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UPDATED: I was right! Spin to Win: How the Current Christie Crisis Will Be Managed

UPDATE: Saturday 2/1/2014 6:45 PST Below, in an article I wrote on January 31, I predicted actions that the Christie communications team will take. I was insanely accurate. Politico has as story “Chris Christie attacks N.Y. Times, David Wildstein” in which they link to a email where Christie’s office attacks Wildstein, his motivation and his backers. The letter was sent to surrogates who “leaked” to Politico.

Hilariously they go back to his high school to attack his character! Talk about your permanent record!

In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as “tumultuous” and someone who “made moves that were not productive.”

  • As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election.
  • He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.
  • He had a controversial tenure as Mayor of Livingston
  • He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge
  • He had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people’s names without telling them
Read the letter and see how correct I was. It’s almost like I traveled into the future.

If I was the new communications director for Chris Christie I would NOT advise him to “come clean” further and apologize, I would go on the attack. Attack. Attack. Attack. He needs to attack Wildstein, his character, motivations and his backers or else he will alienate his base who LIKE that Christie is a fighter.  Alternatively the comms director can go full Baghdad Bob to the media.

I’ve been an adviser to a lot people on messaging to the media. Before I work with them I ask them a lot of questions to try and understand their attitudes and temperaments toward the media or the audiences they are addressing.

People’s attitudes can guide the strategy I suggest. If they aren’t comfortable with the strategy they will execute poorly. I can’t change a mild mannered technologist into a controversy generating fighter unless they have that in them.  People who have the, “If they only knew the truth” attitude will respond differently than people who have a, “They are out to get us!” attitude. With one you keep communicating as much info as possible, with the other you stonewall and then go on the attack.

After the direct attack, the next step will be to get others to question the integrity and motivations of Wildstein. These attacks will come from surrogates who are “Just asking questions…”

Expect personal smears about Wildstein to leak. 

Expect questions about who is backing him. “Is this being orchestrated by the Democrats? Republican opponents? Who is paying for his high-powered lawyers?”

Expect questions about what Wildstein wants in return for not revealing everything. “This is public blackmail. He wants a pay off! He won’t reveal anything new.Mark my words, Wildstein doesn’t have squat! He’s blackmailing the governor with a bluff! ”

The Christie administration have worked through several stages of the Right Wing media communications play book by now.

1) Denial. The Sergeant Schultz defense. “I know nothing! Nothing!”
2) Diminish. “It’s no big deal. It’s a joke. The media are blowing this up.”
3) Distance. Besides firing some people, they talk like they barely know them. They try to go back in time as if they never were tight.
4) Disclosure. That was the first press conference. That was what was supposed to shut the whole thing down. Answer all questions.

With the most recent revelation, “Ex-Port Authority staffer says he can prove Christie knew about lane closures” you will see the Governor’s office running through the cycle again. They have already gotten a response from the governors office. Link here (BTW, I love the use of twitter images to link to a photo of lots of text! 140 character limit, be damned!)

You will note that the communications coming out of the Governors office will now be very precise with timing words. This might seem like hair splitting but this case could turn on the meaning of the word, “previously.”  The court of public opinion can get sloppy, but the actual court isn’t, specific words are chosen for a reason.  Lawyers are going to be vetting every single word said on this case from now on. I expect that if Christie talks about this again he will use the Rummy method to answer questions.

The Rummy Method, which I named after how Donald Rumsfeld responded to questions, has the person appear to be candid with the media up front. It has the person asking and answering their own questions, giving the illusion that the issue is dealt with.

“Am I sorry this happened? Yes. Do I wish I had known earlier? You bet. Did I know earlier than the day I heard it on the news? I did not. But I can’t stop people from making false statements about what I knew and when I knew it.”

Rummy also was able to be very precise in response to sloppy paraphrased questions.  The only way to beat the Rummy Method was for reporters to ask question as if they were prosecutors, not journalists. The Rummy technique also has the benefit of shutting down follow up questions.

If I was a journalist in a future Christie press conference I would design questions like a prosecutor trying to figure out what laws were broken and what it would take to prove it.  I would work with a prosecuting attorney to design follow up questions like cross examination questions. Then I would get one or two journalists to work this strategy with me.  The reason this is necessary is that with one reporter asking these questions it looks like they are badgering the “witness” and aren’t sharing the press conference time.  With two or three working together it looks like everyone has similar questions and his answers aren’t cutting it for anyone.  Also, studies have shown that the sympathy moves from the questioner to the person being questioned after three though questions in a row where the answer didn’t change.

Finally, here is something else you might see, Christie talking about how he was, “saddened and disappointed” with Wildstein’s accusations and he can understand why he would misconstrue information, but the bottom line is that they were the people responsible. Christie will remind people that he fired them for their incorrect actions they are now disgruntled former employees and we all know how untrustworthy they are. Then he will tell everyone “we need to move on with the business of running this great state.”

Either this is how it will unfold or Christie will resign.

Tune in next week. Same bat time! Same bat channel!

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