In a statement issued Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he wasn’t involved in a plan to punish Fort Lee, N.J., Mayor Mark Sokolich for denying him an endorsement in his re-election bid last year.
"What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable," Christie said, according to The Huffington Post
. "I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge."
Emails between Christie staffers and David Wildstein
, Christie’s appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, reveal a concerted plan to create traffic jams in Fort Lee by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The traffic snarls reportedly delayed emergency response vehicles.
Christie has insisted for weeks that the closures were not politically motivated, but were instead part of a traffic study.
“Crisis Christie is a teaching point on what not to do in a crisis, though he still could get out of this mess,” former journalist and crisis communications blogger Steve Bell wrote
. “And apparently he’s getting good advice because Politico
just reported he plans to hold a news conference later today.”
Bell says Christie, a 2016 presidential hopeful, should have followed the formula for a press conference during a crisis rather than issuing a statement blaming staffers.
“Remember the standard Harry Truman set about where the buck stops, which measures all presidents, real or hopeful,” he wrote. “Stand up, deliver all the facts you know, take responsibility, apologize if necessary and answer questions until reporters are tired of asking them.”
[RELATED: Ragan's new distance-learning site houses the most comprehensive video training library for corporate communicators.]
Bell said Christie’s press conference today could show “transformational leadership,” but if a news organization reveals that Christie was aware of the bridge closures and the political motivation behind them, he’ll be in, as Christie’s favorite singer Bruce Springsteen put it, “Jungleland.”
On its blog
, the team at The Flip Side Communications offers similar advice:
The governor needs to hold a news conference where he can tell us who knew what about the Fort Lee lane closures. If he doesn’t know that answer, he needs to tell us that his top priority is to find out. He then needs to fire anyone who took part in closing down these lanes.
The post continues:
What I’m basically saying is to tell the truth, get rid of the people who screwed up, say you’re sorry and acknowledge your flaws. Many people in crisis communications would never offer this advice. The knee jerk reaction is to circumvent the truth and skirt around the edges of reality. It’s called damage control. In their minds, damage control means surviving. The problem is that they’re the only ones who buy into it.
Brad Phillips, a.k.a. Mr. Media Training
, tweeted that Christie definitely seemed to be out of character in his reaction Wednesday.
He also noted that people are going to remember this scandal.
Christie announced in a Thursday news conference that he has fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelley, the staffer who directly emailed Wildstein about the bridge lane closings.
"I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short," Christie said.
He also has terminated his relationship with his campaign manager, Bill Stepien.
Christie added: "I am embarrassed and humiliated by some of the people on my team."
Ragan Communications Executive Editor Rob Reinalda offered this analysis
of the wording of Christie's statement, saying it "lends itself to speculation about its intent."