Friday, November 11, 2011

You know, there might be a valuable lesson...

...in recognizing that while Gov. Rick Perry has attempted to make the best, so to speak, from his debate goof the other night, many people at Penn State have turned a horrible situation into something worse.

Bear with me, I'm not trying to equate a moment of forgetfulness with multiple indictments of sexual assault against children. In the former case, you share a laugh; in the latter, you wish you had a baseball bat and could lock yourself in a room with Jerry Sandusky. But I am evaluating the importance of crisis management.

Mr. Perry has been the one front-and-center explaining that no one but he deserves fault for his inability to remember the name of the third Cabinet department he says he would eliminate if he becomes President of the United States. You could call what happened to him trivial in comparison to other events associated with politics or real life, but you also need to accept that in the minds of many political observers Mr. Perry's campaign went boom! when he went oops!

So, he has talked about what happened to him seriously and jokingly. And quickly. He, in other words, is trying to manage this crisis.

For Mr. Perry, the need for crisis management was essential. No, I don't think it will save his presidential ambitions; however, I thought those were toast long before he forgot that the third department was going to dump is uh...um...oops. He has stood up, taken his lumps, and perhaps made something good out of something bad.

There is no way to make anything good out of sexual assault allegations. (Though that aforementioned baseball bat and a few swings at Sandusky might help.) Let no one read this and conclude that I'm attempting to trivialize multiple and credible complaints that one man treated many boys in a vile, cruel and awful way.

However, an immediate response indicating that university officials were angry that potential years of denial (or worse) had occurred was required. A statement recognizing that the university's leadership supported the people who say they were sexually molested was necessary. A statement that suggested a comprehensive, independent and real investigation was beginning was essential.

Instead, crisis management in State College was crisis silence.

How could that happen? Where was the leadership? Where was the recognition that a clear, direct and public response was required in order to rein in (even if just a little bit) the rampant speculation and rumor-mongering? No one at Penn State -- from the administration to the students -- was represented well by the communication professionals.

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