New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faced reporters today to respond to his administration’s brewing “bridge” scandal.
His press conference was far from perfect. But it was a net positive and a critical first step toward regaining some control of this story.
By delivering a “marathon press conference”—he answered questions for close to two hours—he left an indelible impression of openness and transparency.
(Click here to catch up on the scandal, in which access to the George Washington Bridge was partially closed as political punishment.)
Based on his tone—which careened between sad, betrayed, incredulous, exasperated, and bewildered—I believe him. I suspect many others will, as well. When watching a politician respond to a crisis, viewers typically have a gut-level visceral reaction. Christie’s performance will lead to a favorable one for many.
Beyond his tone, he also took specific action, firing a top aide. Christie made clear that he knew nothing about the bridge incident and has “nothing to hide.”
Still, his press conference was far from perfect. Christie spent far too much time talking about his own grief over the situation (“I’m humiliated by this.” “I am very sad today.”) instead of focusing on the people who were affected by this incident—commuters, parents, school children, and most critically, those who couldn’t receive an emergency response in a timely manner. He spent too much time talking about his own “stages of grief,” and not enough focusing on the New Jersey residents—and others—who his administration let down.
He also used a couple of politically dumb phrases:
- Dumb quote one: “I am not a bully.” Statements of denial are a media no-no, as they instantly evoke statements like “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
- Dumb quote two: “Mistakes were made.” That passive-language gem has become a cliché for its lack of personal responsibility. In fairness, he took responsibility at several other moments.
He also stood behind a large, triple-sized lectern, putting an unnecessary and unhelpful physical barrier between himself and reporters.
The bottom line is that it’s never an enviable position for a politician to have to stand before reporters and claim that he was clueless about what his top lieutenants were doing. At best, it makes Christie look like a clueless and somewhat feckless manager.
But assuming everything he said in his press conference today was truthful, it was a critical and effective first step that may help Christie keep his 2016 presidential ambitions alive.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.