First official comments on O’Donnell Parking Structure tragedy set tone with media

Posted June 25th, 2010 in Uncategorized by Jeff Bentoff

Our community sends its sympathy to the victims of yesterday’s tragic collapse of a 30-foot concrete facade on Milwaukee County’s O’Donnell Parking Structure. It’s hard to imagine a sadder accident, one that resulted in a death and the injury of two others just as thousand of Milwaukeeans were heading out to celebrate the opening night of Summerfest.

As the story unfolds, the media will naturally scrutinize statements made by officials at the outset. Officials did the right thing by extending sympathies and promising to get to the bottom of what caused the facade to fail.

But it was interesting to observe an on-camera statement by County Executive Scott Walker on WTMJ-TV last night in which he said that no official reports allegedly existed of any maintenance backlog that would relate to the accident. A couple of minutes later in the same WTMJ piece, reporter Aaron Diamant contradicted Walker’s statement. Diamant said that county officials knew for six months about $600,000 in “critical” deferred maintenance at the garage, and that the garage was in “really bad shape.”

Which statement was right — the county exec’s or the reporter’s?

The media and especially WTMJ-TV are certain to analyze that initial statement by the county executive. If he was wrong, that’ll be an ongoing part of the story. It’s a reminder that when talking to the media, especially during a crisis, that statements need to be extremely carefully considered and 100% accurate.

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