What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate, or Do We?

With the recent public relations fiasco surrounding President Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey, there has been considerable comment about the White House’s lack of a coherent communications strategy.  Comey’s firing seemed to catch the administration’s communications staff off guard.   Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ explanation that the firing was driven by a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein critical of Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation was quickly undercut by the president’s public comments.  The president said he had decided to fire Comey, regardless of what Rosenstein’s memo said and that he had made the decision some time ago.  Many in the media are making the case that the White House is dysfunctional, with the president making public statements that are not coordinated with his communications department, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to an arguably adversarial press corps. 

The media would have you think that the White House has no communications strategy, but what if they’re wrong? 

All you have to do is closely watch Judge Jeanine Pirro’s interview with the president that aired on May 13 and you’ll understand there actually could be a strategy in play.  Pirro asked the president if he meant what he said in a May 12 tweet about possibly ending White House daily press briefings.  "Unless I have them every two weeks and do it myself, we won't have them. I think it's a good idea," he said.  The president went on to say his communications staff was doing a good job in a hostile environment, but that he simply moves too fast for them to keep up – and that’s the important part. 

Failure to Communicate

His strategy is to maintain the communications initiative.  It’s all about speed.  He is unpredictable and never gives the media enough time to fully develop an issue before he changes the conversation.  Even an apparent misstep becomes the story instead of the issue itself.  It doesn’t always work out the way he intends for it to, but he retains the initiative.  He stays in charge of the narrative and if the media begin to shape the story in a way he doesn’t like, he just fires off a tweet and they rise to the bait every single time. 

Using an analogy from football, it’s as if he introduced a “no-huddle offense” to an NFL team that methodically huddles before every play.  Yes, the hurried, improvisational nature of the strategy sometimes results in an offensive lineman jumping off sides, but that is more than offset by the ability to befuddle opposing defenses and keep them on their heels.

It remains to be seen if the media can adjust to this strategy.  When football’s “read option offense” was introduced to the NFL it was wildly successful.  However, it took only about a season for defensive coordinators to figure out a way to counter it.  It will be interesting to see if the media are good defensive coordinators and how many seasons it will take for them to figure this out.  In the meantime, important issues such as North Korea, health care and the economy aren’t getting the amount and quality of media coverage they deserve and that’s not good for anyone.