Friday, June 20, 2008

Scandal to the left of me, scandal to the right…

“This so far is only a media scandal, not a matter of law-breaking or obvious moral depravity.” Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, on Jim Johnson scandal.

This blog was born out of my fascination with political scandal and corruption. Not that I do it myself, and despite being caught up in a few no one has ever actually offered me a bribe. I never know how to take that.

Part of my interest is in understanding the management of scandal exposure, why some bad ones can become a ‘storm in a tea cup’ and some relatively minor ones result in major head rolling. Just lately we are watching (well some of us) a fascinating series of scandals and their management:

  • Canada: Superboob - Maxime Bernier - Julie Couillard. PM Stephen Harper has already lost a senior cabinet minister and a top aide to another minister as a result of the growing scandal over how his government operates.

  • US: VP vetting committee - Jim Johnson. “This so far is only a media scandal, not a matter of law-breaking or obvious moral depravity.”

  • Australia: The Iguana Joes Big Bight Out - NSW MP John Della Bosca and his wife, federal MP wife Belinda Neal - “I will have your f***ing license… You will not be trading in three months time... Don’t you know who I am,..”

Canada’s Stephen Harper does manage to get through rolling scandals reasonably well, though might eventually pay the price if he doesn’t sort out the numerous weak links in his governing party. Part of his problem is that the Conservatives were cobbled together and include a number of problem personalities. He manages scandal well, by dropping the axe on ministers and others who are exposed.

Obama shows a great flair for scandal management, he does a great mea culpa and has learned to quickly cut loose and problem staff or supporters. The Jim Johnson affair was only ever a media event, but Obama wasn’t waiting around for it to grow.

His approach seems far more effective than Bush’s bumbling through scandal, seeming to direct loyalty to his own people rather than to the country.

The Aussie Iguana Joes gives us a good look at how two separate leaders handle the same scandal in their own jurisdictions. PM Rudd dealt with his federal MP Belinda Neal by insisting she immediately undergo anger counseling, but he left himself exposed by leaving her in parliament. The fact is he can’t really sack her as an MP, but at the same time he has kept her at arms length. So far so good.

In NSW Premier Iemma botched his part from the start. Sure he stood down Education Minister and husband of Neal, John Della Bosca. But right at the start the Premier’s staff were involved in a ham fisted cover-up attempt.

Iemma’s other problem was the he is also fighting on a few other fronts, notably the sell-off the States power assets. Being personally unpopular doesn’t help when faced with scandal allegations.

This is one I have been able to watch unfold, and perhaps can see even more of the dynamic. For example, as Belinda Neal looks worse by the day Rudd is simply getting on with business. On the other hand Della Bosca is actually looking better as each day passes and Iemma is visibly floundering.

The pattern we are seeing on scandal management seems to be:

  • Do not attempt cover-ups
  • Distance the subject of the scandal as quickly as possible
  • Know that there are more important loyalties than those to staff, colleagues and friends

As Bush has shown numerous times, that loyalty is often counter-productive. The longer an issue is receiving air time to more likely someone is going to pay the price. It is the drip-drip effect.


lindsaylobe said...

It’s an interesting set of different scenarios but I do think it boils down to common sense and the 3 aspects you have mentioned. PM Malcolm Fraser I think mostly handled it well (even though as you will recall he himself lost his pants over in the US )and probably was too brutal on occasions but on the other hand there was hardly ever a chance he would be guilty of putting personal loyalty ahead of the country or sound judgment.

Given even the whiff of a scandal and the bloodhounds in the form of legal interrogators were sent to investigate even the most minor of possible breaches!

Then you might recall that famous quote from a former Labour minister about politics when he said he would do “whatever it takes! “ , later it was revealed just what was involved.

Former Qld premier Beattie I think was a good operator, when faced with corruption or scandal he usually dealt with decisively and accepted full responsibility to eliminate it. Folk can identify postively with that, to me he was one of the better examples of how best to handle it, take resonsibility and stay close to it until you have closure.
Best wishes

Cart said...

I agree about Beattie and would suggest Goss as well. Fraser? He’s like a good wine of course, but to my mind he loses points for inventing Chipp. I don’t suppose that was a scandal, but having been part of the early A Dems it probably should have been. Actually Chippie deserves mega points for managing scandal.
> Then you might recall that famous quote from a former Labour minister about politics when he said he would do “whatever it takes! “
I should recall, but I can’t :(

lindsaylobe said...

Former Labor powerbroker and Minister Graham Richardson was famous for his frankness in relation to winning in politics, it was just a matter of “whatever it takes”.

Lately it has been reported he has been busy defending himself against his prior income tax assessments and has sought to prevent details of his Swiss bank account being made public. Apparently he was only partially successful.

Best wishes

Cart said...

Thanks. I was thinking Richo the most likely. But it seemed too easy :)