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Comments by YACCS
Saturday, October 07, 2006

Fumbling towards disaster

Honey, if that Mr. Foley looks at you funny, I'll
rip his ghoulies off.

How To Play the Spin Game (And Why The GOP Is In Meltdown)

Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 09:23:05 AM PDT

georgia10 points to the new Newsweek poll that has Bush at 33 and asks the sub-header question "How low can the Republicans go?"? I think they mean poll numbers, not sleaze factor, but it's a good question either way.

Part of the reason the GOP finds itself in "women and children first" territory is because that's exactly what they didn't do. And when it came time to spin the debacle, as (of all people) Lanny Davis points out in TNR, they did everything wrong.

Ask any professional crisis manager--or any academic who teaches this discipline in business schools--to name the worst-handled crisis in the history of the universe, and Exxon's mishandling of the Valdez oil-tanker spill is inevitably at the top of the list. High-ranking Exxon managers found a way to break every rule of Crisis Management 101: They didn't immediately get all of the facts out; they waited too long to even show up at the scene; and, most importantly, they delayed far too long before telling the truth and accepting responsibility. And so the bad news got worse--the story continued to dribble out, and the damage to the environment was nearly exceeded by the damage to Exxon's reputation. In short, Exxon and Valdez became the poster children for how to mishandle a crisis.

Well, Valdez, move over. This week introduced the world to an even more inept performance: Dennis Hastert's handling of the Mark Foley matter. It is, from start to finish, a case study in how not to manage a scandal.

There are two classic business model crises to look at: the Exxon Valdez as what not to do (see above), and Tylenol as what to do. Davis doesn't cover Tylenol, but taking responsibility and inventing the "tamper-proof package" resulted in Tylenol's being a best seller today.
Of course, people in the center of crises rarely see the value of a "tell it all/tell it early/tell it yourself" strategy. So what should Hastert do now to minimize the crisis rather than magnify it? Hint: Don't sink into a defensive crouch. The law of crisis management is: Stop the bleeding first. Don't ask for, or expect, a complete cure, at least not in the short term. Hastert announced Thursday that he took responsibility for what happened, but if the speaker asked for my help, here's the statement I would have him deliver:

I and my colleagues screwed up--we should have reacted to these warning signals about Mark Foley differently and sought a bipartisan investigation when we first learned of this information. We allowed political considerations to get in the way--that is the only explanation I can come up with as to why we didn't inform the Democratic member of the House Page Board at the time but only the Republican chair. And for that, I and my colleagues are truly sorry.

But he won't, he didn't and he can't. There is no leadership in House leadership, they're afraid to unleash the long knives in the House, everyone behind Hastert in rank (and I mean everyone) is tainted, and Republicans don't know the meaning of the term accountability. They are so far in over their heads they don't even understand how screwed they are (but the Newsweek poll helps to put it in perspective).

Conventional wisdom is that the Republicans have made their decision and to change their minds would be seen as a sign of weakness and corroboration that they're guilty. But they are guilty, at least of negligence, so that typical GOP response of circling the wagons is failing them. They haven't been transparent, they haven't proven capable of investigating themselves in a timely manner, and they haven't stopped the bleeding.

Interestingly, the Dems are getting far too little credit for playing this well. And there seems to be some angst that Bush isn't being hung on Iraq and policy issues; not to worry. All the polls including Newsweek show that the GOP does poorly all around. That makes it doubly difficult to peddle the story that it was all a Democratic plot. No go, guys. Only Republicans were in charge, and whever leaked the IMs did the kids in the Capitol a service. I'm watching the GOP person on MSNBC humma-humma over the exchange as I write, getting clobbered by the Dem he said-she said spokesperson. Sad.

And as for dumping the GOP over Foley-Hastert-Reynolds rather than Iraq, well, if you can't get Capone for murder and racketeering, get him for tax evasion. Either way, he winds up behind bars.

They're in the position of minimizing child sexual abuse. That position cost the Catholic Church a billion dollars. Why anyone would let Drudge, who has sought to obscure his own sexuality, attack the victims of a child sex predator?

I have no idea, but it's the worst crisis management seen since the Japanese military wanted to fight on after Nagasaki. But unlike Japan, there is no emperor to save them from suicide.

There are times when you have to admit error. This is one of them.

posted by Steve @ 5:20:00 PM

5:20:00 PM

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