It is hard to know what is dumber. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald’s statement yesterday that VA healthcare should not be judged by how long veterans have to wait — since that is not how Disney theme parks are judged — or his refusal today to express any regret for his highly mock-able statement.
You’d think someone would have explained to McDonald overnight that the vets are not lined up to get into The Enchanted Tiki Room — but are waiting (and sometimes dying) to get things like cancer treatment.
But no — as can be seen in the video above, today old McDonald appeared on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC program and ducked several opportunities to express some regret at the cavalier tone of his earlier comments. After being pressed several times, McDonald said “if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to correct it” — but there was no contrition in his tone and no correction in his content. Mediate described it as doubling down on his earlier statement.
McDonald spent time reminding Mitchell that he is a veteran and “I have put my life in danger for this country.” He is to be commended for that — but the issue now are the lives of other veterans who are being put in danger by his agency’s performance. Some of these veterans have been on the real Jungle Cruise – they don’t need to hear about the pleasure of queuing up for the Disney version.
The media relations lesson here is simple. When what you say offends people on both sides of the political spectrum as McDonald’s comment did — you should immediately say “I’m sorry.” Not “I’m sorry if you misunderstood me” or “I’m sorry if anyone was offended.” Just, “I’m sorry.”
The seemingly cavalier attitude of VA leadership risks leaving the impression that McDonald’s Department is about as good as the TSA at managing long lines. Hmmm. Maybe both the VA and TSA should outsource that function to Disney.
Update: Several hours after the Andrea Mitchell appearance — McDonald issued a written apology. Sort of.