sony, Citi, RSA, Lockheed-Martin – so what better way to build a credible sounding story? Thus, the first crisis boundary was built.

That dike was breached quickly when questions arose: If such a violation occurred, then why didn’t he call the Capitol Police? Why couldn’t he say with “certitude” that the pictures were not of him? And, was conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart’s claim that he had more pictures really true?

So, the crisis boundary was pushed back and a second wall went up. Surely an admission would be the last stand. It would all be over when Rep. Weiner confirmed that he sent the photos, and that he was sorry, stupid and scared. Right?

Wrong. There were, indeed, additional photos (some pornographic) sent to more women, and there was a three-year history of “sexting.” And, now, more questions: Was government property used to carry on these activities? Was he conducting himself this way from his Capitol Hill office? What resources and who else might have been involved in covering up his carrying on?

Now he must push the boundary out yet again trying, in his way, to encircle where the next shoe might drop. He’s been calling colleagues directly to explain himself, beg forgiveness and to build some level of support. But, as the circle grows, the wall becomes harder to maintain, the perimeter more difficult to patrol and the imprint on all of his constituents more enduring.

Is he so different from some other high power, high profile politicians, entertainers or businessmen? No, but that’s hardly an excuse. We may be getting increasingly numb to these shenanigans but, for now, our sensibilities demand some sort of appropriate closure.

The bottom lines? He said he’d answer questions, then he wouldn’t, then he would again. He changed his story. He lied. He’s been behind the news, never ahead of it. And what is he left with? A shredded reputation. A seemingly endless supply of material for comedians. Calls for an ethics investigation by the House of Representatives. Demands for his resignation. Chances for his dream job – to be mayor of the City of New York – potentially dashed. Abandonment by friends and colleagues. A wife who has kept silent. The centerpiece of a new case study for the field of crisis communication.

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