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Posted by on Nov 17, 2009 in Economy, Politics | 3 comments

Recovery Board Spokesperson: People ‘Make Mistakes’

It’s an indisputable statement, but not exactly one destined to build taxpayer confidence in their government.

Responding to an ABC News investigation into stimulus data being reported for non-existent Congressional districts, the Recovery Board’s Communications Director, Ed Pound, is quoted as saying:

We report what the recipients submit to us …

Some recipients clearly don’t know what congressional district they live in, so they appear to be just throwing in any number. We expected all along that recipients would make mistakes on their congressional districts, on jobs numbers, on award amounts, and so on. Human beings make mistakes.

First reaction: If you’re too too lazy to confirm in which Congressional district you reside, perhaps you shouldn’t be receiving stimulus money at all. Second reaction: Did Mr. Pound conduct this interview cold, without running his own due diligence beforehand? If he had prepped before talking, he might have emphasized points such as these, instead:

    The overhwelming majority of the published data cites the correct Congressional district.

    In the relatively rare cases where errors are made, the Board is working diligently to correct those in a timely manner.

    The Board takes steps to verify the accuracy of the immense amounts of data submitted to it and is mindful of the need for continuous improvements to its fact-checking process.

    The Board appreciates the fact-checking efforts of the media and others; such scrutiny can only help improve the larger process. It’s one of the reasons why we publish this data: to allow for scrutiny and fact-checking.

Having done my fair share of interviews over the years — and having prepped dozens of people for interviews of their own — I suspect these suggested points didn’t get aired because one of several possible mistakes were made:

    1. Mr. Pound did not conduct due diligence prior to the interview.

    2. Mr. Pound did conduct due diligence, but found that the Board was, in fact, not as buttoned-down as it should have been in its fact-checking process — and so (rather than fall on the sword and promise improvements) he reached for empathy via fallible humanity, which is convenient but rarely effective.

    3. Mr. Pound did conduct due diligence; he did verify the accuracy of points similar to those outlined above; and he did make those very points during the interview — but then, under pressure from a smart reporter, who refused to accept Mr. Pound’s answers and kept asking the same question over and over (“How could this happen?”) — Mr. Pound grew frustrated, reacted with emotion, and gave the reporter a much more interesting quote.

I’m guessing most readers of the ABC story will assume the first or second of those mistakes were made. And even if they’re wrong, Mr. Pound will be hard pressed to convince them otherwise.

Thus concludes yet another lesson on the importance of prepping before you talk, staying on message, taking responsibility for mistakes when they’re made — and never (ever) letting your emotions cloud your better judgement, especially when a reporter is on the line or sitting in front of you. (Again, I speak from experience, including the experience of having once made that third mistake.)


UPDATE: Per the last half of this Amanda Carpenter post, it appears Mr. Pound and others in the Administration are starting to get their messaging train back on track.