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
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
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