A Tale of Three Tales

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On August 20th, Greta Van Susteren ran a six-minute interview on her evening news/commentary program, On the Record, concerning the hosting and maintenance of a private email server used by Hillary Clinton. There is an interesting aspect of this interview that bears on preparedness, and that’s what I’m going to cover.

Setting the scene – When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she conducted some significant portion of her official duties on email that was handled by a private server. This action has attracted a great deal of attention from the news media and from potential political opponents. Mrs. Clinton and her staff have responded to questions and assertions with an evolving series of explanations. Platte River Networks was contracted by Mrs. Clinton in May 2013 to “upgrade, maintain and secure” the Clinton private server. On the Record sent a correspondent to Denver to interview an executive of Platte River Networks.

Watch the interview now.

The cast of characters:interview

  • Mrs. Clinton and her staff
  • Griff Jenkins, the On the Record correspondent
  • Andy Boian, speaking for Platte River Networks

The “tales” told by the three characters in this drama:

  • The Clinton staff (The tale being asserted by the Clinton staff is that there is nothing wrong with Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server and that there were no laws broken or regulations violated). The stream of statements, in a very abbreviated fashion has been:
    • There was nothing unusual about the private server arrangement
    • If it was unusual, it was for Mrs. Clinton’s convenience only and nothing classified was ever sent through that server
    • If anything was classified, it was not marked classified, and therefore there is no culpability
    • If it was marked classified, it was marked classified after it was received on or sent via the server
  • Griff Jenkins for On the Record, interviewing Andy Boian (a newsworthy tale would have been the controls and security in place [with associated formal approval by competent government authorities] for the Clinton email server while Mrs. Clinton was serving as the Secretary of State): The major points made during the interview were:
    • This server was not cleared by the Department of Defense for classified material. Note: The allegedly classified information in Mrs. Clinton’s emails was derived from the Intelligence Community, not from the Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD can clear facilities (including equipment) for DoD classified material, but Intelligence Community classified material handling must be approved by the Intelligence Community, which has different rules for handling classified material. Therefore whether or not the DoD had or had not cleared the server maintained by Platte River networks is irrelevant.
    • Platte River Networks was contracted in May 2013. A true statement, but largely irrelevant since there has been no discussion of server usage subsequent to Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State which ended in 2012. Without establishing the connection between Mrs. Clinton’s service as Secretary of State and May 2013, this is a non-sequitur and adds heat but no light to the interview
    • This server was in New Jersey. Again, a true statement, but again irrelevant. The location of the server makes no difference in Platte River Networks, Mrs. Clinton or her staff used or treated the server.
  • Andy Boian (This tale is that Platte River Networks responsibly executed the contract they were given and responded to requests from federal authorities). The Platte River messages seem to have been:
    • Platter River Networks was contracted to “upgrade, maintain and secure the server” and executed that work
    • Platte River Networks did not need and had no access to any server content and did not have any information about classified material
    • Platter River Networks handed the server over to the FBI in response to a legal request to do so and is fully cooperating with the federal government

Fallout from the tales told:

  • Mrs. Clinton and her staff have not shown evidence of having a well thought out set of core messages and of having adhered to those messages. Their efforts failed to present an open and irrefutably credible tale
  • Griff Jenkins did not show evidence of having researched networks, email, or classified material handling and therefore missed opportunities to tell his own tale during the interview
  • Mr. Boian had his core messages and stuck solidly to those messages throughout the interview. He told a tale that was solid and believable


  • Mr. Boian was believable and did a solid job of sticking to his messages. He stole the show. He appears to have predicted what the interview would cover, planned his messages and delivered them with credibility.
  • The failure of the Clinton staff to have three core messages to carry them through a worst-case scenario seems to have left them appearing to scramble every time new information or assertions arise.
  • Griff Jenkins appeared not to have prepared for the interview and ended up emphasizing irrelevancies and failing to deliver any meaningful news to the viewers

Lessons Learned:
Every organization needs to include communications in their preparedness planning. That communication planning must include the development of core messages – the most basic foundations for the actual interviews, web posts, news releases, Tweets, and emails. Those core messages are not delivered directly but are used to support the creation of message maps, which provide the next layer of preparation since they build on the core messages but tailor them for each potential audience (e.g. the general public, the news media, employees, and stakeholders). Finally, those actual interviews, emails, etc. must be delivered by a person who is prepared and experienced.

When communicating in times of crisis, it can be “the best of times” or “the worst of times.” Communication is too important to be left to “shooting from the hip.” Any communicator shooting from the hip is almost guaranteed to shoot themselves and their organization in the foot and it will be the worst of times. PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.®


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