How Not To Handle a Crisis

You do have the right to remain silent… and while at times that may be useful in a courtroom, it is rarely a good strategy in politics. Apparently the Governor’s communication officer didn’t get the memo.

Just days after unveiling a poorly received $9 million dollar slogan and ad campaign featuring the song “don’t fence me in” to bolster tourism, Nevada’s Governor was the recipient of continued bad press over a patient dumping scandal in neighboring California.

Apparently Nevada is so broke we can’t afford to treat mental health patients in our own state, so we ship them off to other states with a bus pass, granola bars, and a few days worth of meds to the tune of 1500 patients over the last few years.

The Sacramento Bee, published in one of the towns which received some of our patients, was particularly frustrated that Sandoval’s office couldn’t bring themselves to comment on the situation. Talk about ‘fencing yourself in.’

“We are going to decline to comment,” Sandoval’s press secretary, Mary-Sarah Kinner, said in a recent email, before she stopped bothering to respond to my requests for comment.

-Sacramento Bee

This isn’t the first time Sandoval’s office has declined to comment or respond to a story… in fact it appears to be a pattern of behavior. See herehere and here. The state of Nevada deserves more than “no comment” from their chief executive’s communications department.

When people say “no comment” on an issue or crisis they are conveying a much worse statement than they hope to convey.  Here is what people hear when you say “no comment”:

1)  I don’t know enough about this issue or don’t have the intellect to talk about this issue; 2) I know about this issue but am too afraid to say anything because I don’t know how to handle this situation; or 3) I know about this issue and don’t want to say anything because I condone it and if I say something it will make me look bad.

Regardless of the situation it looks bad all the way around.

It’s a cardinal rule in politics: If you aren’t out there telling your story, someone else is telling it for you. A little free advice for Governor Sandoval’s office… do your job, communicate your story and respond to the public, even when the heat is on. Of course for this strategy to be effective, you need to have an effective message and an effective messenger.

UPDATE:

Governor Sandoval finally came out with a public response. The original story was published April 14th, and with headlines building and a deafening silence from the Governor’s office, he finally mustered up some sort of coherent response by April 23rd.  That is an eternity in the news. Everything he said on the 23rd could have been said on April 15th.  Unfortunately for him the narrative already started, and it doesn’t make him look good. He’ll have a lot more work to do to repair the damage, if it is repairable.