What a week we’ve seen with so many scandals, issues and debacles in the news, including a near nuclear war with North Korea. One story that gained huge traction was Donald Trump's response to the tragic death of a woman in the Charlottesville riots last weekend.
Before that though the week began on a local front with the revelation that the Deputy PM of Australia is actually a Kiwi, which revealed some classic headlines across the Tasman. Mid-week one of our biggest listed companies – Fletcher Building - continued to cop it on all sides following recent profit downgrade and departure of the former CEO. The headline from today’s NBR story says it all: “Picking through the wreckage – how the Fletcher Building disaster unfolded”. Ouch. No company should ever have to see the words "wreckage" and "disaster" alongside their company name in the same sentence, let alone a headline.
The one that has to take the cake though in terms of how to prolong a story and pour petrol over a news cycle fire is everyone’s favourite world leader – the 45th President of the United States – Donald Trump. I’m referring to the flip flop over comments in response to the tragic death of a woman in the Charlottesville riots last weekend.
In case you missed it, Trump’s first response last Saturday when the incident occurred — in the form of a tweet — started out fine.
In remarks a couple hours later, however, the president appeared to blame BOTH the white nationalists and counter-protestors, and he refused to explicitly condemn the white nationalists. “We condemn in strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence — on many sides.”
It wasn’t until three days later however until he called out the responsible groups by name – in scripted remarks from the White House Diplomacy Room.
Then on Tuesday he just couldn’t help himself reverting back to some sort anti-right-wing, white supremacist conspiracy theory. "I think there is blame on both sides," Trump said during a media “stand-up” with reporters in the lobby of his Midtown Manhattan building.
"What about the 'alt-left' that came charging at, as you say, the 'alt-right,' do they have any semblance of guilt?" Trump asked. "What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do." Trump then proceeded to wade into the finer details about why the protests began, and seemingly sympathising with the views that statues of confederate heroes from the civil war shouldn’t be brought down as they’re a part of US history.
The end result was many people on Twitter and in traditional media expressing concerns that Trump was way too soft on racists and white supremacists. And just to rub salt into the wounds his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, jumped onto the sentiment bandwagon and created the most shared Tweet of all time with his three-part quotation from Nelson Mandela.
So what can we learn from all this in terms when communicating with an audience when an issue or crisis arises?
1.) Get the facts - Evaluate the situation and particularly understand liability immediately
2.) Timing is everything - Issue an informed response within 24 hours
3.) Be a leader - As a leader people are looking to you for direction on how to react. Take the moral high ground and set an example.
4.) Don't flip flop! - Situations change quickly in a crisis or issue but being consistent with your message is still key.
5.) Understand that people don’t behave rationally – Looked at it purely objectively there is perhaps a tiny wee bit of logic to initial opposition to bringing down US Civil War statues but with race being such a flashpoint in any society and given the highly emotionally charged public mood, Trump getting into this territory was only going to end in disaster.
6.) Listen to your advisers – See below image. 'Nuff said.
It's fair to say these latest antics by the US President is just one in a long line of things that are winding up a good chunk of the US population at present. For a brilliant synopsis of the feeling out there you could do worse than watching this video by late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.
By Luke Henshall