On public comment and public officials - PJ Crowley, Stanley McChrystal and glass jaws | acidlabs Studios
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On public comment and public officials – PJ Crowley, Stanley McChrystal and glass jaws

On public comment and public officials – PJ Crowley, Stanley McChrystal and glass jaws

Another high profile public official has fallen by the wayside with the resignation over the weekend of the US State Department’s PJ Crowley for making public, on-the-record comments on his views with respect to the detention of PFC Bradley Manning. When you look at this in the context of the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal for expressing views about the Obama administration in his now-famous Rolling Stone profile, there’s an unfortunate conclusion that might be drawn.

The noises being made about open government and the right for public servants to express opinions seems to have an “only if we like it” caveat.

This begs the question, do our democracies, even in a time of a strongly stated support for open government and Government 2.0, have something of a glass jaw when it comes to criticism?

While for any public servant, the expression of personal and professional views needs to be balanced against those comments’ capacity to bring disrepute to the governments they serve, surely modern democracies ought to be robust and resilient enough to withstand uncomfortable and divergent views from within without the knee-jerk “jump or be pushed” that seems to have taken place in these cases.

As a counterpoint, it was good to see Greg Jericho‘s department here in Australia choose to support him when The Australian newspaper ran its little vendetta against him for his insightful, and critical political blogging and insight into media practices during elections. Perhaps the glass-jawedness has geographical limits?

Here in Australia, we’re yet to see a high-ranking public servant at a level equivalent to Crowley (say, APS Deputy Secretary) or McChrystal, especially one with an active social media profile like Crowley, express a view counter to the government of the day. So, I’m in no position to speculate on what might happen. I suspect they are out there on a number of issues. It will be interesting to see what happens when the inevitable day comes.

Why shouldn’t public officials be able to express strong and sometimes uncomfortable views about the policies and practices of the governments they serve? (Notwithstanding the question of professional conduct and appropriateness or otherwise of commenting within your own portfolio. I personally feel the rules in Australia on this are too restrictive, but I do understand why they exist)

What ever happened to “frank and fearless” advice? (I have strong views on this that I won’t go into here)

Stephen Collins
trib@acidlabs.org
2 Comments
  • Nick Hodge
    Posted at 10:33h, 14 March Reply

    The “thing” that organisations fear is an inconsistency of position; unless inconsistency is the stance (then the inconsistency is constant)

    Those charged with managing the external perception of an organisation prefer to have consistency as it re-inforces & solidifies that perception.

    Having multiple, sometimes slightly de-tuned; other times divergent communications from an organisation provides weaknesses that are used by ‘opposing forces’ to attack and weaken.

    If you are in the power structure of the organisation that is being attacked, you and your reputation is being assaulted. This is not a good thing. Your employment; and therefore you income is at risk. There is no other strategy other than to patch up the holes. Keep the inconsistencies internal. Fight for conformity.

    Whilst technology provides the mechanism for dissent and multiple opinions; the nature of humans to tribe apart (rather than together) will not see a change in large organisational behaviour.

  • Bookmarks for March 15th through March 16th at achurch & associates
    Posted at 14:21h, 16 March Reply

    […] On public comment and public officials — PJ Crowley, Stanley McChrystal and glass jaws – When I see stories like Crowley's, I can hear Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men" yelling "you can't handle the truth!" … I fear that governments that publicly subscribe to openness will find the territory too uncomfortable to deal with for some time – it's very difficult to break generations-old habits, and we will have to keep pushing, and public servants will have to keep risking the reaction if we want to see the desired results. […]

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