The FBI director scolded. The pundits pounced. Trump trumpeted. And crisis managers continued shaking their heads sadly, their inner souls singing: I told you so, I told you so.
In the end, for all the criticism, hours of video, billions of electrons and miles of newsprint involved in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s improper use of a private email system, the FBI determined she broke no laws.
Return therefore to March 2015, when it became publicly known Clinton used unsecured private servers for State Department emails. She held a news conference at the United Nations and purportedly answered all the speculation about her email use. But she did not. She shaded, obscured, feinted and disassembled. Watch and she barely makes eye contact with her audience. As I wrote at the time, even she doesn’t believe the hooey she’s selling. The result? None of the pressure on her to “come clean,” dissipated.
And then to September 2015, when she finally apologized for her email habits during an interview with ABC News.
Nine more months passed — months filled with her political opponents painting her as a criminal — and we have the FBI’s verdict. Extremely careless. Improper. Clueless, even. And, some would add, stupid and arrogant.
In her March defense, she said there were no rules against what she did. That’s like saying there are no rules against letting a dish towel get too close to the burner on a stove, but it’s common sense that it’s not a good idea.
Point here is that if Clinton had done the right thing, stood up and taken her lumps — in March 2015 — and even used exactly the language FBI Director James B. Comey did yesterday, the controversy would have deflated. Admissions from her that she was stupid, arrogant and wrong likely would have relegated it all to the basement of political criticism.
What might have happened if, at the March 2015 news conference at the U.N., she’d said what Comey said yesterday? “A person in my position ‘should have known that an unclassified system was no place’ for the emails I was sending.” If she’d said that, apologized and not tried to blunt and stall and pretend her actions were something other than they obviously were, she would have eased and possibly ended the crisis.
Mark Twain once said about doing what’s right: “That will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”
It’s staggering that a person of her intelligence and experience could not see that, could not see fit to take responsibility for her failings and admit those to the American people. Is her ambition to reach the White House so blinding that she can’t see reality as it swarms her?
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 eight 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.