Notes on a Scandal: Anthony Weiner vs. Chris Christie

Different responses to political scandals show dos, don'ts of crisis management.

June 4, 2011— -- The brouhahas this week over New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter picture and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's helicopter ride have underscored the do's and don'ts of personal crisis management for the nation's leading political figures.

Experts say Weiner could have taken a page from Christie's playbook on how to keep potentially damaging publicity contained.

"The contemporary approach in crisis management is to get it all out, essentially an information dump, plead insanity and say, 'I was stupid.' Then just wait for it to go away," said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University communications professor who advises politicians on crisis situations.

"The other school of thought is to not do anything, don't give anyone any information, hard ball it, stonewall it. Weiner obviously split the difference, and talked and talked and talked but didn't answer anything," Berhovitz said. "Basically, his strategy was the worst of both worlds."

Weiner's sarcasm and hard-charging personality, which have helped to make him a popular figure, may have compounded what several public relations specialists called his poor handling of the situation.

"He's so used to his sarcasm and wit going over well with his Twitter followers, but what he doesn't understand is that sarcasm doesn't play well on camera with the media, and he can't control it," said Patti Wood, a media coach and author of "Success Signals: Understanding Body Signals."

Wood, who analyzed Weiner's body language during an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl, said that the congressman repeatedly displayed facial cues that scientific studies show could indicate a lie.

"One side of his face is going up and one side is going down," Wood said of Weiner, who evaded Karl's question on whether the congressman was depicted in the photo.

"That particular facial expression typically occurs when the limbic brain and cognitive brain are in disagreement, essentially when you're hiding the truth," she said. "When you're telling the truth and being sincere, both sides of your face are symmetrical."

"That asymmetry affects our central nervous system as viewers, and our limbic system signals 'danger, danger, I don't trust,'" she said.

Wood said Gov. Christie, by contrast, offered a swift and resolute response to his controversy when he spoke from behind a podium at his office Thursday, a move which helped stem a burgeoning public and media frenzy.

"He took the mantle of his office -- all the officialdom and the pageantry and symbolism of his office -- and he kept referencing his importance," Wood said after reviewing footage of the governor's press conference. "People commonly use their power of office to get out of a sticky situation. I think that did work well for him."

Christie directly and immediately responded to criticism of his use of the state helicopter and pledged to reimburse the state for the flight. Both steps helped temper negative response to the situation, Wood said, noting also that Christie's body language was strong and symmetrical.

"What Christie did is politically stupid, but it's not personally destructive to what kind of human being you are, if in fact Weiner sent a picture of his privates to a college girl," said Berkovitz. "What Christie did was perhaps a bit arrogant, but he fessed up to it, and it wasn't like he used the helicopter to fly off to gamble," he said.