It had to be the least cost-effective photo-op in history.
The incredibly ill-advised repeated fly-bys at low altitude just south of lower Manhattan by one of the Air Force One jets and an accompanying F-16 fighter jet carrying a photographer was perhaps the worst use of tax-payer dollars this year -- and that's saying something!
Let's review the math: Cost of Air Force One in fuel and crew hours + cost of F-16 in fuel and crew hours + cost incurred in lost productivity by thousands of Wall Streeters who evacuated their workplaces thinking another terrorist attack was coming + cost of stress, anxiety and the reawakening of painful memories of New Yorkers reliving their darkest day + cost of litigation sure to result from those claiming injury during the unnecessary evacuations ... am I missing any costs?
(How about the inestimable cost of lost reputation for the new Adminstration? While clearly not the direct fault of the President, it will be easy for detractors to use this misstep as evidence of inexperience.)
And what did we taxpayers get out of it? Some real snazzy, no doubt, photos of Air Force One flying over the Statue of Liberty ... that will never be used because they would be a painful reminder of a stupid exercise that embarrassed the Obama Administration.
Crisis Communications Lessons Learned: Think through carefully the downsides of any photo-op, publicity stunt or other attention-getting exercise. Notify local law enforcement, community associations, etc. to help avoid surprising people in the area of your event. (I have yet to hear a good reason why the Air Force One fly-by couldn't have been widely pre-announced, making it clear that the President would not be aboard.)
And if things do go awry ... step in quickly to fix things, take responsibility and offer a heart-felt apology. Unfortunately the White House gets poor grades for its response. According to the NY Times:
The White House did not issue a statement, or a formal apology, for more than six hours. At first, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, dismissed questions, saying: “You might be surprised to know I don’t know of every movement of Air Force One or what happens to it.”
You have to do better than that. And as I wrote here back in Feb. 2007, if you sincerely offer an apology, it means you're still sorry even after you have long grown sick of people reminding you about it.
-- Jon Harmon