Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don't be afraid to tell people bad news

What the report out the past day or so about the BP Oil spill makes it clear is how much the administration has been caught up in the whole Washington trap of trying to candy coat everything.

Start with the economy. Even today, most people don't blame Obama for it.

But the reports of 'greenshoots' last year and continuously trying to talk it up have had an effect-- not on the economy, but on the administration's credibility.

Then there is Afghanistan. Remember that the Bush administration's repeated assertions that things were going well in Iraq when they were not destroyed their credibility over time. But it seems as if the Obama administration is repeating the same mistakes. We still have no clear mission, no definition of what a 'victory' even is, and we are losing American soldiers and dumping money into it, for WHAT? Who knows anymore? But whatever it is, is still getting sugar coated by the administration.

So now the oil spill report comes out. The oil spill was another situation that Obama did not create-- it was BP's fault. But now we learn that the administration was continually trying to minimize the apparent scope of the disaster, sticking to numbers that were only 1/60th the actual size of the spill.

My question is, WHY!!?? Why carry BP's water on this and get slicked yourself as a result? I don't understand that. Is it a reflexive reaction in Washington that when you are in control all news must be spun to the positive side?

Americans are adults and would like to be treated accordingly. If the news is bad, then tell us the bad news.

In 1940, Winston Churchill took over from Neville Chamberlin during the most discouraging days of World War II. He made a speech in which he promised the British people, "I have nothing to offer you but blood, tears, sweat and toil." Then a couple of weeks later as German forces closed in on Paris he began a speech with, "The news from France is very, very bad" before going into details. Whatever one might think of Churchill, he set a mold with those two speeches that it would do well for our politicians to follow.

When you only spin all news as good, you close the trap upon yourself. You now own it, any failure to live up to what you've said (i.e. reality) becomes a disappointment, and after enough times of crying "no wolf!" people start to not believe you and all you can do is scream "Happy, happy news, all is well!" all the louder to compensate. Eventually you blow out the amplifier.

This is something it would behoove President Obama to learn as soon as possible.

3 comments:

Southern Beale said...

When you only spin all news as good, you close the trap upon yourself.

This is true in a logical world but we live in a world of media spin. I think in the world of politics, resolute trumps wrong every time. I can't remember who said this, maybe it was Bill Clinton, but the quote was something to the effect of, "people would rather follow a resolute leader over a cliff than someone they perceive as weak." Something to that effect. But I think it's true. It's why Bush wasn't impeached, why we had "stay the course" in Iraq etc. etc. Telling people the truth if the news is bad is perceived as weakness in the world of Washington.

Eli Blake said...

Maybe that's because telling bad news like it is hasn't been tried for so long.

You don't come in with a defeated attitude, but what would it have hurt Obama to give the right numbers on the oil spill up front? People would be angrier at BP but he wouldn't have been caught on the horns of a misstep. As I said, Churchill was certainly not blamed by the British public for beginning a speech saying that the news from France was bad. I sometimes think that Obama had been in his shoes, he would have not mentioned Paris at all and talked about how there were no Germans in French Polynesia.

sandyh said...

Eli, Churchill was dealing with a real war.