By Dennis Culloton, President & CEO
The crisis in confidence that has afflicted the U.S. Secret Service shares some characteristics of the fall with the NFL. Both organizations have long been held in high esteem, comprised of what many still see as the best our country has to offer. Both dropped the proverbial ball.
The Service has, it appears, spent more time downplaying and papering over potentially dangerous mistakes than tackling them head on. The White House knife-wielding invader was apprehended after running through much of the main floor of the White House. As one member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass) said, the intruder covered nearly as much of the White House as a tour group. He was a stairwell away from the private quarters and could have been armed to the teeth or wired to explode.
The Secret Service had originally told the media the intruder, who also had ammunition in his car, was quickly detained at the main entrance. The deliberately vague and misleading media statement—and the government is hardly the first to try this–is short-term thinking. It is the sort of strategy that gets you through a few news cycles but almost ensures the mistake will happen again, with perhaps more serious consequences.
Similarly the NFL tried to quickly dispense with the Ray Rice incident. The Raven’s running back was quickly disciplined in the hopes the media would move on to other issues. But the comparative slap on the wrist only inspired more media inquiry into the events in the casino elevator.
The Secret Service does not want to drop the ball on presidential security. The men and women of the service have pride in what they do and commit to giving their life for the president and his family if need be.
The NFL executives and owners didn’t wake up one day trying to insult women and disrespect the sensibilities of Americans. They love the game, which may be more the American pastime than baseball. The owners have invested billions of their treasure in the brand, the game and the experience.
Yet the leaders of the Secret Service and the NFL were both guilty of putting on blinders and believing they could, in effect, cover up their mistakes without fixing them. Part of the job of a crisis communications advisor is to provide advice to get in front of the problem in a meaningful way. Too often, looking outside for advice is viewed as a sign of weakness or acknowledging error. Organizations sometimes need a crisis to see how they were wrong. In the case of the Secret Service Director, the White House used a time honored approach to quell the media feeding frenzy by accepting her resignation. https:///wapo.st/1v9p9pv . Time will tell if that is enough to satisfy the media and members of Congress. As for the NFL, while they are deep in their own territory, they still have the ball with time on the clock.