Media Skills: Chris Christie Gives Forceful Apology

Posted: Jan 9 2014, 12:36pm CST | by


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Media Skills: Chris Christie Gives Forceful Apology
Photo Credit: Forbes

On Wednesday, January 8th when I first heard the news about the George-Washington bridge closure scandal in New Jersey, I knew that Governor Chris Christie had to give a direct, forceful, explanation immediately. If not, it could have threatened to significantly hurt his political future. Nobody likes a bully in office and the label was being applied to Christie by many bloggers and pundits. The major newspaper headlines were relentless after emails emerged showing that two of Christie’s appointees caused traffic jams on the bridge as political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee who did not endorse Christie’s candidacy.

If I had counseled Christie before his press conference, I would have asked the following questions in private and I would have recommended that he use the answers in his public response to the scandal. When something happens that makes a leader look callous, indifferent, or incompetent, people (voters, employees, shareholders) want to hear from the leader immediately and they want to feel as though the leader is being straight with them. Below are the questions I would have asked Christie to prepare him for his press conference, followed by statements that he actually made.

I need to know the truth. Did you know about it?

Christie: “Let me be clear. I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”

How can I be so sure?

“I would never have come out here four or five weeks ago and made a joke about these lane closures if I had ever had an inkling that anyone on my staff would have been so stupid but to be involved and then so deceitful…I was stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown. The callous indifference… I have nothing to hide. Anything anyone wants to ask of me, they can ask.”

If anyone can ask you anything, are you prepared to take questions from the press for as long as they have questions?

[Christie did spend more than an hour answering questions].

How did you feel when you first heard the report?

“The conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people that were trusted to serve.”

That’s it? How does it really make you feel? What is your heart saying?

“I am embarrassed and humiliated…You can only imagine how sad and betrayed I felt. I’m heartbroken. I wasn’t told the truth by someone I trusted…I am a very sad person today. That’s the emotion I feel today. I’m a sad guy standing here.”

What action have you taken?

“This morning I’ve terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly, effective immediately. I’ve terminated her employment because she lied to me.”

Is that it?

I’ve instructed Bill Stepien [former campaign manager] to not place his name in nomination for state party chairman, and he will not be considered for state party chairman, and I’ve instructed him to withdraw his consultancy with the Republican Governors Association. If I cannot trust someone’s judgment, I cannot ask others to do so, and I would not place him at the head of my political operation because of the lack of judgment that was shown in the emails that were revealed yesterday.”

Is that it?

“Later today I’m going to be going to Fort Lee, to meet with the mayor to apologize to him personally, face to face, and also to apologize to the people of Fort Lee in their town. I think they need to see me do that personally, and I intend to do that later on today. People of those communities for four days were impacted in a completely callous and indifferent way, and I’m going to go and apologize for that.”

Why did it take you so long to call a press conference and to take these actions?

I found out at 8:50 yesterday morning and by today at 9:00 her position was terminated. I think that’s pretty swift action given the fact that I was blindsided.”

Are you a bully?

“I have very heated discussions and arguments with people in my own party and on the other side of the aisle. I feel passionately about issues. And I don’t hide my emotions from people. I am not a focus-group tested, blow-dried candidate or governor. Now, that has always made some people, as you know, uneasy. Some people like that style, some people don’t. I am who I am. But I am not a bully.”

Finally, I would recommend that you teach the public something about your day to day work that they might now know. What can you tell me?

“In the end, I have 65,000 people working for me every day. And I cannot know what each one of them is doing at every minute. But that doesn’t matter; I’m ultimately responsible for what they do. And that’s why I took this action. I feel humiliated by the fact that I did not know this and that I was deceived. That’s an awful way to feel.”

My main criticism of Christie’s press conference is that he let it go on way too long. I understand the importance of answering all the questions if you have nothing to hide, but at some point reporters will continue to ask the same question in different ways. Christie began to get irritated, as most people would do in a similar situation. Irritated politicians are prone to gaffs or inappropriate comments.

It will be interesting to see how Christie’s forceful apology and comments plays with his constituents in New Jersey and with the American people.

Carmine Gallo is the communication coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a popular keynote speaker and author of several books including Talk Like TED, which reveals the 9 public-speaking secrets of the world’s top minds. Sign up for Carmine’s newsletter and follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Source: Forbes

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