I admire press secretaries. It takes guts to say things that you know are not true in a press conference before a crowd that knows you are lying. We can forgive press secretaries. They are tools of the political process. They are not guilty of anything, though they might be defending someone who is.
A press conference held by a politician accused of some sort of malfeasance or lapse in judgment is different. The great thing for public figures who hold press conferences to get everything out in the open is that decorum and political etiquette demand that everyone present behave themselves. No meltdowns, no name calling, no four-letter words, no pointed accusations, at least not on camera. A press conference is the ideal forum for liars and the guilty, a safe environment to field questions with the kind of canned, over rehearsed answers we heard last Tuesday that insult our intelligence and show contempt for the public.
How a press conference for the guilty works
Press conferences for the guilty are a political ritual of sorts. They happen in three stages. The first stage is the absolute denial of guilt and eagerness to get the real facts on the record. This is usually followed by the second stage with hints that there might be a problem of some sort, though nothing on the level of the unjust accusations that have been raised. The final press conference is that shameful last appearance where we hear the self-interested apology for violating the public trust. Resignation, exile from public office, and even prison come next, especially if you are from my state, Illinois (see: Illinois Resident Apologizes for His Corrupt State).
A press conference is the best forum there is for liars and the guilty. It allows them to reconstruct reality and defend themselves in the court of public opinion while the wheels of justice slowly crank away, unseen, in the background.
From Clinton to Weiner and back again
Anthony Weiner, Rod Blagojevich, Jesse Jackson Jr., John Edwards, Larry Craig, Richard Nixon, George Ryan, and even Bill Clinton’s protestations eventually faded from memory, but that line to the press conference microphone never seems to get shorter. Robert Menendez, Aaron Schock, and Hillary Clinton have all done the press conference dance recently. We will doubtless be hearing from them again soon.
Our presidential candidate-in-waiting’s Tuesday appearance was an astounding example of the contempt politicians have for their public. That contempt comes from two beliefs that are universally held by those whose ethical views make them naturals for a job in politics:
1. The public is stupid.
2. Political aspirations justify everything.
As Clinton waved the flag in her own defense by talking of the work that she and her associates at the State Department engaged in, we heard the familiar warning that the people would see for themselves that she had done nothing wrong. Maybe what she did was wrong, maybe it wasn’t. The issue isn’t so much what she said but how she defended her actions, which speaks to larger ethical problems than anything Clinton did with her email.
No politician who has ever gone to prison, been convicted of ethical violations, or lost their political future because of a lapse in judgment has held that first press conference and admitted wrongdoing or outright guilt. That’s not what a press conference is for. Like felons in prison they are all innocent, at least until we can prove them guilty.
Worst Political News Story This Week published March 14, 2015.