It's been an interesting and emotional week since my last posting.The Democrats wrapped up their Convention, setting the stage for an all-out fight to the finish. The 11th anniversary of 9/11 coincided with more outrages in Egypt and Libya, thus keeping it in the public consciousness. Although the 9/11 memorial services may gradually diminish each year in terms of public recognition; nevertheless, the events of 9/11 can - and should never - be forgotten, including the lessons learned.
The Post-Convention Challenges for Obama and Romney
For President Obama:
1. He cannot afford to rely on this bounce to move him past the post. How much of that was due to Bubba and his speech? Some analyses indicate that the bump in support does not come from those who are likely to vote. If true, that could be illusory.
2. He has to make the case for his re-election - not just rely on anti-Romney ads or negative campaigning. The polls indicate that the vast majority of Americans believe that the country is on the 'wrong-track'. Usually, a sitting President can't survive that.
3. President Obama must reach out to the mainstream, now that he has secured his base. It's vital that he doesn't come across as being captured by his base - who are more liberal than them and whose positions on social and economic issues don't resonate comfortably with them. That's why he needs Bill Clinton - and it looks like the President knows that.
4. Obama needs to do well in the debates against Romney, but he would be happy with a draw. If Romney were to be seen as winning [exceeding expectations] - especially in the first debate - that would shift the momentum he seems to be enjoying following the Conventions.
For Mitt Romney:
1. He needs to keep his focus on defining himself and his values, as he has already been defined by an effective pounding by the Obama forces in their advertising blitz this summer.
2. Romney actually needs to win the debates - especially the first one - where perceptions will be the strongest. If he is ever going to gain momentum, it will be by winning toe-to-toe with the President.
3. He must be extremely disciplined in his messages. As this article demonstrates, Mitt Romney muddles his message on health care, the way he contrasts his approach to Obama must never sound like he is waffling or trying to have it both ways. Those traits are part of the 'defining Romney' messaging of the Obama campaign. He must frame the ballot question, "who do you trust to grow the economy, reduce the deficit and create jobs for Americans?" But he has to give specifics to persuade voters that he has a plan that they can understand and buy into.
4. Romney needs to focus like a laser on the battleground states - particularly Ohio, Florida and Virginia - if he is going to have a chance. Without them, he doesn't have the electoral college votes.
Declassified documents about security briefings in the run-up to 9/11 raise questions about the Bush White House's level of preparedness. Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald in today's New York Times op-ed The Deafness Before the Storm has heightened the debate over national security. Ari Fleischer and others have fought back furiously over the item's accuracy. That's a debate worth happening - even though both Obama and Romney will studiously avoid it - except in the most generic way.
While working yesterday, I found myself watching on my computer the ABC News Coverage of 9/11 as it went 'live' on that September day, hosted by the late - and great - Peter Jennings. Hour by hour, one can see how it unfolded from the first shocking moments and all the way through the day as the horrible news only got worse. It was fascinating to watch it all, as I realize there was quite a bit that I had not seen. So here are the lessons I would draw from the handling of that terrible crisis eleven years ago, as a primer for future crises:
1. Avoid all speculation. As Peter Jennings and the ABC team aptly demonstrated, speak based on facts and information/ How often Peter would say, "we do not have confirmation on that" as any good journalist would do. That approach to the story gave confidence to the viewers in the 'facts' being presented.
2. It is vital for leaders to be present throughout the crisis. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani toured the scene and met with the media (along with Governor Pataki) after 2 p.m to provide an update on what was going on. Without speculating on the number of fatalities, he was able to give confidence that all was being done; that the federal, state, local authorities were working as a team, and to call for blood donations. Jennings' growing frustration with the absence from Washington of President Bush was evident as the day went on. The media were mostly kept away from the President, with very few on board Air Force One as it made its stops in Louisiana and then Kansas - with Vice President Cheney managing things from the White House.
3. Don't leave a large vacuum of information. It can create mass uncertainty. In the first several hours there was little information available on what airlines were involved, what airplanes and what flights were reported missing etc. One would expect now - with social media in full mode, that this information would be tweeted everywhere and reported by the media. You don't have to have all the information, but the need to get basic facts out there is critical to public confidence. Otherwise rumors will take hold.
4. Work with the media whenever you can. The media spend a significant part of their time trying to sort out fact from fiction. They call upon whatever expert they can to help them. In Jennings many hours on-air, he interviewed a former Chief of Staff, James Baker; a former national security advisor, Sandy Berger; the former head of New York City's emergency services, Senator John McCain, among many others as he sought to understand who might be behind it, how the airlines could have been so vulnerable, the lack of preparedness and did it in a solid, fair way.
5. Make sure your Emergency Management Center is situated in a secure place. The evacuation of the New York Office of Emergency Management - which had been housed at 7 World Trade Center - suddenly became a makeshift center caught right in the middle of the chaos.
6. Communications is key to everything. The inability for all fire, EMS and police personnel to communicate by radio had tragic consequences as orders to evacuate were not received. Many lessons have been learned, which doesn't take anything away from the brave responders.
Until next time....