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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Obama Campaign Fails Media and Crisis Management

If the Obama campaign thought that releasing their internal investigation would put to rest lingering questions about its own involvement with the Blagojevich scandal, they thought wrong. In fact, the way they have handled this scandal so far, it makes me start to wonder if they really don't have something to hide. The whole entire affair has been mishandled from the beginning, and this report is just the latest misstep. Obama's initial reaction in which he described himself as sad was a small misstep. The proper response should have been anger and outrage. Then, he spent the better part of the next several weeks playing word and lawyer games with the media. It culminated with this exchange.

There are several things that in my estimation the Obama campaign needs to understand that they seem to be oblivious to. First, this scandal is salacious. That means it isn't going to go away if they simply ignore it. Second, this scandal is on the one hand simple to understand, but on the other hand, it has all sorts of lingering questions. The Obama campaign seems to think that as long as there is no evidence that they participated in a quid pro quo, that means that the scandal has no relevance to them. That's just not the case. There continue to be a lot of unanswered questions. Did they know that Blagojevich wanted a quid pro quo, and did they report this? Not reporting a crime in progress is not proper Presidential behavior. Questions regarding contacts between Blagojevich, Valerie Jarrett, the SEIU, and Rahm Emanuel continue to be murky. For instance, their own internal report revealed that President Obama himself, Rahm Emanuel, and Valerie Jarrett were all interviewed by U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald. Yet, the report gives absolutely no details about what was asked. Do they really think that such half measures will do anything but fuel endless speculation? If the public is left with half a story, you allow everyone, opponents included, to define the other half.

Next, the media dynamic on this story will look nothing like the media dynamic they faced during the campaign. The two driving forces of this story will be the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times. In Chicago, this is story number one, two, three and four, and neither paper will spare anything simply because they happen to like the President. Obama has already shown a confrontational tone with the Tribune. Getting combative with the leading media on this story is just plain dumb. The Tribune is not going to stop asking questions just because Obama wants them to. If he continues to skirt the answers, he will just look like someone with something to hide.

Finally, this report, its release, and the manner in which it was conducted just reeks of smoke filled room conflicts and unanswered questions. Did the Obama campaign really think that an internal investigation conducted by its own people would have any credibility when it exonerated them? This article spells out rather well just how hokey the process has been. Here's another piece along the same lines. Furthermore, Politico has written this piece in which they examine all the lingering questions.

Obama's internal review was entirely voluntary and intended to demonstrate that his team had nothing to hide, and was committed to its pledge to run "the most open and transparent transition in history."

But after announcing the review, his team declined to reveal who would conduct it, who would be interviewed or whether the resulting release would include any transition e-mails or records to support its conclusions.


Freed from the rapid fire back-and-forth of the campaign, Obama, a stickler for preparation, resorted to his methodical instincts in trying to create order amidst the swirling scandal.But in taking his time, he's let the story linger into a third week.After drawing criticism for a listless initial response the day Blagojevich was arrested and accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by the president-elect, Obama went a step further the next day by calling on the governor to resign. On the third day of the story, he announced the internal review. By the next week he acknowledged frustration over not being able to clear up inaccuracies about the case.

Still, Obama resisted the temptation to spout off and stuck to the original plan: He would allow a written report to speak for him.

Politico goes on to list five different problems they see with Obama's response. The worst part of all of this is that they released this on the eve of Christmas. Furthermore, they released it when Obama himself is vacationing in Hawaii and not answering questions while Rahm Emanuel is vacationing in Africa and unavailable. This is blatant, obvious, and old school stonewalling, covering up, and a blatant attempt to sweep it under the rug. It's happening all in plain sight with the media, for the most part, calling them on it. Since they have done it when no one is available, they are also not in a position to respond to media inquiries.

The Obama campaign was effective and disciplined and so the way they have handled it has been 180 degrees the opposite direction. It is actually a remarkable turn of events, so remarkable in fact, that it almost seems as though it's being handled so badly because there is something to hide. True or not, that is absolutely the appearance they continue to give.


Anonymous said...

Mike, I just wanted to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Your blog is the one I most look forward to reading each day. I have learned so much.


mike volpe said...

Thank you for the very kind words and everyone have a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.