Tag Archive: Grenada Invasion


“I’m sorry if my message got misconstrued, but it really was in the best interest of the young men. Hindsight’s 20-20. I probably should have said it was an interview. Semantics are semantics.” – New USC Football Coach Steve Sarkisian

“Misconstrued”?

“Semantics are Semantics”?

How about, to be charitable, telling a big fib?

Sorry Sark, you will never totally restore your reputation for integrity.

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Media types and the general public will always have an extra degree of skepticism whenever they interact with you. There is no way to change this inescapable conclusion.

Almost DailyBrett has commented before about Jody Powell’s self-proclaimed, “Right to Lie.”

Powell, former press secretary to President Jimmy Carter, was placed into a lie-or-jeopardize American lives dilemma, when he was asked point-blank in 1980 about possible rescue mission for 52 American diplomats trapped in Iran.

He knew the score. He protected the (ultimately failed) mission. He lied and deceived. He really had no choice.

Larry Speakes, former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was told to “knock down” rumors about a 1983 American invasion of Grenada. He did. The GI’s landed the following morning. An internally misled and peeved Speakes was charged with lying.

In both cases, the press secretary must interact with the White House Press Corps on a daily basis. A “no comment” response would be interpreted as tantamount to confirmation. The press secretary does not have the authority, regardless of her or his conscience and upbringing, to jeopardize American lives.

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Power lied. Speakes lied without knowing it, and was charged with…lying.

Looking back to this previous weekend, former Washington, now USC Coach Sarkisian could have easily avoided being put into a situation in which he had to tell a big white lie.

Until this past Monday, Sarkisian was the head football coach for the University of Washington. Prior to his arrival in Seattle, he was a high-profile assistant coach for Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans.

And naturally because of his relative success (e.g., never beat Oregon) during his five years with Udub and his USC pedigree, he was a natural for the short list of potential new coaches at Troy.

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden flew this past Sunday to Seattle to interview Sarkisian. Trust me; he was not heading to the Northwest to bask in the freezing weather. Ultimately, the interview went well. There were still “I’s” to dot and “T’s” to cross as Haden returned to SoCal.

Sarkisian still in his Udub head coach capacity had a scheduled Monday morning interview with Seattle KJR (AM-590), the flagship station for Husky football. He knew that he was going to be asked about the swirling rumors that he had been interviewed by Haden for the SC job.

What were his personal public relations and reputation management options (Keep in mind, none of them were perfect)?

Sark’s options were to go ahead with the previously scheduled radio talk and mischaracterize his meeting with Haden as a nice chat, and not an interview. Keep in mind, the majority of the UW Athletic Department administrators and his team was presumably listening to the interview.

The other option was to postpone the interview, thus maintaining his credibility. This option requires POing the media, particularly the chaps at KJR Sports Radio, and starting rumors as to why he was not available.

As we all know now, Sark went forward with the Monday morning interview and his credibility took a huge hit just hours later when USC announced he was Troy’s new head coach.

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“I just felt like at the time, nowhere near finalizing the deal, that it wasn’t the right thing to say,” Sarkisian said. “I didn’t either want to put (USC or UW players) in a situation of uncertainty.”

“Nowhere near finalizing the deal?”

Sark, you met with Pat Haden on Sunday, and USC announced your hiring on Monday afternoon. When you are in a hole, stop digging.

In football, there are times when it is best to punt than being stopped short of the first-down markers.

This was a time when Sark personally should have punted. Postpone the interview. Let the rumors fly. Keep your reputation intact. And later, offer an exclusive post-USC hiring interview exclusive for KJR. Do you really think the torqued-off station would decline that opportunity?

They would have jumped at it.

Presidential press secretaries have the right to lie (and this is debatable) to protect American lives. The same latitude does not apply to Semantics-are-Semantics football coaches.

http://seattletimes.com/html/huskyfootball/2022386995_sarkisian04xml.html

http://sportspressnw.com/2171412/2013/sark-the-liar-my-message-got-misconstrued

http://www.sportsradiokjr.com/main.html

http://www.latimes.com/sports/college/usc/la-sp-1203-usc-sarkisian-20131203,0,7317089,full.story#axzz2mdDVswIi

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-football/news/20131202/steve-sarkisian-usc-head-coach-washington/?xid=ob_sisports

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/the-right-to-lie/

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies” –Winston Churchill, 1943.

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(Editor’s note: As a gubernatorial press secretary, I was accused of lying by a few members of the media. I will go to my grave convinced that I was telling the truth, but in the way that I wanted to tell the truth. It is hard to conceive the high stakes involved and the pressure upon presidential press secretaries as literally hundreds of lives could be compromised by loose lips and a lack of judgment. Read on.)

