Friday, January 10, 2014

He Knows Nothing

It's the classic dodge.  In his news conference Thursday, Chris Christie used the word "responsibility" twelve times. It began with "And so, you know, I'm going to look into this personally. This is my responsibility, "

It moved on to

And so I understand why people would ask that question, and I understand your question completely. But what I also want to tell the people is that even with all that being said, it's still my responsibility. I didn't know about it, but it's my responsibility because I'm the governor. So I'm taking that responsibility and taking actions appropriate with executing the responsibility in accord with what the information is today.

The governor later remarked "And in this instance, my government fell short, and I take responsibility for that, and that's why I'm apologizing."    A few minutes later, he claimed

I think the people of New Jersey are looking to see, when mistakes are made, how their leader is going to react. And I believe that when they see me take the action I'm taking today, that they'll say, mistakes were made, the governor had nothing to do with that, but he's taking responsibility for it...

He went on to "sometimes there are going to be mistakes, and when there are, I have to own up to them and take responsibility and act, and that's what I've done today" and topped it off with

No, I don't think it's my credibility. I mean, I think, Kelli (sp), if I didn't stand up and take responsibility and apologize directly to the people of New Jersey, as I've done today, then I think that would be a risk, but I'm not that kind of person.

I understand the responsibility of this job. I've had it for four years now. And I think I said this at the press conference in December. There's plenty of times I get credit for things that I had little to do with, as governor, and sometimes I get blamed for things that I have little to do with. But it doesn't matter. I'm the governor, and the things that happen on my watch are my responsibility, both good and bad.

The word "responsibility" comes up a dozen times (and "responsible" eight times). By contrast, the word "sorry" was uttered three times. On the first occasion, reminded of a joke ("I worked the cones. Unbeknownst to anyone, I worked the cones”) he had made about closure of lanes to the busiest bridge in the world, he allowed "Well, I just did. I said I'm sorry for that, and I would have never made that joke if I knew the facts that have come forward to me today."

On a second occasion, it's difficult to determine from the transcript to what Christie was referring when he said he's sorry.  And on the third occasion, he actually commented "And I'm sorry to all the people of the state that they have to be, you know, occupied with this matter. It's embarrassing."

Apparently, the Governor regrets all the media coverage, not only for himself but for the residents of New Jersey.  But all the talk about responsibility evidently has fooled some experts.   And leave it to two sorry reporters from Politico, who wrote

Apologize. Take responsibility. Act decisively.

Crisis management experts say those are the necessary first steps in handling a scandal — and they gave New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie high marks for his news conference Thursday, in which he responded to email evidence that some of his top aides shut down traffic lanes to the George Washington Bridge for political reasons...

“I thought it was a textbook performance of how you approach these things: Lay it all out, be contrite,” said Jim Manley, a senior director at the D.C. public affairs firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates who was previously a longtime Democratic aide in the Senate. Manley added, however: “I don’t think he gave himself a lot of wiggle room. That’s the rub. He better know what he’s doing because he was so unequivocal.”

In the news conference, Christie apologized to the people affected by the September lane closures and announced that he had fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and essentially dismissed political adviser Bill Stepien. He also insisted that he had “no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution.”

Later in the day Thursday, Christie traveled to Fort Lee, the town most affected by the lane closures, and personally apologized to its mayor, Mark Sokolich. Democrats allege the governor’s allies targeted Fort Lee to get back at Sokolich for not endorsing Christie as he was running for reelection last year.

His move to take full responsibility and to dismiss the implicated aides earned Christie an “A+” from Larry Smith, a senior consultant at the Institute for Crisis Management.

“Whether you’re the CEO of General Motors or the governor of a state or a senator or the president of the United States, you ultimately have people who answer to you and only to you and you have to be responsible,” Smith said. “I thought that he was very clear and didn’t mince words.”

Another reason the experts praised Christie was that while he was contrite and apologetic, he also reinforced the straight-talking, no-nonsense persona that he’s cultivated on the national level.

Mark Irion, president of the crisis communications and public relations firm Levick, said that, by maintaining his usual demeanor, Christie helped ensure that his brand wasn’t harmed.

“From a communications perspective, he reinforced what Chris Christie at his best is believed to be: strong, decisive, a chief executive who immediately gathered the facts and cleaned house,” he said.

Strong and decisive apparently entails "And I'll say one last thing, just so we're really clear. I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or it execution."  Immediately gathering the facts evidently means  learning at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 8 that his aides had (he insists) lied to him. But, as Josh Barro noted during the press conference

There were 117 days between when the Bridgegate story broke and when the governor learned that one of his Deputy Chiefs of Staff, Bridget Kelly, had called for the lane closures. One of his close confidants whom he just selected to run the New Jersey Republican Party, Bill Stepien, is also implicated. Despite the fact that increasing national attention was being paid to this story through the fall, Christie — who has a background as an aggressive prosecutor! — had no idea some of his closest allies were involved. 

Being contrite no doubt amounts to getting rid of everyone- except oneself- involved in a scandal.  Being "responsible" means never having to be accountable.  After repeatedly announcing himself responsible, the New Jersey governor was asked "Did you ever for even a brief moment entertain the idea that perhaps you should resign?" and answered

Oh, god, no. No. Brian, I mean, you know, listen. I know you're asking. You know, I am -- I -- you know, I am -- I heard -- (off mic). That's a crazy question, man. I mean, I'm telling you: I had nothing to do with this. And so, you know, no. I never gave any thought to doing that at all, nor would I. 

It was a joke when repeated on television. But this strong, decisive response management style demonstrated by Chris Christie (and, no, I'm not saying he's fat) comes down to this:

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