Two recent highly publicized pronouncements show that you have to be cautious about every statement you make in public and that you might never completely recover from a monumental gaffe no matter how many times you apologize.
One group of statements were by Oscar Munoz, head of United Airlines which experienced the manhandling of a passenger caught in an overbooking mess and captured on a video that went viral on Twitter. Without getting into much-publicized details of the statements, suffice it to say that Munoz’ first and most critical statement tried to blame the victim and failed to apologize to him. Munoz also tried to cover up the severity of the attack on the passenger by talking about ‘re-accommodating’ people (instead of dragging and injuring one). He followed up with several apologies but these all looked forced and insincere in light of his original.
Second on this short list of infamously stupid statements were those of Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, who said Syrian President al-Assad was worse than Hitler because Hitler had not used chemical weapons in World War II. There is perhaps nothing that could be said that is as objectionable, inaccurate and moronic than this statement. With this comment, Spicer joined the ranks of the truly ignorant in the Trump White House (not to mention those who enable Holocaust Deniers) He threw away any pretense that he was a tad short of being a marginally competent spokesperson for an administration and confirmed himself as a person unworthy of speaking on behalf of any organization including the local school board in Podunk, U.S.A.
On both counts, no matter how many apologies these two issue generate, their original statements will never go away. Just like Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” the un-recycled, verbal garbage left by Munoz and Spicer will be smeared across their obituaries and beyond.
What brought these men to these statements? In both cases, the likely causes are ignorance, arrogance and obliviousness. Neither one did their homework: Munoz’s original comment didn’t reflect the horrendous savagery aboard his airplane and it is doubtful Munoz even viewed the video. If he did, he should get his eyeglass prescription updated. We think he disregarded advice from his PR people and demanded a statement that would play well with employees and hide the reality from United shareholders. His passengers – his customers – were likely last on his mind or, indeed, absent from his mind except as intrusions on the order of his operations. Once he issued his first comment, he probably sat back and believed everything would go away; after all it was only a social media thing. He was likely deaf to the furor until he began getting calls from outraged influencers – like major shareholders who saw their investment values dropping.
Sean Spicer certainly didn’t do his homework. How old is this guy – 12? Couldn’t he have Googled WWII to check his facts on Hitler and the Holocaust? Don’t American schools teach history? The Trump regime seems to have a rule against homework – it’s, like, too much, duh, work. Arrogance – Spicer has it exuding from every pore. Deafness – yep. He tried to first to double down on his Hitler comments before, eventually, apologizing with great reluctance and little clarity.
If any good can come out of these huge errors in judgment, it is that they are perfect examples of why higher-ups have to think carefully about what they are saying in their first responses to crises and to consider sincerely the feelings and the interests of those they are supposed to serve. The best that could happen in the interests of those represented by these specific characters is that they resign because of their proven unfitness for their roles. They won’t quit however; something about ignorance, arrogance and obliviousness.