#Bridgegate has erupted in the news and social media, and after a press conference that ran nearly two hours, there has been plenty to discuss. During that time, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie adhered to many of the tenants of crisis management, but he had a few slip-ups that are detracting from his apology.
The Republican governor needed to step in front of the cameras after text messages and emails connected officials in his administration to a purposeful, needless closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The result of the shutting of lanes on one of the busiest bridges in the world was that commutes normally lasting 30 minutes suddenly turned into hours-long affairs.
“I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee, and I apologize to the members of the state Legislature,” CBS reports Christie said. “I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for their appropriate role in government and for the people that were trusted to serve.”
Christie said he was completely unaware that the order came from his office and has fired Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff, who Christie says lied to him when he questioned her previously about the lane closures.”Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly told David Wildstein, a top executive at the Port Authority, in a message on August 13.
Steps were taken against Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager, as well. Stepien was being considered to head the Republican Party in New Jersey, and the governor has asked Stepien to remove his name. ”If I cannot trust someone’s judgment I cannot ask others to do so,” Christie told the public in his news conference. Emails connected Stepien to the lane closures.
It is his conciliatory, authoritative tone that Christie is being praised for. “Giving a press conference like this is a first step that can reinstate his believability and standing,” Marcus Messner, a professor of communication at Virginia Commonwealth University, told NPR. ”For him to go before reporters that long gives the image that he’s willing to answer any questions about this, and he’s in charge and he will clean up this mess.”
Being seen as in control and willing to confront issues head-on are two important factors for Christie. It was speculated that he would run for president in 2012, and he is seen as a contender in 2016. Minimizing this scandal and dealing with it aptly is crucial if he is aiming for higher office.
Tom Fiedler, dean of the communications school at Boston University, told NPR that Christie “did everything you need to do to isolate something like this and reduce it as best you can and then move on.”
Former White House senior adviser David Axelrod agreed. Axelrod tweeted following the press conference that absent a “smoking gun,” Christie’s political future was safe after his apology.
There is one line that Christie uttered during the conference that he probably wishes he could take back: “I am not a bully.” Davia Temin, head of the Temin & Co. crisis management firm in New York, explained to Bloomberg that with that phrase, Christie violated a cardinal rule of crisis management.
“The No. 1 rule is don’t repeat the allegations. I am not a bully or I am not a crook — it’s the wrong thing to do,” Temin said to the news service. Rob Baskin, a president and general manager for the public relations firm Weber Shandwick in Atlanta, categorized the moment as “a soundbite that will repeat again and again for years to come,” according to Bloomberg.
Others take issue with the how the tone of the conference evolved as time went on. “The longer Christie talked, the less he sounded angry and resolute and the more he sounded as if he were making excuses,” Joshua Green wrote in Bloomberg. “It became harder to believe that he could have been ignorant of what his closest staffers were up to.”