JUNE 21, 2019 – During times of crisis, the public wants to be assured someone is responding to the threat and will make things right.
One of the best ways to demonstrate this leadership is to conduct a news conference, preferably with someone who has a commanding presence. Think Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and his press briefings during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
From the great barracks in the sky, Stormin’ Norman, however, had to be disappointed with the Pentagon’s performance yesterday in connection with the downing of a U.S. drone by Iran.
Reporters were summoned to the room where news conferences and briefings are conducted at the Pentagon to learn more about the matter. A civilian member of the Pentagon press team introduced the speaker and announced the general would not answer any questions … and then quickly exited.
After they showed an empty lectern for an uncomfortably long period of time, the cameras eventually panned to the right and focused on a projected PowerPoint slide that contained a still mug shot of Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, head of U.S. air forces in the Middle East. His audio was piped into the room from Al Udedit Air Base in Qatar. The general read a prepared statement, and as quickly the news conference or briefing began, it was over.
Little if any new information was shared. Even less confidence was generated by this ill-advised event.
Surely, someone at the Pentagon could have conducted a briefing in person. I’ll bet my tax rebate that hundreds of military leaders have received media training, many of whom have offices in the Pentagon. Where was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs? If nothing else, I’m certain Central Command has a video link from which the general could have appeared.
Even worse was the decision not to take questions from journalists. What message does that send? Command and control? Or chaos and uncertainty? All the taxpayer-funded media training has surely prepared officers to answer questions under these kinds of circumstances.
At the end of the day, the Pentagon had no business calling what appeared to be a news conference or briefing if it wasn’t prepared to offer a spokesperson in the room or via satellite link and field questions from reporters. The Pentagon press team should have simply issued a news release.
This was a sign of weakness when leadership was required.