US needn't apologize for handling of China crisis

WASHINGTON: Veterans of the White House Press Office and public

affairs figures are praising the White House spin team for its handling

of the spy plane incident with China.

The incident, which began April 1 when an American EP-3E collided with a

Chinese jet and ended 11 days later when the 24 crew members were

returned, represented the first major crisis communications test for the

new administration.

At the center of the controversy was the letter America sent China to

end the standoff and its use of the word 'sorry,' despite the White

House insistence that it did not represent an apology.

Matt Salmon, a former Republican Congressman from Arizona, current EVP

at APCO Worldwide and expert on China, said the White House successfully

walked a difficult PR line. 'They've done an excellent job of getting

their message out. The question isn't, 'Did we say we're sorry?' but,

'What did we say we're sorry for?'' The Bush Administration has done a

good job of saying we were sorry for the loss of life but not other


Mark Alan Kitchens, assistant press secretary under President Clinton

and now director at Public Strategies, said, 'They had to walk a fine

line with the word 'sorry' and I think they did a good job considering

the circumstances.'

Regarding those who were eager to criticize the White House for

apologizing, Kitchens added: 'You have to remember, these critics are

not privy to the information that drove this story. This was a

frustration we knew all too well in the Clinton White House.'

Deputy press secretary from 1996-1999, Burson-Marsteller managing

director Barry Toiv echoed the praise for his successors, but warned

that President Bush's choice not to attend the crew's homecoming

ceremonies last week was questionable.

'They have to be very careful about that,' he said. 'Say what you want

about Bill Clinton, but he understood that the president is the only

person who can distill the emotions of the American people in times of


Bush seems to be willfully ignoring that part of the job. He seems to

think it is beneath a president; in fact it is a major part of the

modern-day presidency.'

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