60 Minutes’ NYPD Anti-Terror Story Raises Interesting Comms Questions

Living in New York and commuting to downtown Manhattan to work, I’ve always been curious about the city’s behind-the-scenes anti-terrorism efforts. So the 60 Minutes story that ran on Sunday, 9/25/11 featuring NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly definitely piqued my interest—not only from a security perspective, but from a media relations view as well. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the communications meetings leading up to Scott Pelley’s interview with Kelly. How much of the anti-terrorist program should be revealed? What tone should Kelly take? I would also love to know the parameters set up for the interview between 60 Minutes and the city.

As for the interview itself, I asked crisis counselor and media training expert Andy Gilman of CommCore Consulting for his take on the finished product. Gilman was pretty impressed. “I saw this as a terrific piece for the NYPD and Commissioner Kelly,” he says. “Kelly comes across as thoughtful, organized and committed to public safety, and he had messages for a number, but not all, audiences.” The only trouble spot I saw with Kelly’s performance was when Pelley asked if  the NYPD had the capability to shoot down a plane. Kelly seemed hesitant in his answer (which was yes), and the day after the media would call him on that fact. Gilman doesn’t see it as a gaffe. “He was being candid and also trying not to reveal all the tactics that might be used to thwart a plot,” he says.

I agree with Gilman’s further assessment that CBS gave him a pass–at least on the edited version–on how the NYPD balances security and protection of civil liberties. Pelley also didn’t ask if $3 billion was too much of a price to pay for security. But then, as someone who takes the Metro North train, walks through Grand Central and hops on the subway down to Wall Street, I don’t think $3 billion is too much of a price to pay at all.

–Scott Van Camp

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