In what appears to be a scheme of political payback, the Christie Administration closed two lanes of traffic on the George Washington Bridge last September. The result? Angry commuters, delayed medical responders, and allegations about Christie’s involvement.
The entire ordeal reminded me of a plot in elementary vengeance, orchestrated by catty school girls who only saw the instant gratification of payback but lacked vision of what their actions would mean for the future. Sure, perhaps they generated some temporary anger in a public opinion poll about the Mayor of Fort Lee, but they jeopardized the integrity of their administration in an abuse of power and deception.
Enter stage left Chris Christie’s apology. After the spiteful stunt that was the George Washington Bridge Debacle, Christie held a press conference to deny any involvement in the event. And as if the plot didn’t already resemble something out of Mean Girls, Christie’s response was tantamount to the film. I would deem his lack of accountability as nothing short of a crisis communications fail.
Christie was quick to shift blame and plead ignorance – he denied any and all knowledge of the scandal, and highlighted the actions of the members of his administration in order to deflect from his own responsibility. Although he did have this to say:
Ultimately I am responsible for what happens under my watch — the good and the bad. And when mistakes are made, then I have to own up to them and take the action that I believe is necessary in order to remediate them.
But I’m not buying it, nor am I writing it off as a PR win. This statement seemed like a security blanket, added as an afterthought, and I felt that the message was coated in alternating layers of 1) pleading ignorance and 2) shifting blame. And whether or not Christie is guilty of knowing about the scandal (which, if that’s the case, will surely surface under Federal Investigation), he should have been truly apologetic on behalf of his administration during his recent press conference.
I won’t make allegations about Christie’s involvement in the GWB scandal. But I do question his communication efforts to put out the fire that has fueled this crisis. In the conclusion of his statement, Christie seemed to veer off course from the actual matter at hand (is this really the time or place to be discussing your achievements?) when he should have stayed on the path of authentic remorse and accountability.
Why is it that all to often someone is apologizing but doesn’t actually seem to mean it?
In his piece Chris Christie and the Sorry State of Apologizing, Jason Gay discusses the idea of “sorry as the new hello.” Controversy, scandal, lies and corruption have become commonplace in our society and the media, which has helped pave the way for these superficial, semi-apologies.
The heat of every controversy inevitably dies down: some other political or corporate mishap is bound to take center stage, which has made it easier to feign remorse – remember Netflix?
People make mistakes, a cliché that has been used to death but is no less true. But it’s how an individual reacts to and handles the situation that is a true testament to his or her character. So let us acknowledge the special few that own up to their mistakes with sincerity, and in the face of crisis offer a genuine apology. Hats off to you.