‘It’s one of the worst’: Communication experts weigh in on Northam’s handling of political crisis


RICHMOND, Va., (WRIC) — Over the course of the past week there have been a few press conferences, impromptu interviews, social media posts and media releases regarding the scandals surrounding the state’s top three leaders. 

But have their communication strategies been effective or have they missed the mark?

Crisis communications experts told 8News the governor’s number one goal should be for him to restore confidence and trust in the office and in the people. 

While that road has been bumpy over the past week, they think Gov. Ralph Northam is starting to move in the right direction. 

“It’s one of the worst. hmm yeah. I think again it’s the lack of preparation,” said communications professional J.R. Hipple

More than a week ago, the governor released a video apologizing for appearing in a racist photo in his medical school yearbook. 

Less than 24 hours later at a press conference, Northam denied he was in the picture. 

Experts say Northam spoke too soon. 

“Taken a moment to really make sure he really had all the information including just reflecting on what had just occurred,” said Hipple. 

That decision could put Northam’s credibility at risk. 

“In a crisis situation like this, you need to get the story right the first time,” said Dr. Marcus Messner, an associate professor at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. “Changing the story a day later, as the governor did, really hurts the credibility. It’s difficult to recover from that.”

Messner also thinks Northam needs to portray a clear, simple message to the Commonwealth. 

“It is questionable whether he can repair his reputation because he has admitted to wearing blackface on a different occasion and muddled his overall message with two different versions in his initial responses,” said Dr. Messner. 

Experts say it’s now time for Northam to make amends with the people. 

“To also apologize for just the fact that people of color have been dealing with this for so long and that he understands,” said communications expert Patrice Lewis.

Lewis also adds the governor should spend the rest of his term speaking and listening to minority groups to create lasting change. 

“And elevate their voices however they can,” said Lewis. “It could be through policy. It could be through advocacy. It definitely is engagement with the community on a regular basis not just during election time.” 

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