39 thoughts on “Process Talk Zero Point Oh. The Communications Crisis Deepens

  1. Dennis Lang says:

    I hear you, these spokespeople not only come off as indifferent but ignorant, but this isn’t as simple pulling Tylenol off the shelves some years ago and grabbing a crisis by the throat–making the J&J CEO look like a hero. This is an uncontrollable disaster of great complexity without evident solution. Other than evoking genuine sympathy, is it really possible to inspire confidence? What do you say?

  2. Dennis, that’s the question.
    I believe it is possible to inspire confidence.
    Churchill and FDR did it while the world was falling apart.

    Number one — they recognized how deep the danger was, named it, and showed that they were facing it head-on.

    Number two — they used common language poetically. Not government language that made them sound like drones.

    Number three — they called on all Americans and Britons, and everyone in the world who loves freedom — to understand the stakes and join in the battle.

    Number four — they showed that they cared and they shared the fate of all of us.

    The Obamans so far have been sucked into the oil and drilling companies’ blame game. they have talked process — how many times this cabinet member has been to the Gulf, what meetings have been held. They have shown little compassion and little urgency.

    In Bobby Jindal’s voice we can hear the scope of this tragedy. In the Obaman’s voice we hear process. Rudy Giuliani did not say, while bodies lay buried the the rubble of Manhattan, “We have 55 fire companies mobilized and I’ve met with all my precinct commanders and ….” He said the toll will be more than we can bear.

    And we also need to hear that this will not be allowed to happen again, and we need the equivalent of a Tylenol moment when the company pulled the pills off the shelves. The Obamans need to say “Enough.” And they need to show that they mean it. Inspectors need to be on all Gulf rigs now. Legislation should be in Congress now for stronger regulation and oversight — let’s at least meet the standards of civilized countries like Canada and Brazil that regulate drilling with far more precautions and backups.

    It’s a combination, as always of Doing what’s right, taking real action, and communicating clearly what you’re doing. Even if we can’t change what’s happening today, we can change our response to it — all hands on deck — and we can make as sure as possible that there won’t be a repeat of this preventable tragedy.

    This is an act of man, not of god. We need to hear from this administration that we, as a people and a government, can learn from our disastrous mistakes. That’s what Obama should be leading us in understanding.

  3. Joe Loveland says:

    To me, it’s not fair to consider the government’s response to Katrina in the same category as the government’s response to the oil spill. Too simplistic.

    Reason: We specifically built an arm of govermment to respond to hurricanes – FEMA. We said to the government, “this is your job, get ready for it” and gave them big honkin’ infrastructure to do the job. Hence, we had every right to hold them accountable.

    As far as I understand, we haven’t done that with regard to oil spills. The government isn’t trying to plug the hole, because they have no specialized equipment or expertise to plug oil spill holes. Asking them to fix this problem is like asking them to build an ipad asap. They aren’t bulilt to do that, and it’s not not a capacity and expertise that can be built overnight. We may want to rethink that for the future, but it is our current reality.

    The private sector builds oil platforms and pipes in this country. The government doesn’t. Therefore, the private sector is the only entity with even half a clue about how to approach this problem. Because of that, I think it’s off-based to blame the government for not plugging the hole. The government should hold feet to the fire, but this is not a job we have built them to do.

  4. Mike Kennedy says:

    I agree with you, Joe, but as this piece today points out, leadership doesn’t mean fixing something. It also means explaining things.

    This whole BP witch hunt would be a screamer if the situation weren’t so sad and serious. Accidents do happen, and oil companies, for the most part, have a pretty good record at avoiding these catastrophes:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704026204575266903446455896.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_AboveLEFTTop

    BTW, If liberals think Fox News is shrill, try watching MSNBC as I did last night where wingnut Lawrence O’Donnell called the BP explosion a case of “corporate homocide.”

    Not even corporate manslaughter or malfeasance — no homocide — BP intentionally meant to kill 11 people and pollute the environment.

    What a fucking idiot.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      True. To a public seeking a concerned, personal response, the administration even assuming no fault in this calamity, has the obligation to provide background completely and articulate corrective action. Instead the perception is irresponsibilty and lack of response. A communications disaster.

  5. Joe Loveland says:

    Bruce, a few weeks ago you were on the Obama Administration, saying “Too much policy, not enough populist.” Now you oppose them going populist — “We’re going to keep our boot on the neck of BP ” –and suggest policy — “here’s what we’re trying to do, here’s what hasn’t worked so far, and we’re going to keep trying.”

