I read this blog post about the crisis in Egypt and the reactions of the U.S. President Barack Obama in which he is reported to have made the following statements in a Telemundo interview:
“You know, I don’t think that we would consider them an ally but we don’t consider them an enemy. They are a new government trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, to see how they respond to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel.”
According to Foreign Policy, that comment had Egypt watchers scratching their heads, especially since technically, Egypt was designated as a Major Non-NATO Ally in 1989 when Congress first passed the law creating that status. The status gives Egypt special privileges in cooperating with the United States, especially in the security and technology arenas.
The President’s statement and those of the press secretary and spokespersons created doubts, mixed reactions and negative comments. Some even question the trustworthiness of President Obama because the messages were inconsistent. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and spokesperson Tommy Victor tried to clarify the President’s statement in The Cable, in the following words:
“We don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”
The Foreign Policy further reports that at the State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that Egypt remains a Major Non-NATO Ally.
It is clear that the President was unprepared for the Telemundo interview and seemed to have been taken by surprise. The fact that staffers could not provide convincing explanations does not help the situation. Each of them spoke to the press in different words. This shows that no matter how experienced and eloquent one might be, you have to be prepared when answering questions from the media during a crisis. Would the situation have been better if they held a meeting to brief themselves ahead of the anticipated questions, knowing that the issue was also political? Secondly, as PR practitioners, how do we promote policy guidance to senior staff on the approach to take with the media during a crisis? Is it right to make clarifications about a statement already made by a senior official?
My conclusion is that in cases where PR people failed to be proactive, over reacting might only cause more confusion and place a client’s credibility and reputation in question. Finally, one simple lesson I learned is that stakeholders do not forgive you for a mistake, therefore in order to maintain credibility, you should be prepared for any eventual crisis.
Do you think the White House’s reputation and/or credibility is in question?