Something is wrong with the McCrory communications shop. They’ve managed to turn a one day story into a week-long saga that is now being called “ball-gate.” This is a self-inflicted PR disaster.
On Monday, the governor got caught playing catch at the same time a group of school kids were delivering petitions asking him to protect public schools. Instead of apologizing and acknowledging a mistake, McCrory’s press secretary, Kim Genardo, issued a convoluted statement that was wrong and defensive with an ill-advised attempt at snark. The statement raised more questions than it answered.
They were wrong when they said that McCrory was playing catch AFTER the petitions were dropped. Time stamps on interviews and photos show a four minute discrepancy between the time the petitions were delivered and the time the Governor was photographed throwing the ball. That’s a little too close to move fifty kids with wagons off the capital grounds. Hell, it takes me longer than that to get my two kids from the front door to the car.
Then they got defensive about McCrory throwing the ball. Nobody said there was anything wrong with that. But they felt compelled to explain that he was “taking the advice of the First Lady” by getting exercise. Not only that, he might be out the next day “throwing the baseball perhaps with children who share his All-American passion.” Did he just imply that the kids delivering the petitions weren’t All-American?
Then it got really weird. Instead of somehow clearing up the statement or letting the governor talk to the press, they released a video with the governor sitting in an office with a baseball and glove. He even references the petition episode.
One of the primary jobs of a communication shop is to make bad stories go away. McCrory’s single-handedly gave legs to a story that should have died on Monday night. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor episode that probably won’t be remembered a year from now, but it shows a fundamental weakness in his political and communications operation.
So why did this happen? I have a theory. Shortly after McCrory took office, his political team jumped ship. Instead of bringing in more political veterans, he turned to journalists to oversee his communications operation. Kim Genardo and Rick Martinez are both smart and competent reporters who understand politics, but they are not political professionals.
On reporters’ side of the wall, they are chasing, reporting and commenting on news. On the political side, it’s more about shaping, influencing and, often, killing stories. While some skill sets overlap, the perspective is very different. It’s not always about getting in the news. It’s often about staying out.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >