Blame Avoidance and Trust Repair

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University of Fribourg



1.1 Case Study 5

1.2 Problem Statement 6

1.3 Research Questions 7

1.4 Purpose of Study 7


2.1 Blame Avoidance 7

2.2 Trust Repair 13

2.3 Mayer, Davis and Shoorman’s Model of Trust 15

2.3.1 Sought Effect 26

2.3.2. Communicative Action 27

2.3. 3 Discourse-as-Text 28

2.3.4 Neutralize the Negative 28

2.4 Linguistic Approaches to Blame Avoidance 31


3.1 Ways of Arguing 36

3.2 Ways of Framing 37

3.3 Ways of Denying 39

3.4 Ways of Representing the Actors and Actions 41

3.5 Ways of Legitimizing 43

3.6 Ways of Manipulating 45

3.7 Approaches Developed by Public Administrators towards Blame Avoidance 46

Epistemic Modals 50

Expression of Attribution 50




In currentpolitical situations, public opinions remain one of the mostimportant variables to getting into a public office through electionsor appointments. As such, it is a common practice for individuals inthe government positions to go to greater lengths and try toexonerate themselves from any activity that could be detrimental totheir political careers. In other case, the revelation of detailsregarding a particular event may lead to public mistrust. In ademocracy where the majority votes determine the rulers, it isprudent that they go through massive extents to ensure that they areexonerated from any form of wrongdoing.

In the process oftrying to exonerate themselves from any form of wrongdoing,politicians tend to pass the blame is passed around. This occurrenceis what some scholars refer to as the “blameworld”. According tosome researchers, there is an extensive link between the types ofbehaviors exhibited by those who prefer to pass the blame. In thisregard, all individuals who engage in the politics of blame avoidancedo it as a means of advocating for “good governance” as requiredby most governments and public services provision. The politics ofblame avoidance assists such individuals to triumph over thechallenges that are likely to affect their ascension to positions ofpower in the present or in the future. However, this behavior tendsto not only exist within the community of government officials but italso extends to the private and independent sectors.

1.1 Case Study

On Monday,September 9, 2013, a series of events in New Jersey culminated inGovernor Chris Christie calling a press conference to provide astatement on the turn of events (Washington Post, 2014). The closureof lanes in Fort Lee, otherwise known as the George Washington BridgeScandal or Bridgegate, resulted in a long protracted battle with eachparty blaming the other for the outcome. It should be noted that theGeorge Washington Bridge, which is a double-decked toll bridge, isconsidered to be the busiest motorway in the world. It connects NewJersey to New York and has 29 operating toll lanes (Zernike, 2015).

For a period oftwo days, two lanes dedicated to Fort Lee were closed without priornotice. As a result, there was increased congestion and most serviceswere delayed. School transportation and emergency responses withinthe town were greatly affected by the closure (Washington Post,2014). The workers at the bridge indicated that they had donefollowing orders from high-ranking officials in New Jersey. However,despite calls from Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, no help wasforthcoming from the Christie administration (Zernike, 2015).

It later emergedthat the orders for closure had been issued by David Wildstein, ahigh school acquaintance of the governor (Zernike, 2015). In additionto this, Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staffwas found to have been part of the conspiracy and was fired alongwith Bill Stepien, a former campaign manager of the governor(Washington Post, 2014). Stepien and Kelly were found to haveexchanged emails that culminated in the closure of the bridge. Assome of the senior officials in Christie’s administration, it wasestablished that the two had conspired to close some lanes on thebridge without permission of the relevant authority. However, a probeordered by the Christie administration established that the governorwas not aware of the incident and as such, was not part of thesabotage plans (Zernike, 2015). During the Press Conference he hadcalled, he exonerated himself, and instead insisted that those whohad been involved in the major standoff had been fired (Zernike,2015).

1.2 Problem Statement

This paperfocuses on the relationship between blame avoidance and trust repair.By extensively analyzing the events in the George Washington BridgeScandal and the subsequent press briefing by the Governor of NewJersey Chris Christie, we compare the reaction of the public beforeand after the siege. Since the event affected the public directly,there was an increased likelihood that the trust between GovernorChristie’s administration and the voters had been destroyed.

Over the years,public officeholders have gone to massive extents to ensure that theyare not implicated in any form of wrong doing. They ensure that theyhave strategies to enable them to avoid being blamed for a negativeoutcome. However, in instances where the public is made aware of suchissues, the officials usually attempt to renegotiate on the trustthat has been broken in the first place. The thesis will analyze thenature of the relationship between blame avoidance and trust repairby focusing on the linguistic concepts that are incorporated in eachcase.

1.3 Research Questions

The study will include various research questions. The methodologywill enable the researchers to provide the answers to the followingresearch questions:

  • What is the relationship between blame avoidance and trust building?

  • Which model of trust-building was utilized by Chris Christie?

  • Did the governor succeed in using the most appropriate technique of blame avoidance?

1.4 Purpose of Study

The purpose ofthe study is to analyze the nature of relationship between blameavoidance and trust repair. This thesis provides an in-depth analysisof the models of blame avoidance and the trust repair mechanismswhich were used by the governor since he said that some of the seniorofficers in his office had been involved in the cover up.

2.0 LITERATURE REVIEW2.1 Blame Avoidance

Hansson (2015:1),state that public officers are the most likely to face the risk ofpersonal blame. They include politicians, front-line bureaucrats,professionals and managers. This form of risk is classified underreputational risks due to its impact on the reputation of theindividuals. In addition to this, it can be classified underpolitical risks since in most instances, it affects those inpolitical positions and the voting patterns (Weaver, 1986:374).

Blame can bedefined as the act of attributing something considered to have goneagainst the norms and social values, to some other party (Hansson,2015:8). As such, the concept involves two major components. One ofthem is perceived avoidable harm (PAH) or lost time. PAH is utilizedin a situation where an action is seen to be worse for a specificindividual or a group of people than would be the case if analternative course of action would have been taken (Hood, 2009:12).Another component of the blame avoidance risk is known as perceivedresponsibility (PR) or agency. Such events are caused by acts ofomission or commission committed by identifiable individuals ororganizations. Such acts could also been caused by abstractsinstitutions that include capitalism and patriarchy. This was thecase in the case involving the Office of the Governor of New Jersey.

Therefore, incases whereby individuals wish to deflect blame, they work on thetime dimension in addition to the agency and loss dimension (Hansson,2015:4). In this regard, there are some forms of blame that areanticipative in nature (Weaver, 1986:372). In such instances, peopletend to try and stop the blame before it starts. There is a highlikelihood that individuals will blame themselves for any avoidableloss. This phenomena is common in instances whereby a single personresponsible for the affected department (Weaver, 1986:383). However,as soon as the number of people with responsibility for theparticular action arises, there is an increased likelihood of theindividuals engaging in blame games (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:1).

In this case,transfer of the blame is regarded as social or political activity(Hood, 2004:36). When analyzed in the case of a social activity,blaming can extend across the entire spectrum of the community fromthe high level officials to the person in the street. For the processto be complete, there must two sets of people namely the blame makersand the blame takers (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:13). The formerrefers to those who do the blaming whereas the former includes thosein the receiving end of the process (Hood, 2009:13). In the end, itmight result into a set of players attempting to pin the blame oneach other while focusing on remaining blameless (Weaver, 1986:395).The effect of blame also varies significantly from mild socialembarrassment to extreme legal sanctions that may curtail the rightsand freedoms of the offender (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:4). Accordingto the events that followed the closure of the bridge connecting NewJersey and New York, the public were made aware of the individualsthat were responsible for the mishap. The governor was the blame withthe two dismissed employees taking the blame.

In the 1980s,William Felstiner was among a group of scholars who developed amechanism to differentiate blaming from naming and claiming(Felstiner, Abel &amp Sarat, 1980:635). The process was based on asociological account of the emergence of legal disputes. According tothat analysis, naming involved the process of identification andrecognition of experiences that are considered injurious. However,later on, Felstiner’s scheme was established to be an effectivemeans of identifying perception of avoidable loss and attribution ofagencies (Felstiner, Abel &amp Sarat, 1980:635).

Based on thestudy conducted by Felstiner, it would be prudent to question thereason behind public officeholders caring about the risk of blame.Most human beings care about blame as a normal psychological trait.However, the elected politicians are likely to care about blame incase they feel that it impairs their chances of being re-elected.Managers will pay more attention to the risk of blame in case theyfeel that it might affect their prospects of promotion as wellgranting them a security of tenure. The professionals will care aboutblame if it is likely to taint their reputation and translate intomassive lawsuits. Finally, front-line bureaucrats are likely to bemore concerned about blame if it might cost them their jobs, bonusesand chances of promotion within an organization (Weaver, 1986:384).According to this case study, the governor came out to stronglycondemn the behaviors of employees involved in the saga while alsoindicating that he had no role in the events of that day. As a publicofficeholder, he deemed it fit to avoid all the risks that areassociated with blame.

Despite the factthat everyone has a reason to care about all types of blame, thelevel of concern is massively differentiated (Fuoli &amp Paradis,2014:13). The primary reasons for which blame might not be equallydistributed within a population are the disparities in psychologicalneeds. There are some personality types that have a lesser concern toavoid blame in comparison to others. Examples of such individuals arethe psychopaths that tend to show a limited sense of moralresponsibility (Hood, 2004:29). At the other end of the scale areindividuals whose lives can be massively affected by the tiniest ofdamage to their reputations (Weaver, 1986:384). The level of aversionto blame varies extensively over the life of an individual. One istherefore more likely to be motivated to engage in efforts tailoredtowards avoiding blame when there is a high likelihood of the blameoccurring (Hansson, 2015:14). The same characteristics are exhibitedby individuals who believe that there will be serious consequencesshould the blame be directed towards them (Fuoli &amp Paradis,2014:2). The governor, being a position that depends on democraticelections, would have been affected by the saga. In order to maintainhis reputation, he deemed if fit to address the issue at hand.

The concentrationof blame varies across organizations (Hood, 2009:30). Even inpolitics and government bureaucracy, the concern of blame willmassively depend on the circumstances. Consider a case whereby apolitician has won a landslide victory or is about to retire (Weaver,1986:388). Such a politician will less likely be concerned with blamein comparison to another politician who on the eve of elections isstill in a close race with the opponents. The same case can apply toa bureaucrat or a judge whose continuing tenure is not dependent onreappointment or a re-election (Hood, 2004:24). Such an individual islikely to be more relaxed and less concerned about blame incomparison to a judge who is different circumstances (Weaver,1986:379).

As such theimportance of a risk is never a constant (Hansson, 2015:4). It variesdepending on a series of factors in the society. The variability isthe reason behind different reactions to blame in people occupyingdifferent positions in the society (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:5). Incases where social developments make the blame risks more significantover time, the incidence of the behaviors is likely to vary over time(Hood, 2004:22). This might lead to exceptions to the defensivebehaviors portrayed by individuals who are trying to shift blame.Additionally, other factors such as the personality of individuals,institutional conditions and social settings affect the efforts madeby individuals in order to avoid blame (Hood, 2009:27).

With the entry ofKent Weaver’s (1986) article, political scientists have developedthree major perspectives of blame avoidance (Weaver, 1986:396). Thefirst approach has focused on the identification of ways throughwhich political officers in democratic systems can diminish thepossibilities of being punished by the electorate as a result ofadvocating for unpopular policies. In most instances, the strategiesproposed by such politicians are likely to have detrimental effect onthe electorate (Weaver, 1986:394). This is more common when thepolicies involve reduction in welfare entitlements such as theretirement packages of the lower class while subsequently elevatingthe amount of welfare benefits to the political class (Lips, Taylor &ampBannister, 2005:1). It requires a risky balancing act by thepoliticians wishing to get re-elected into the office in the nearfuture (Weaver, 1986:394). However, the political scientists havedeveloped an account of strategies that would end up working in favorof the politicians despite the massive discontentment brought by suchpolicies (Weaver &amp Brookings Institution, 1987:6). One importantfactor that the politicians should take into consideration is thetiming of the policy (Weaver, 1986:387). Additionally, concertedefforts should be made to ensure that such projects are based on acoalition building across parties. The framing and packaging of thepolicy also goes a long way in limiting the level of blame avoidance(Hansson, 2015:4). The issue of future election can be considered tohave necessitated the attempts by the governor to distance himselffrom any blame that would have curtailed his re-election bid.

There is a newgeneration of scholars that have taken the approach beyond that whichis based on circumstantial evidence and telling anecdotes (Weaver,1986:380). These scholars have therefore integrated an approach thatuses experimental evidence to analyze the level of responses topublic inquiries. Moreover, the strategy takes into consideration theprocess of following policy actions as well the opinion of the publicover a given period of time (Hood, 2009:43).

2.2 Trust Repair

Various forms ofinteractions in the society are aided by the level of trust among theindividuals (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:2). In this case, it isimportant to establish that trust is regarded as a basic component ofboth intimate and distant interpersonal relations (Peng, Gong &ampPeng, 2016:380). Since social relations are dynamic in nature, trustcan be negotiated and renegotiated over time through either social orcommunicative interaction or a combination of both (Fuoli &ampParadis, 2014:12). However, there are certain outcomes that aredeemed to undermine trust. Compensatory action is expected by thetrust-breaker (TB) in instances in which trust is broken (Fuoli &ampParadis, 2014:12). To repair the broken trust levels betweenindividuals and institutions, it is necessary to for thetrust-breaker to modify their behavior. In addition to this, thetrust levels can be renegotiated through discourse (Peng, Gong &ampPeng, 2016:380). The latter is used extensively in instances wherethe behavior of the trust breaker can be directly monitored by thedeceived entity (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:12).

In a democraticsociety, the relationship between the electorate and the politicalofficers is based on trust (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:2). The votersentrust their leaders to represent their needs and develop solutionsto the underlying problems. It is on this platform that politiciansseek the approval of the population for a given area in order toascend into power (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:2). Therefore, someactions by the politicians or their appointees are likely to damagethe level of trust between the two parties (Peng, Gong &amp Peng,2016:382). The distrust between the electorate and the politicianscan threaten the social and political legitimacy of the relationship(Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:15). This can be associated with therelationship between the residents of New Jersey and Governor ChrisChristie.

It is thereforenecessary to identify how to react to instances where the level oftrust has been compromised (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:11). This mightinvolve the use of discourse as the means of renegotiating therelationship between two or more parties (Peng, Gong &amp Peng,2016:387). There are two major types of trust-repair discoursestrategies. The first step involves engaging with and acting upondiscourses that are regarded to constitute an actual or potentialsource of the trust. In this case, the negative is extensivelyneutralized (Peng, Gong &amp Peng, 2016). The second type oftrust-repair discourse related to the construction and communicationof a trustworthy discourse identity. In other words, it emphasizes onthe positive (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:14).

To neutralizethe negative, one has to draw on the resources to facilitatedialogic engagements (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:12). On the otherhand, the construction and communication of a trustworthy discourseidentity can be achieved through the appropriate evaluation and useof effective language (Peng, Gong &amp Peng, 2016:379). The primaryobjective of the renegotiation strategies is to facilitate the repairof the broken trust between the two or more parties (Fuoli &ampParadis, 2014:12). This is achieved by promoting the reassessment ofthe addressees’ positive evaluation of the trust breaker. Some ofthe factors taken into consideration include the trust breaker’sbenevolence, ability and integrity (Peng, Gong &amp Peng, 2016:377).

In any politicalsituation, trust is regarded as a valuable asset. However, it issometimes broken. When such an incidence occurs, there is need toensure that the necessary corrective measures are taken intoconsideration (Kim et al., 2004:111). The residents of Fort Lee mayfelt aggrieved by the closure of the bridge since it restricted thedelivery of service to most areas. They may have developedresentments over the leadership of Chris Christie thereby leading himto call for a press conference to exonerate himself from blame. Overthe years, scholars have developed various approaches in an attemptto explain the procedures that should be undertaken in the analysisof trust-repair discourse. One such theory is Mayer, Davis andShoorman’s model of trust.

2.3 Mayer, Davis and Shoorman’s Model of Trust

According tothese experts, trust is an essential element in social relations andas such, it is widely associated with numerous activities. In anattempt to establish the nature of relationships between trust andother fields of study, extensive investigations have been conducted(McKnight, Cummings &amp Chervany, 1998:476). The model developed byMayer et al. is based on business management literature. However, itsimportance extends to other fields such as marketing, accounting,psychology, and sociology. This relationship is based on the beliefthat the other party will perform a particular action that is deemedto be important to the trustor irrespective of the latter’s abilityto control the activities of the first party (Fuoli &amp Paradis,2014:6). Based on the definition, it is evident that risk-taking isan essential component of trust relations.

Trust involvestaking risks and as such, one is likely to take advantage of theposition of trust for their personal benefits (McKnight, Cummings &ampChervany, 1998:488). When people show trust towards an individual,they are likely to assume that such a person will perform theirduties in a manner that would be beneficial to the larger group. Thebelief that a person in a greater position will work to benefit thebigger population is based on the concept of trustworthiness (Kim etal., 2004:105).

The assessment ofthe level of trustworthiness is based on three primary criterianamely ability, integrity, and benevolence. Ability, in this case,refers to the technical understanding and prowess shown by anindividual in the completion of their tasks (McKnight, Cummings &ampChervany, 1998:481). Therefore, this criterion identifies the skillsand expertise of a person in a given scenario by looking at the levelof competency when the said person is handling a particular task.Integrity, on the other hand, seeks to establish the moral andethical behaviors of the trustee (Linell &amp Markova, 2013:23).This criterion seeks to establish how honest and sincere one is withregard to completion of tasks. Benevolence refers to the extent towhich the trustee is assumed to have the interest of other at heart.It is therefore a measure of goodwill based on the factors underconsideration. The three dimensions for determining the level oftrustworthy of the trustee is an important concept in the analysis ofthe model of trust (Gillespie &amp Dietz, 2009:136).

Mayer, Davis and Shoorman’smodel of trust (Mayer et al., 1995: 715).

Based on thefigure above, the trustor’s determination of the level of trustexhibited by the trustee is based on various factors. Therefore,there is a positive correlation between the amount of trust by thetrustor on the trustee with the evaluation of the other party’sbenevolence, integrity, and ability. Another conclusion that can bededuced from the fact relates to the information passed by thefeedback arrow. In this case, it is considered to indicate that theresults of the relationships are likely to have an impact anddynamically shape the impression of the trustor concerning the otherparty’s trustworthiness (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:4). This will bereflected in the nature of trust relationships between the twoprincipal players.

The model oftrust by Mayer et al. was developed for the sole purpose ofindicating the nature of dyadic relations (Mayer et al., 1995:712).As such, the model is responsible for demonstrating the nature ofrelationships between two individuals who known each othersignificantly well. In this case, the nature of trusts lies on anindividual who mandates another party to take care of their interestswith the sole belief that at the end of day, their needs will havebeen fulfilled to the best possible means (McKnight, Cummings &ampChervany, 1998:484). Even though the root of trust analysis is basedon personal characteristics, the referent can either be one person ora group of individuals depending on the nature of the areas of trust(Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:5). In our case study, the governor andthe residents know each other’s responsibility quite well. Thisform of trust analysis involved a large group of people since theclosure of the bridge had affected several individuals.

There are twodistinct characteristics between individual trust and referent trust.Two individuals who know each other well are likely to have anenormous amount of knowledge regarding the operations of theircounterpart (Linell &amp Markova, 2013:29). However, in thepolitical environment, that might not be the case. For this reason,there is a substantial gap of information between the trustee and thetrustor in a given scenario (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:16). In someinstances, it is challenging to obtain information regarding someforms of operations since they are “hidden” by the government ofthe day (Xie &amp Peng, 2009:580). Even if such information wasavailable, it would be likely to be inaccurate due to easymanipulation by other agents. Based on this nature of relationshipsbetween those occupying the political officers and the generalpublic, there is an increased likelihood that the association betweentrust and blame avoidance can only be analyzed through discourse(Linell &amp Markova, 2013:28).

The level oftrust and distrust portrayed within an organization can be deemed tohave a close relationship between language and communication (Mayeret al., 1995:718). However, the attention on trust has attractedinterest of scholars more in certain areas than in others. Linell andMarkoova (2013) define trust as virtually non-existent except inpragmatic cases relating to verbal interactions (McKnight, Cummings &ampChervany, 1998:477). However, there have been several discussionsregarding the role of discourse as the most appropriate means ofassessing trust (Xie &amp Peng, 2009:578). This form of analysis ispreferred since it involves a systematic analysis of the linguisticdiscourse in blame avoidance.

Palmieri(2009:63) examined the efforts undertaken by the UBS bank to retainthe trust of the shareholders following the economic turmoilexperienced in 2008. Through his analysis, Palmieri (2009:63)highlights the role of rhetoric in trust building. The argument,however, has various limitations in its quest to highlight theimportance of rhetoric in trust discourse. One major factor in thiscase is the failure of the analysis to problematize the rhetoricalstrategies that exist within the text when discussing its associationwith the construct of trust. Based on the framework provided byPalmieri (2009:62) the author also fails in the examination of theChairman’s ethos in terms of it being discursively constructed.Finally, his works fail to provide specifics on the linguistic meansinvolved in the process of trust building between the management andthe existing shareholders. In addition to this, the discussion on thetrust discourse fails to take into consideration various otherfactors (Palmieri, 2009:63).

The rise ofdiscourse as a means of highlighting the skills required for thenegotiation process has also been extensively discussed (Mayer etal., 1995:726). It is recommended in instances whereby the results tobe achieved need no actual means of presenting a systematic andcomprehensive account of the linguistic models under consideration(McKnight, Cummings &amp Chervany, 1998:483). Therefore, in thiscase, the authors debate the concept of differentiating trust andmistrust based on an interview that was conducted to establish thenature of operations among Russian refugees in Sweden. This sectionof the argument is important since it provides an opportunity forextensive analysis of the reactions of individuals towards differentforms of trust relationships within the society.

The analysis ofthe interviews also indicates the level of confidence and distrustwithin a given scenario, by integrating how investigations can beconducted in a given social setting where there are a highuncertainty and multiple skepticisms (Mayer et al., 1995:729). Theevaluation of such an occurrence is deemed as important due to itsability to highlight instances of distrust between various groups ofindividuals who are entering into any form of an agreement in thelong run (McKnight, Cummings &amp Chervany, 1998:486). At the sametime, it is necessary to identify the different means through whichdistrust is likely to arise, and the corresponding solutions that aretaken into consideration. According to Linell and Kaselman(2011:163), the study is based primarily on the ability ofindividuals across the board to interact with each other without anyform of conflicts arising in the process (Linell &amp Markova,2013:13). The analysis of the transcript highlights the choice ofwords that were chosen by the governor in answering the questionsthat were directed at him by the journalists.

Face to faceinteractions is one of the ways through which immediate feedback canbe obtained. For this approach to achieve the required results,according to the scholars, it is necessary for the warring parties toidentify a mechanism through which a consensus can be achieved (Mayeret al., 1995:715). Face to face communication channels are preferredin this case since they enable individuals experiencing various formsof distrust to come together and identify ways through which they caninteract and get immediate feedback (Gillespie &amp Flora, 2013:92).This is important since longer periods of distrust are more likely toculminate in activities that may be deemed to be against theachievement of resolutions within a particular period (Linell &ampMarkova, 2013:23).

Linell &ampMarkova (2013) do not have a descriptive approach. Additionally, theyhave failed to formulate an adequate hypothesis that can be used toidentify the role of linguistic resources in facilitating a highlevel of trust within a given scenario (McKnight, Cummings &ampChervany, 1998:473). In such cases, the learners have to develop waysof ensuring that the sources of conflicts are identified and dealtwith efficiently. According to most scholars, the most important stepis ensuring that the causes of trust issues are identified (Mayer etal., 1995:722). To begin, they are required to identify areas wherethere is a likelihood of distrust being experienced according to agiven scenario (Mayer et al., 1995:728). Moreover, it becomesnecessary to determine areas where the theme of trust is likely tolead to suspicion. This process is known as the instance during whichconfidence is topicalized. This is important to this papersince it entails the importance of discourse in avoiding blame as wasin the case of the governor’s press conference.