    I feel your pain, but to me the problem is the underlying event, not the wordsmithing. Nothing anyone can say right now is going to make any of us feel much better. Obama will sound eloquent again if there is a robust economy, the wars are over or calm and the spill clean-up is showing progress. Until then, his words are going to ring hollow for Americans frustrated with the state of affairs. Maybe wordsmithing constitutes something like 1% of his problem, but not much more than that. He needs peace, prosperity and a plug, not better pronouns.

  6. Becky says:

    Watching the BP CEO stick to his talking points of everything is under control, we are working well on this reminds me of the start of the latest Gulf War when Saddam Hussein’s media guy told a tv reporter that the Americans hadn’t made it to Bagdhad, that Hussein was soundly in control & the Iraqi people supported their leader. Meanwhile, in the background a column of Marine tanks rumbled through the city as people cheered. Except the BP guy lacks the charm of Bagdhad Bob.

  7. John Gaterud says:

    Among PR favorites so far (from NYT weekend piece about Gulf Coast fishing communities):

    “Others complain that the company [BP] has failed to include their boats in the Orwellian-named ‘Vessels of Opportunity’ program, even after they registered.”

    Reread, if you dare (or care), “Appendix: The Principles of Newspeak” in “1984.” In fact, might make good summer beach book this year; put it on your recommended list.

  8. John Gaterud says:

    More from Hayward over weekend, re reports of overhead spraying of Corexit on cleanup workers:

    “I’m sure they were genuinely ill, but whether it was anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning or some other reason for them being ill,” Hayward said. “You know, food poisoning is clearly a big issue when you have a concentration of this number of people in temporary camps, temporary accommodation. It’s something we have to be very, very mindful of. It’s one of the big issues of keeping the army operating. You know, armies march on their stomachs.”

  9. Newt says:

    I posit that Obama is totally lost outside the campaign mode.

    His comfort zone seems to be focused on proclamations, declarations, speeches, ceremonies, new regulation, lawsuit threats, enforcement actions — not fixing things.

    It’s clear that Obama has never had to manage a crisis – and I am not talking about PR. We knew that he had accomplished little before he was elected, but the masses were sucked into his campaign vortex.

    America seems totally fatigued by him now.

  10. Mike Kennedy says:

    Well………….when all else fails………blame Bush. Whoops, he already did that yet again yesterday.

    This is now beyond repetitive. It is getting pretty freakin annoying.

    Me thinks Obama needs the PR firm of Benidt, Austin et al to come in and help them change up the message and start acting like the grownups they promised to be.

    1. PM says:

      Newt and Mike: Why are you so sensitive to this?

      Personally, i think it is perfectly legitimate, and I think that he is correct to point out the differences and problems. In fact, here is a very clear analysis of what he did:

      http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/75281/obama-takes-conservatism

      This is exactly what we should expect–after all, the elections are only a few months away, and the other side has been constantly engaging in political attacks as Obama has sought to govern. Frankly, it is time for politics, and the President is alway the Politician in Chief (both Bushes, Clinton, Reagan–all filled this role).

      Frankly, i interpret your objection to this as Obama hitting on spore spots–an acknowledgement (inadvertently) of the massive failures of the 8 years preceding his election.

      Expect more of this–we need to be reminded of the types of choices we are facing in the political realm.

  11. Mike Kennedy says:

    Completely untrue, PM. This guy has done nothing but point fingers. Govern? OK by me if that’s what you want to term it. I’ve never been a fan of finger pointing, personally on either side. You wanted the job and everything that went with it. Suck it up.

    One thing is for sure. People are tiring of it. When you have Maureen Dowd, the queen of the liberal columnists starting to bash you for the woe-is-me mentality this guy is displaying, you are in trouble.

    The oil spill happened on your watch — chief. And you’ve yet to fix anything else you “inherited.” The whole “blame deregulation” because of Bush line is so dishonest it borders on malicious lying. Regulations were thicker in pages under Bush, more populated in terms of regulatory jobs and more expensive in dollars spent — a new record under Bush.

    I was glad to see Bush go, too. But before I’d walk out on the limb of categorizing the last 8 years as a massive failure, I’d be careful because the first 17 months of this look as bad or worse. His deteriorating poll numbers prove that people hold him responsible for most issues.

    After all, before he occupied the White House, he occupied a seat in the Senate. Had he come from a state office, he might be spared the “it’s your fault, too.”

  12. PM says:

    Maybe nothing that you like, perhaps, but to say that he has done nothing is to display massive ignorance. Historic rewrite of our health care policy? Historic rewrite of financial regulation? massive jobs bills? Massive bail outs? rescue of auto industry?

    you can love them or hate them, argue that they are right or wrong, but the one thing that you can not do (at least not honestly) is to say that he has done nothing.

