Thursday, March 06, 2008

Memo to Easley: Quit digging

Rule No. 1 of any problem has to be this basic dictum: When you’re in a hole, quit digging.
That would be some good advice for Gov. Mike Easley to take in the current contretemps over what his administration did and didn’t do regarding the legislature’s reformation of state mental health policies.
Administration of that program turned into a fiasco long ago, as The News & Observer reported in a recent series on mental health.
But administration mishandling of the bad news about the program is a recent development – and has gotten worse since the governor’s press conference in his Capitol office Tuesday. It was a bad setup from the start, and resulted in the governor avoiding follow-up questions from writers who authored the series – and who seemed to know more about what was going on than the governor.
And when it ended after a relatively few questions, reporters who staked out a building exit hoping to get in more questions found that the governor had ducked out another way and was gone.
And while the press conference was underway, the administration fired a public information officer who, it turns out, has considerable credibility with reporters. Debbie Crane was booted out because, among other things, the administration thought she had persuaded former Secretary of Health and Human Services Carmen Hooker Odom not to talk to reporters. Thing is, Crane was regarded as a spokesperson who helped the public understand the truth, not as a spin doctor who tried to put the best face on administration missteps. Her firing was a miscalculation, a symbol of a botched process start to finish.
This whole mess was avoidable, but the governor doesn’t seem to realize it. Here’s a guy who made his bones in politics as a tough, crusading prosecutor in Southeastern North Carolina, and now here he is dodging reporters’ questions. As a former boxer who wasn’t afraid of getting in the ring and trading blows, Easley’s reluctance to face aggressive questioning is curious.
A smart fellow told me a long time ago that the best way to handle bad news is to get it all out, and get it out quick. Easley’s seeming reluctance to deal with this issue more directly, and in full, suggests there’s more the public doesn’t know. If I were he, I’d call every reporter I could find, invite them into the office and sit there until every last question, and every last questioner, was exhausted.
It might not be pleasant, but it would soon be over. And the governor’s hole would stop getting deeper.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jack -- The cover-up is always worse than the crime, or more precisely, the gravest offense is usually done trying to hide lesser missteps.

In this case, the most serious offense would be the destruction of state records (emails) undertaken to avoid the kind of exposure suffered by Jim Black, Meredith Norris, Kevin Geddings etc. when THEIR email was made public.

It takes a special kind of crazy to believe that the Easley Gang watched what happened with those emails and did not resolve to make their own problems go away.

JAT

Anonymous said...

Jack -- It is interesting that you point out that governor's behavior is curious -- that he seems to be acting opposite of his reputation.

In addition to digging this week's hole, do you think he's risking damage to his legacy?

What's the chance that this affair, given how little time he has to correct it, affect how he's remembered?

-- not JAT.

Jack Betts said...

I'd say a fair chance that it's one of the things folks will remember about him, to the extent they remember his two terms. His agenda was not in the ambitious category, though he did wind up with the lottery he wanted. That might be the key things historians note.

David McKnight said...

It might help if the Charlotte Observer's new sibling newspaper, The News & Observer, would asks its own staffers not to inject issues of race and class unnecessarily or imprudently into the journalistic discussion and analysis of what does go on in state government in Raleigh.

It could be that The N&O's new insistency, in a certain corner of its commentary section, to pounce on all political statements by Democrats who are not part of its preferred presidential campaign and ascribe to them motivations ranging from divisiveness to lack of respect for others, could induce a high-profile governmental office in Raleigh to reconsider the prompt release of sensitive information that it might otherwise provide to the press without much deliberation.

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