Jody Powell “The Other Side of the Story” and Larry Speakes “Speaking Out” were Presidential press secretaries of sequential administrations (Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981) and (Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989). They hailed from opposite sides of the great American political divide, but their experiences working with difficult US political media, particularly the White House Press Corps, unites them based upon common experience. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jody_Powell. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Speakes

They also were both guilty of lying to the media and by extension the general public to protect the lives of American service men and women as well as civilians. Are their actions any more acceptable or deplorable today nearly two decades later?

Both Powell and Speakes were placed in remarkably similar, extremely delicate positions involving the confidentiality of imminent American military intervention: Powell, the American rescue mission of hostages taken by Iran in April, 1980; and Speakes, the American invasion of Grenada in October, 1983.

Despite the similarities, there is one key difference: Powell was briefed about the rescue mission in advance and was compelled to lie to protect its confidentiality and with it, American lives; Speakes was misled by the National Security Advisor and subsequently was accused of deliberately lying by the media.

Jack Nelson, the LA Times Washington, D.C. bureau chief, confronted Powell point-blank during the Iranian hostage crisis asking: “You aren’t thinking about doing anything drastic like launching a rescue mission, are you?”

“This was the moment of truth, or more accurately, of deception,” Powell remembered. “Now I was faced with a direct question. With a swallow that I hoped was not noticeable, I began to recite all the reasons why a rescue mission would not make any sense.”

jody-powell

Even though there were similarities about the need to protect lives and not jeopardize an American military operation, the Powell and Speakes dilemmas were not exactly the same. Speakes stated categorically: “(National Security Advisor) Rear Admiral John Poindexter hung me out to dry, and I didn’t even know it.”

Instead of Jack Anderson of the LA Times, it was Bill Plante of CBS News asking the direct question. Speakes relayed Plante’s question to Poindexter, the president’s National Security Advisor, and was told that an invasion of Grenada was “preposterous” and that he (Speakes) should “knock it down hard.”

Later Plante asked a second question of Speakes, after hearing reports of US mobilization in the Caribbean. This time, White House Chief of Staff James Baker, told Speakes to “be careful about what you say” and asked him to report to the White House mess the following morning at 5:45 am. Speakes was finally told the truth at this meeting and asked to announce the invasion to the media at 7 am.

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“Not only was I furious about having been deceived, but I had been given just an hour or so to go through dozens of pages of material and prepare myself to present it to the press and to the world in some coherent fashion,” Speakes said. “That was treatment about as unfair as I had ever received. I had never been so mad in my life, but I knew there was nothing I could do except choke it down and head out there in front of the press and try to do my job.”

Powell even asked Plante what he would have done if the Reagan White House was truthful and confirmed the Grenada invasion plans: “I don’t know; we would have tried to find some way to use what we know without endangering the operation.” That answer begs the question as to exactly how CBS could air that story without alerting the Marxist rebels and compromising the US invasion and the lives of American military personnel and civilians on the island.

“That in itself would seem to confirm the wisdom of the White House judgment,” Powell said. “You cannot expect government to leave such questions in the hands of the fourth estate. The consequences for error are too severe.”

These two situations, not identical but similar, bring up another intriguing question: Is it best to keep the press secretary in the dark about highly classified national security matters, thus not putting that individual in the position of having to deliberately lie?

Or is it better to brief the lead spokesman and leaving it to her or his judgment as to when it is permissible and even wise to lie?

“I have always preached to members of the White House staff, ‘Tell me everything, so I’ll know not only what to say, but what not to say,” Speakes said. “…Ninety percent of the politicians deal with press secretaries in the same fashion. Two exceptions were Jimmy Carter, who gave extraordinary access to Jody Powell, and Dwight Eisenhower, who did the same with Jim Hagerty. It’s no accident that Hagerty and Powell were two of the best press secretaries of all time.”

Powell sympathized with Speakes predicament stating: “Mr. Speakes made it clear if a lie was required and he was sent out to tell it, he wanted to know what was at stake. And he was exactly right. Keeping the press secretary in the dark can create serious problems.”

Powell said this unfortunate practice erodes the effectiveness of the press secretary. “Putting the guy whose business is information in a position that makes him appear to be uninformed, out of touch, and not trusted makes no sense over the long haul.”

More to the point, Powell said: “…If a secret is worthy lying about to protect, it makes sense to come up with the most effective lie possible…Dealing with the press, particularly in ticklish situations, is very much an art. You cannot treat the press secretary like a robot and then expect him to perform like an artist.”

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