Thereafter, it isnecessary to identify ways through which trust is affected by variouscomponents in a given environment. In this case, the sequential anddynamic nature of trust is highlighted and discussed extensively withthe primary purpose of developing the most appropriate course ofaction. Therefore, the research should first identify a series ofsequences that ultimately lead to the development of distrust withina given environment. The sequential characteristics of trust can beanalyzed by using the example of Deeepwater Horizontal spill(National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill andOffshore Drilling, 2011). In this case, the primary cause of distrustrelated to an oil spill in the deep waters. The company involved wasBP. However, their actions following the occurrence of such an actthat violated the environmental laws led to a huge reaction from thepublic (National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill andOffshore Drilling, 2011). The example of BP relates to our studysince in both instances, the executives of the respectiveinstitutions were forced to provide statements to assure the publicall would be well despite the problems that were being experienced.

Despite the factthat the company was responsible for the oil spill and its nefariousoccurrences, it did not work on developing the level of trust betweenthe corporations and its loyal clients, who felt aggrieved by thespill in the first place (Wickman, 2013:5). However, following thefuror from the public, shareholders and other environmentalstakeholders, the company was forced to ensure that it began workingon the most efficient ways of dealing with the disaster (McKnight,Cummings &amp Chervany, 1998:479). In addition to focusing on theissue that had arisen as a result of the spill, the management of BPembarked on a trust discourse with the sole purpose of avoiding anyfurther backlash in the process.

For other authorssuch as Gillespie and Cornish (2013:83), the focus is on the ‘bankrun.’ This is an occurrence that was witnessed in the BritishNorthern Rock in 2007 (BBC News, 2008). It involved the massivewithdrawal of funds from the deposit accounts by the customers at thesame time based on the belief that the financial institution (BritishNorthern Rock) was headed towards insolvency (BBC News, 2008). Whenanalyzing the bank run, the experts encourage the analysis to focuson the language used in the aftermath of the action that results intobroken trust between different parties in a given situation. In thiscase, the piece of statement that was provided by the BritishNorthern Rock is deemed as essential components of a trust discourse(National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill andOffshore Drilling, 2011). Parties involved in a trust dispute deem itnecessary to model their language in a way that facilitates effectivecommunication.

In mostinstances, it is the accused party that is required to tailor itslanguage of communication in such a way that it consoles theaggrieved party rather than focusing on other factors that may provedetrimental to the trust relations that are already under scrutiny Inthis regard, the communication from the company included a form ofadvertisement that was placed in one of the most popular newspapersin the United Kingdom (Wickman, 2013:17). This process was undertakenfollowing the announcement that the relevant authorities in charge ofthe respective industries would provide guarantees for all thedeposits held by the British Northern Rock. The government had takenthis step to reassure all depositors that in spite of the prevailingchallenges, their hard earned cash would not go down the drain. Thispart of the discourse analysis is important since it can beassociated with the press conference that was held by Governor ChrisChristie.

When analyzingthe form of communication provided by the chief executive of thecompany to quell the level of distrust that the banking institutionhad developed in the business environment, more attention is paid tothe message and how it was put across to the public (McKnight,Cummings &amp Chervany, 1998:489). For instance, the letter providedby the management team attempted to create a rapport between numerousbusiness establishments that had been affected by the prevailingactions. He offered sincere apologies to the public for the bank’stribulations. Additionally, he attempted to improve the bank’scredibility by appealing to an external authority for approval (BBCNews, 2008). In this case, the external influence was the BritishChancellor, Alistair Darling (BBC News, 2008). Some of the strategiesemployed by the chief executive of the British Northern Rock haveclose similarities to the actions taken by the management of BPfollowing the Deepwater Horizon spill incident (National Commissionon the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, 2011).Such strategies are also similar to the communicative strategiesutilized by Governor Chris Christie when addressing the press withregards to the events that culminated in the closure of the GeorgeWashington Bridge.

