The firestorm over Secretary Janet Napolitano's comments that occurred directly after the failed terrorism attempt on the Delta flight in Detroit was an example of the media's fast paced methods to create news driven by statements and opinions rather than analysis of the process.
We, the public, will never know the process that unfolded within the Department of Homeland Security following the event. We can assume that a process was followed to ensure security 'lock down'. There is also no doubt that there existed a breakdown in process prior to this event which allowed this terrorist to board this Delta flight. In any case, we were confident that the media would be looking for any news story that could grab the attention of viewers waiting to hyperventilate during the typical "witch hunt" that follows such events.
Meet this weeks "media witch", Janet Napolitano, who's comment has become as large a story as the terrorist's path to jihad.
The Podium Coaches have some advice for public officials who fall into the media's emergency room. One of Dale Carnegie's human relations principles is "when you have made a mistake, admit it quickly and emphatically. This principle in application is the hallmark of any successful leader who wants to preserve their personal brand.
Secretary Napolitano's comment could have been....
"Please allow me to clarify any confusion over the events and the process that was followed. The terrorist was able to board this flight because the system did not function as intended. And believe me, this failure will be addressed quickly and completely. The processes the Department followed after this event were textbook and effectively demonstrated our ability to lock down any intrusion into our terror defense net..."
Instead, Sec. Napolitano was defensive in trying to explain the way in which she felt her weekend comments were "...taken out of context." To avoid being defensive, provide your prepared, clarifying comment at the front of the interview rather than wait for the host to press for it.
You will be scrutinized by your opponents anyway, so take some blame for the confusion and move on. This will take energy away from the situation that much sooner and allow you to explain your corrective actions more completely.