Jan Brewer’s Staff Failure

Over the past several days, Governor Jan Brewer has rightly received a lot of criticism for her disastrous debate performance. But a fair portion of the blame should also be directed at her staff.

During the debate, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard attacked Governor Brewer’s claim that people had been “beheaded” in the Arizona desert as a result of illegal immigration. Ms. Brewer stood by her claim in the debate, or at the very least, failed to distance herself from it.

So it should have been obvious to her staff that the reporters gathered outside the debate hall would ask her about it, and her staff should have made certain she had a clear answer to deliver before she emerged to speak with reporters.

Instead, Ms. Brewer continued her “deer-in-headlights” debate theme by ignoring the questions and remaining silent for several seconds before her staff finally ushered her away.

Two days later, Ms. Brewer admitted the beheadings claim was an error. But the damage had already been done three times by that point:

  1. During the debate
  2. In the hallway after the debate
  3. In the deafening silence for two days before she admitted the error

Had her staff prepared her before meeting reporters post-debate, they could have prevented numbers two and three, which unnecessarily inflicted further damage upon Ms. Brewer’s reputation.

I have some personal experience with this. I was an assistant producer for CNN on the evening of November 7, 2000, the night of the infamous Bush vs. Gore election.

As you might imagine, the newsroom was chaos. The network had already called Florida (and the election) for Mr. Bush, then retracted the call. Accurate voting data from Florida was hard to come by – there were numerous sources releasing numbers, all of which were different.

I was working that night with the late Robert Novak. He was about to go on the air, and was screaming from the studio for me to get him the latest numbers.

I stood my ground, calmly telling him that I could give him numbers, but that they would likely be wrong and he would almost certainly be releasing incorrect data. He respected my position, stopped pushing for numbers, and didn’t release incorrect information during his segment.

Gov. Brewer’s staff should have done the same service for her. Yes, she holds the majority of responsibility for her own failures – but her staff should be ashamed of their dismal performance.