Governor Katie Hobbs has generally done a good job of hiring department leads who are not idealogues, who have a significant amount of experience and don’t appear to be the result of political favors or seeking the path of least resistance. But for the choice of her Spokesperson, that did not seem to be the case, it blew up in a spectacular fashion, and offers up a cautionary tale in its wake.
Spokesperson Josselyn Berry was recently pressured into resigning from her role after comments in Twitter after the recent Nashville massacre. The massacre was perpetrated by a trans person at a Christian school that they once attended, presumably in the spirit of anger about how their gender dysphoria was treated. About 12 hours after the event, Berry was commenting in a Twitter thread about support for the trans community, when she posted an image from a movie with a woman pointing two guns and the caption “Us when we see transphobes”.
At the very least, it was incredibly inappropriate for someone whose job is to be the mouthpiece of the governor and to be as personally non-controversial as possible. But assuming that she was somewhat aware of the shooter being trans, it certainly feels like she was cheering on a mass murder. To say that this is a shockingly bad misstep truly undersells it: it feels incredibly sociopathic but without a proper societal filter.
People make mistakes though; how was Gov. Hobbs supposed to know that her Spokesperson would say something so awful publicly? Unfortunately however, there were definitely red flags. While working as the Communications Director for the Democrats in the state Senate, she included a quote from a cop-killer that was still wanted by the FBI in a statement. After that significant snafu, she failed up to the position of Spokesperson to the Arizona Democratic Party, where she gained attention for sending out an email that appeared to be helping out Kari Lake. This controversial move turned off many activists for having a slimy feel and for being an extremely dangerous tactic.
But more than that, the latter demonstrated two things. One, that Berry has no concept of a healthy risk/reward ratio. Sending an email like that wasn’t going to benefit the party much, but if it backfired and Lake won, it would have been an all-time big blunder, one that could be tied to her going forward. Two, it demonstrated a pathological need to be edgy and to build clout. Both of those make for catastrophically bad attributes for anyone in Communications in any field, let alone politics. It is stunning that she was able to continue to fail up in the face of such unforced errors.
Of course, these things don’t happen in a vacuum. This behavior was almost certainly encouraged, not just by the dopamine hits of likes and retweets but also with continued promotions. The Democratic bubble was apparently so insular and unaware of the general zeitgeist that those things never became red flags. And that is likely part of the problem: that politicos seem to conflate strong zingers and followers with the ability to effectively communicate, when in reality it is an indicator of extreme narcissism and inability to step outside of their bubble.
Let this be a cautionary tale: trying to be edgy online simply is not worth it for anyone in this field. And perhaps the more important lesson: someone who demonstrates these characteristics is not someone you want anywhere near your brand.