Protecting presidents and the White House should be about Service, not so much Secret.
But at least some of the people charged with that most important task seem to emphasize the latter.
If it weren’t for The Washington Post and other enterprising news outlets, the U.S. Secret Service would have let the American public believe a fence jumper a couple of weeks ago only reached a White House entryway — which is of course bad enough.
But it turns out that he did quite the tour of the first floor before an agent going off duty happened to encounter the man and tackle him. The paper also subsequently reported a Nov. 11, 2011 incident in which seven shots struck the White House and no one connected the shots until sometime later.
Then there was the April 2012 fiasco in Columbia where agents engaged hookers and then refused to pay them. The bosses obviously didn’t want to compound the toxicity by telling the truth.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson faced an angry Congressional committee Tuesday and while her assertions were the right thing to say, she backed them up with too few facts.
“It’s clear that our security plan was not properly executed,” she said. “I take full responsibility. What happened is unacceptable, and it will never happen again.”
This is a good statement, but the home invasion happened Sept. 19. It’s too little, too late. Commanders needed to resign or retire; agents reassigned.
Saying she couldn’t give complete responses because presidential protection is highly sensitive or classified, Pierson said the incident remains under investigation, and she doesn’t “want to get ahead of the investigation.”
Maybe it ought to stop being classified and shared more with the public, who seem to have no trouble figuring out how to breach it.
CNN reported that Republicans and Democrats questioned how Omar Gonzalez penetrated “five rings of security” in jumping the White House fence, overpowering a Secret Service officer and running deep into the White House, where he was finally subdued.
“How on earth did this happen?” asked Chairman Darrell Issa. “Why was there no guard stationed at the front door of the White House, and yes, how much would it cost to lock the front door of the White House?”
But here’s the yellow snow: The Secret Service put out a release after Gonzalez was apprehended minimizing the incident. As the facts slowly came out — despite the Secret Service — this looked more and more like a cover up, like an effort to hide the truth.
Nothing fans a crisis’s embers hotter than evidence of a cover up. And when NBC reporter Kristen Welker asked Pierson whether she did not know that release went out, or knew and let the cover up happen, she hid behind “the investigation” and kept walking away from cameras. Not good.
Investigation or no, heads need to roll. Europeans and other countries with prime minister forms of government are much more facile about resigning when the perception is you’ve done a poor job.
Pierson should have taken one for the Secret Service, the highest form of service.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.