    And, what is this silly hypocrisy from you on the oil spill? You, yourself, have been arguing that there is very little that he can do about the oil spill!

    As for regulation under Bush, what we have found, again and again, is that the people who regulated the financial industry and the oil industry under Bush (him of family values) spent all of their time watching porn while supposedly regulating! While all of these crises were happening, the Bush regulators were fucking around, and not doing their jobs! And that goes for the oil drilling regulators as well as the financial regulators! pages of regulations mean nothing if you purposely ignore them. And spending more money for less effective regulation is hardly something to brag about!

    As for deteriorating poll numbers, Obama is just under 50%–historically, pretty good for halfway through a first term. That said, of course the democrats are going to lose seats in the mid term elections–it always happens this way. The question is how many. The real referendum on Obama, of course, won’t come until another 2 years, when he is up for re-election. Right now, I’d be willing to bet that he will win pretty comfortably. Thinking seriously, what do you think? Do you see a Republican who has a chance? Do you think that the current problems (economy, oil spill, etc.–which I do think are inherited, and not of his making) will still be hanging around his neck?

    (as a matter of fact, I’d be willing to turn that into a bet with you–If Obama loses in 2012, I buy the first round at the SRC get together that Keliher is supposedly organizing–which probably won’t happen until after the 2012 elections anyway. If Obama wins, you buy the first round. )

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Good one PM, but I still question that if contributors to the Crowd actually met we might have the purity of this relationship permanently altered by–don’t quote me on this–something tantamount to the Heisenberg observer effect. There is an elegance in anonymity (or at least facelessness), once shattered, who knows what. Frightening possibilities.

      1. PM says:

        Yeah, i feel kind of bad about continuing to dig at Keliher like that, but everybody says he is a big boy and can take it. And Mike (keliher), if we ever do get together, i owe you a beer–for being a good sport

    2. Mike Kennedy says:

      PM:

      You’ve got to be kidding me. If a bunch of lawyers writing a bunch of laws and a bunch of regulations, all from the same party constitutes doing something, then I agree with you. Something has been done.

      The fact is every poll shows the president is swimming upstream against the American people on big issues.

      Pardon me, but the deregulation is complete bullshit. Name me specific deregulation bills and policies that caused the oil spill or, for that matter, the financial crisis, under Bush.

      That sound more like partisan rationalizing to me.

      Hypocrisy? Where? You’re a smart person. I would have thought you would fully read what I said, which was the oil spill happened on his watch. That’s a fact, but it’s not his fault. However, to blame Bush is not only idiotic and ignorant, it is immature and unseemly. I think he should shut up and focus on the here and now. He’s sitting in the White House, not Bush.

      Whoa, there cowboy. He’s not halfway through his second term. He’s got another six months for that. A lot can happen in six months, even more in two years.

      The advantage today of being an incumbent is so great that you’re bet is hardly daring. I’m surprised at your level of defensiveness about Obama — so much so that you feel compelled to issue a challenge regarding his election prospects — in 2 1/2 years.

      It’s kind of like I bet my dad can beat up your dad. Bush is not my daddy. No doubt, there were things that were his fault, like Iraq, but this liberal Bush Derangement Syndrome still appears to get the better of a number of people.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        That being said, I’ll take your bet just to make it interesting (I did lose more than a few drinks this morning on betting with my golf buddies so I’m not opposed to taking a risk).

      2. Deregulation? How about the Minerals Management Service being a captured industry?

        Minerals Management Service officials, who receive cash bonuses for meeting federal deadlines on leasing offshore oil and gas exploration, frequently altered their own documents and bypassed legal requirements aimed at ensuring drilling does not imperil the marine environment, the documents show.

        And don’t say being captured isn’t the same as deregulation. The effect is the same.

      3. And speaking of blaming George W. Bush, Bookman notes in his piece:

        Those problems peaked during the Bush administration, when top Interior Department officials ignored repeated reports from the Government Accountability Office warning that the agency was giving sweetheart deals to industry, losing hundreds of millions of dollars that ought to be going to the federal treasury. Later, investigations proved that agency officials had been accepting lucrative gifts from oil companies, and that “a culture of ethical failure” permeated MMS.

      4. Mike Kennedy says:

        What a reach — again, no evidence of deregulation; evidence, however, of shady things happening in the Minerals Management Service, I would agree.

        But if we are going to hold Bush responsible for that, then I guess we have to hold Obama responsible for BPs plans for the Deep Water Horizon project getting approved, waivers and all and for his administration planning to issue them a safety award.

