Crisis Management in American Politics for Foreign Correspondents

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Crisis Management in American Politics for Foreign Correspondents

From the COVID-19 pandemic to armed conflicts. From natural catastrophes driven by climate change to events caused by political polarization around the world.

In the last few years, foreign journalists have been immersed in a sequence of facts that make their daily work a constant challenge. In this interview with the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents (AFPC-USA), we heard from Michael D. Edwards, a professor and expert in crisis management on how to improve skills and create operating procedures in these types of challenging environments. Notably, Edwards talks about the importance of planning and not just reacting. In this educational program, we discuss techniques that can be used by foreign correspondents while covering crisis events and steps to follow in order to deliver accurate information even in the most adverse situations.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards has been a member of the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University since 1989. He has taught courses on Crisis Management in American Politics, Political Power and Practice, Issues Advocacy, Legislative Theory and Behavior, and Lobbying and the Budget Process. He was the first recipient of the School’s Faculty Excellence Award in recognition of excellence in teaching, service, and leadership. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with advanced degrees from the George Washington University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Edwards also worked as an assistant to United States Senator Charles E. Goodell of New York and served as executive assistant and chief of staff to three members of the U. S. House of Representatives. From 1982 through 2018, he was a senior staff member for the National Education Association (NEA) and created the organization’s government relations division, representing the trustees of America’s 1,200 community, junior, and technical colleges.

Edwards spoke with AFPC-USA from the Harvard Kennedy School in Boston and provided some valuable takeaways.



  • Edwards argues that crises are not rare or even random events. “They are present in every part of our economic, social, political, governmental and even personal lives and as a consequence we are all affect by them,” he says. “Crises have consequences not only for the individuals involved but for the society and the individuals who surround them.” He says that trying to understand how to prevent, identify, isolate, manage and sometimes even profit from crisis is a fundamental element of leadership throughout the world. It is important to note, he adds, that an event itself is not a crisis. A hurricane, for example, is not a crisis but if it hits a city that it is not prepared, the situation of calamity is created.

  • The importance of planning. “Most people have a sense that crises are sudden events that cause harm. The reality is that very few major crises are really sudden or unpredictable. That doesn’t mean that precipitating an event may not be something that cannot be controlled: a hurricane, a natural disaster. But if we can’t always predict the event we can always understand that those kind of events might occur and we can prepare to try to manage them more effectively,” he says. Edwards explains that while dealing with crisis situations, individuals and organizations must put in place processes to begin to access risk, know what can stop them from achieving their goals and strategic mission, and find ways to create systems and structures that allow them to either put in place processes and programs that will inoculate themselves against those crises or minimize their effects.


  • Edwards explains the six stages in crisis management. Everything starts, he says, with how to prevent one. “What are the risks? What can hurt us? How this will affect our operation in order to deliver our product?” he explains, describing how to create standard operating procedures. “Can we put in place strategies to minimize the risks? What is most likely to happen?” He talks about the importance of analyzing weaknesses, strengths, opportunities, threats, how we behaved in the past, and what might have changed since then.

  • Crisis preparation. Edwards explains the importance of putting together a team of individuals to create a crisis management plan. “Many correspondents work individually but they have editors at home. Thinking as a team approach is very helpful in order to achieve the goals,” he says, explaining how to plan and not just react.

  • Identify a moment of crisis. “This is something journalists do all the time,” says Edwards, while describing techniques and questions that might be asked in order to analyze the implications of any given event. ” What does the public—viewers and readers—need to know as a result of that?”

  • Edwards also talks about how to manage a crisis. Heexplains the concept of isolation which is, according to him, from a journalistic point of view, to be able, for example, to spend time in a location and look at ramifications. In short, to see beyond. “Residual effects that begin to affect other people. All implications after the main event is over,” he clarifies.

  • When the crisis comes to an end, what happens next? “Journalists play a key role in this moment. Politicians move on but it is important to learn why it happened so we won’t repeat the same crisis in the future,” he explains. For journalists, other helpful tools can be found in their own coverage. “What created a challenge which made work more difficult and what could be done in the future in order to create better coverage for your TV network, newspaper, website, or magazine?”


  • “Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy,” says Edwards while talking about the challenge of reporting in a moment of immediacy when social media poses challenges not only because of high speed demand but because of the enormous amount of texts and videos from unreliable sources. “The most important thing for a journalist is to get the story right and to communicate in a way that helps people to understand the world around them in a meaningful and helpful way. And as more accurate, stronger we all are,” he says.

  • Edwards also discusses the work of journalists while covering scandals, the challenges of the media not being used as a political tool, and journalism’s larger importance in society.

Patrícia Vasconcellos

Patrícia Vasconcellos is the U.S. correspondent for the Brazilian TV network SBT, Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão, where she has reported on numerous international events. She is based in Washington DC, covering the White House and American politics. An award-winning documentarian, Patrícia directed the short film Curfew in NYC which received prizes from both the New York Film Awards and the New York International Film Awards. She is a jury member of the New York Movie Awards 2022 and served as a member of the Grand Jury of the 2022 New York Festivals TV & Film Awards 2022. She is a Chevening Alumni and holds a Masters degree in TV journalism (Goldmisths College, Universiy of London). Patrícia is a member of the Club of the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents (AFPC-USA Club).



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