The 19th nervous communications breakdown
By Frank Salvato
President Bush places a great deal of value on the loyalty of those who surround him, especially those who serve in his inner circle and on the White House staff. He promotes from within, rewards those who have earned it and gives credit where credit is due. While valuing commitment and fidelity is an honorable trait, it can also become a blazing tire hanging from around your neck when those charged with executing a duty fall short. Such is the case with the Bush White House Communications Office.
The many achievements of the Bush Administration have happened hidden in plain sight. I say hidden in plain sight because it doesn’t matter how many of the president’s stated goals have been achieved, he simply doesn’t get any credit for having achieved them. That the American public doesn’t understand all the good the Bush Administration has done is less the fault of the mainstream media than it is the White House Communications Office.
Back in the 1990s, you couldn’t turn a page in the mainstream newspapers without reading a statement by Dee Dee Myers, or any of the myriad cronies from the Clinton Administration, touting the latest planet-saving achievement attained by the “I Feel Your Pain” Kid. Every time the guy unwrapped another Cohiba his communications office started wagging the dog in anticipation, getting out in front of the story.
Whether it was giving away US weapons technology to the Chinese or letting the “socialist peanut farmer” spearhead negotiations toward the joke of a nuclear accord with Kim Jong Il, the Clinton Administration White House Communications Office was on the job, 24/7/365. One has to wonder if the ad agency that came up with “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” hired from Clintons former communications staff.
The Bush Administration’s White House Communications Office, however, has found itself playing catch-up more often than it has found itself out in front of an issue. And when it comes to circumventing a gathering crisis, well, let’s just say they don’t hold a cigar lighter to Clinton’s staff.
In the early days when Ari Fleischer was taking questions at the podium things seemed to be going swimmingly. Sure, every now and then Helen Thomas would wake-up from her midday nap and ask, “Marlin, is Operation Desert Storm over yet?” Fleischer, always the gentleman, would simply fluff her pillow, give her some warm milk and back to the land of nod she would go. But Fleischer is gone and Helen Thomas has gotten a bit crankier in his absence.
Now don’t get me wrong, Scott McClellan is probably the nicest guy in the world, Nicole Wallace is certainly personable and Dan Bartlett may have great communication skills with his staff but the Bush Administration is getting eaten alive in the press and it is the White House Communications Office’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The economy is in great shape, unemployment is at an all-time low and homeownership is at an all-time high yet the American people feel a prevailing sense of being in dire straits.
Fifteen of nineteen provinces in Iraq are peaceful, millions of Iraqis and Afghanis have gone to the polls in democratic elections, democracy is breaking out across the Middle East like acne on an American teenager’s face and yet polls indicate that Americans think we are losing the War on Terror.
It is unfathomable that the average American, including some elected officials and pundits within the ranks of the GOP, could be uninformed enough to think that the Bush Administration was selling six US ports to the United Arab Emirates when the reality is that it is nothing more than a paper transaction that will continue to see overpaid union longshoremen controlling the ports, docks and warehouses (talk about security).
The only reason people are drawn to believe these incredible non-truths is that the truth has never been delivered to them successfully. The fact of the matter is this, today, in the age of the “sitcom attention span,” the message has to be aggressively and repeatedly delivered until the American with the smallest IQ understands it. That, as well as protecting the reputation of the president, is the job of the White House Communications Office. To say that they have failed would be the understatement of the Bush presidency.
Mark Twain once opined, “Loyalty to country always, loyalty to the government when it deserves it.” With regard to President Bush’s tenure and his administrations current non-communication, perhaps it can be paraphrased; “Loyalty to the office always, loyalty to the communications office when it deserves it.”
The failure of the White House Communications Office to pro-actively disseminate accurate information about the decisions, situations, statements and events surrounding the Bush presidency – not to mention their failure to combat the politically motivated non-truths issued by the opposition – demonstrates either a grand ineptitude or a failure to grasp the importance of the task at hand.
Loyalty is an honorable trait. Then again, dogs are loyal.
At a moment in time when President Bush needs the aggressiveness and determination, the sheer power of a journalistic “pit bull,” he finds himself fighting a War on Terrorism with a “poodle” at his side.
Frank Salvato is the managing editor for The New Media Journal.us. He serves at the Executive Director of the Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan, socio-political education project. His pieces are regularly featured in over 100 publications both nationally and internationally. He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, numerous radio shows coast to coast and his pieces have been recognized by the Japan Center for Conflict. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright © 2006 Frank Salvato
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