        Bush and Obama had as much to do with this oil mess as I did. This urban legend of deregulation is a farce, just like the farce of “Big Oil” controlling our energy policies and controlling oil prices. I wouldn’t call a record 75,000 pages of the Federal Register under Bush a regulatory kiss off.

      5. There could be a million pages in the Federal Register and it wouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference if each agency was captured by those it is supposed to regulate. This was the POLICY of the Bush administration – hand off agencies to the industries they were supposed to be regulating. Not to excuse Obama, who has made many, many mistakes, but it takes quite awhile to rebuild regulatory professionalism.

        You’re living in a dream world if you think that the GOAL of the Bush administration wasn’t to end regulation – not by laws, but by no enforcement of laws. This approach has the added advantage of LOOKING like regulation, but being the exact opposite. Why are mines collapsing, wells overflowing, children’s toys full of cadmium, meat full of ecoli, etc?

      6. BTW – Tim Pawlently is a pretty good analogue of Bush in terms of regulation. For example, he put an “environmental manager” from 3M – the state’s worst polluter – in charge of the MPCA. She later had to slink off – to work for the NATION’s worst environmental criminals, the Koch brothers of Kansas – after it was revealed that the agency was slow-walking research into 3M groundwater pollution.

        While Mike may claim that Republicans are not anti-regulation, the truth is quite the opposite. All you have to do is look at the activities of the Republican think tanks in Washington and the states to see their hatred of regulation. It is disingenuous in the extreme to claim otherwise.

  13. Dennis Lang says:

    Ah…You’re being way to hard on yourself PM. I’m sure to speak for all blogolytes out here in admiration of your persistence. Meanwhile, since I seem to live in the same general vicinity of Mr. MJK I can’t help but wonder how many times I’ve actually crossed paths with him at Lunds and failed to place him from the photo, and would we then launch into a spontaneous debate on the virtues or lack there-of of Libertarianism?

  14. PM says:

    OK, Mike, at least you are finally admitting that you were wrong to say “This guy has done nothing but point fingers.”

    He has done a lot–he has passed significant amounts of major legislation–which can be done regardless of the party affiliations of those who vote for it (to raise that as a defense of your point after the fact is an attempt to change the terms of the debate, and only serves to emphasize the weakness of your original point, that he has done nothing but point fingers).

    Passing significant legislation IS governing. As I said before, you can disagree about whether he has been partisan, or not. You can disagree about whether the legilation he has sponsored is good or not. You can disagree about whether his speaches are “fingerpointing” or legitimate politicking or not. All of that is perfectly fine partisan politics, appropriate to election season. But you simply cannot say, honestly, that he has done nothing.

    You can accuse Obama of fingerpointing and partisanship if you want–that is a matter of opinion and interpretation, as opposed to fact. We can also argue about whether he is in the mainstream of US public opinion or not–that is also legitimate political discourse, and the truth of the matter will come when he is up for re-election. When one or the other of us will be buying! (and no, it’s not defensiveness–i just like beer!)

    1. Mike Kennedy says:

      PM:

      Where we disagree is that legislating is necessarily governing. This is a fundamental difference of opinion among political junkies of all stripes. I think plenty of good governing can come from knowing when not to write more laws and regulations and enforcing what is already there — and there is plenty.

      We are 100 percent agreement, though, on beer. Just in case you end up buying, I like Finnegan’s (brewed by Summit and I think they donate all profits on that brand to charity), Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, Murphy’s…..well you get the idea. I’m headed to Ireland soon, and I am in serious training

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        Rob:

        And you’re living in a dream world if you think more laws and more regulators are going to stop a mine from collapsing or an oil rig from blowing or E coli from getting into food.

        Accidents happen, and every time one does, the liberal regulatory reflex is off and running. It’s an easy reason to explain everything………lack of regulation caused it.

        Also, your idea of regulatory capture seems confused. The issue of capture is an issue wherever and whenever there is regulation, regardless of who is president and what party is in power.

        You see, economists realize people are motivated by incentives — and if regulators can be paid off with money, sex, favors etc., then what good is more regulation? Indeed, as some have argued, it can be worse than no regulation at all.

        Your theory about regulatory capture being a policy of the Bush administration is an interesting opinion and theory, but so far, just that.

      2. Well – regulations and enforcement might not stop mines from caving in, but it WOULD save the lives of many miners. The regulations that are not followed or enacted are primarily SAFETY regulations.

    1. Mike Kennedy says:

      MK:

      Good suggestion. I’ve been to the top of the old St. James Gate — this is my second tour of the Emerald Isle. Our youngest who just graduated from high school is legal there — and elsewhere in Europe; so he wants to tip a Guinness or two with the old man. A visit is definitely in order.

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