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  • The Answers You Want to Be True…

    Crisis communication rule #1: First Reports Are Always Wrong. 

    Rule #2: So Are Most Second Reports

    One of our loyal readers asked for the 15-Seconds take on controversy about the Obama administration’s media response to the situation in Benghazi, Libya where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

    Here at 15-Seconds Blog — we don’t do politics.  We have views — but readers don’t come to this site for our political take.  There are, however, some important lessons from the Benghazi situation for those who deal with the media in times of crisis.

    To briefly recap the controversy — in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate on September 11th, the administration said it was caused by spontaneous riots sparked by a movie trailer offensive to Muslims. Five days after the attack, U.S. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday shows saying the attack was “initially a spontaneous reaction” to a demonstration in Cairo.

    That answer didn’t hold up and word started leaking out that there was information early on suggesting that the attack was a planned terrorist action.

    Critics were quick to suggest that the Administration was intentionally misleading the public for political reasons.

    Before long, the office of the Director of National Intelligence provided some cover with their spokesman issuing a statement seemingly taking some blame for an evolving intelligence assessment.

    That was followed by more leaks suggesting that there was intelligence long before Rice’s statement pointing toward planned terrorist attacks. Even The Daily Show, normally supportive of the Obama administration, found the handling of the matter inexplicable.


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    So, was the administration lying?  Was the intelligence community inept?

    We don’t know for sure — but we suspect the administration fell victim to a common problem we see in crisis communications situations.  They gave the answer they HOPED would be true.  In a crisis situation there is always a ton of information — much of it conflicting — from which officials must draw their talking points. It is always a mistake to let your heart steer you toward an answer which most closely supports your previously conceived notions.  In this case — the administration was invested in the talking point that Al Qaeda was close to defeat.  If the Benghazi attack was planned by Al Qaeda or their  supporters it would undercut a political theme.  For that reason — faced with the usual pile of conflicting information – it was easy to find the “spontaneous reaction” argument compelling.

    Can you find early intelligence which says the attack was the work of terrorists.  No doubt.  Can you find other authoritative documents which point in the other direction.  We bet you can.

    Rice rolled the dice — and lost.  It would have been much better to have withheld judgment and declined to offer any conclusions until the smoke had cleared.  Had they done so — they would not now be facing the allegation of having lied.

  • Leave Bad Enough Alone

    There is no news story so bad — it can’t be made worse with a dumb news conference.  Exhibit A comes from the Univ. of Tennessee where Alexander Broughton, 20, has left his mark on his school.

    College students try to 4.0 averages but Broughton posted a .40

    Unfortunately that was his blood alcohol level when admitted to the hospital on September 21. A .4 is life threatening.  What was unusual about Alexander’s intake — is that school and hospital officials suggested that he got it via the exhaust…having enjoyed an “alcohol enema” – also known as “butt chugging.”

    Once he sobered up, Broughton was pissed — because he said he got drunk the old fashioned way — orally. 

    For some inexplicable reason, Broughton’s lawyer, Daniel McGehee, elected to hold a news conference and mustered a large group of Alexander’s band of brothers — other members of the Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity — to stand behind him (many wearing sunglasses as if they might be suffering from hangovers). The unsmiling frat boys have reason to looked annoyed — Broughton’s exploits have lead to the fraternity being (at least temporarily) suspended.

    First the lawyer made a rambling statement  about how his client had never heard of the words “butt chugging” (at least in that order) and wanting to make very clear that rumors that his client is gay are simply false.

    Then a humorless Broughton tossed out a few comments of his own.  In response to a question about what really happened that night his total response was:  “Its a long story.”  Thanks for clearing that up Alex.

    If the boys of Phi Kappa Alpha feel aggrieved at being the butt of humor — or if Broughton thinks University officials have done him wrong by mischaracterizing the way he almost killed himself ten days ago — they could have simply issued a press release saying so.

    Standing up in front of the press corps and lecturing them on how THEY have behaved irresponsibly seems like a monumentally bad idea.  In this age of social media — young Mr. Broughton has supplied the world with about ten minutes of video of himself and his lawyer denying he majored in butt chugging.  The buzz from that .4 alcohol blood level will go away long before the damage that Broughton did to himself when he exposed himself to the press.  Our advice to him would have been: put a cork in it.