There aredifferent types of knowledge presentations used to highlight the roleof trust in a given scenario (Linell &amp Markova, 2013:23).Moreover, the analysis of such knowledgeability is based on theexperiences of individuals in instances where there are variousfactors at stake. When analyzing trust discourse, it is important toidentify the two most important components of the analysis. Theyinclude the trustor and the trustee (Wodak &amp Meyer, 2009:123).

The model oftrust discourse is deemed one of the most efficient ways of analyzinga given trust issue scenario (Linell &amp Markova, 2013:8). Theprimary aim of such a model is to offer an in-depth insight into atrue discourse framework by identifying the relationship between thecommunicative objectives of trust repair and the prevailingconditions that can be utilized to pursue the communicative goals aswell as the concrete linguistic realization (Palmieri, 2009:63). As aresult, the model is articulated in three broad levels, and theyinclude the sought effect, communicative action, anddiscourse-as-text (McKnight, Cummings &amp Chervany, 1998:473).

In the diagrambelow, all the three levels of analysis are included. This iscritical in ensuring that the necessary components of the model oftrust repair are integrated to facilitate the decision-making processin a given scenario (National Commission on the BP Deepwater HorizonOil Spill and Offshore Drilling, 2011). The right side of the boxindicates the sought effects. At that level of communicative action,two basic discursive strategies are used in ensuring that the primaryobjectives of the activity are met. These plans include neutralizingthe negative (NN) and emphasizing the positive (EP) (Palmieri,2009:64). On the other hand, at the discourse-as-text level,the strategies are achieved through the use of resources thatfacilitate dialogic engagements.

Figure: Trust-RepairDiscourse Model (Fuoli&amp Paradis, 2014:11)

2.3.1 Sought Effect

One of the majorassumptions that govern the present framework is that language isregarded as a form of social action. This can be attributed to thefact that language is utilized in the completion of various taskswithin the social context to tinker with other people’s way ofthinking and their reactions to particular events within the socialenvironment. Additionally, language can be used to influence thebehaviors and beliefs according to the needs of the public (Fuoli &ampParadis, 2014:11). In the discussions on trust-repair discourse, theprimary communicative objective of the trust breaker (TB) is to alterthe interlocutor’s impressions and beliefs (Palmieri, 2009:73).This is with regard to the restoration of trust and trustworthiness.The governor began his address by apologizing for the controversialclosure of the bridge before stating that his administration wouldnot condone such heinous acts. His language was tailored to waterdown any resentment that may have been growing among individuals inNew Jersey.

EP is consideredto be complex and multifaceted in nature (Mayer et al., 1995:731).However, there is a high possibility of classifying the factors thatcontribute to the levels of trustworthiness. These include ability,integrity, and benevolence (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:11). Theoccurrence of a trust breaking event will influence the perceptionsof the trustor and the debate on the levels of trustworthiness on agiven situation (Palmieri, 2009:65). In such instances, the trustor’simpression regarding the trust breaker’s trustworthiness within anyof the three major dimensions will be significantly affected.Therefore trust repair discourse is more inclined towards takingaction and the restoration of the trustor’s perception of the trustbreaker’s integrity, ability, and benevolence (Fuoli &amp Paradis,2014:11).

2.3.2. Communicative Action

To achieve thecommunicative goal, the trust breaker needs to embark on a correctivestrategy. There are two major discursive goals that the trust breakercan adopt as a means of achieving a communicative objective (Mayer etal., 1995:726). One means of obtaining a source of distrust is byengaging with and offering responses to the real and potentialdiscourses that are likely to create, promote and facilitate itssustainability (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:12). This strategy is knownas neutralize the negative. However, such a step does notdictate whether the trust breaker will accept or reject the entirelythe adverse discourses. On the other hand, the trust breaker canoffer positive responses by indicating agreements and understandingof the subject matter under consideration (Diers &amp Donohue,2013:258). One major characteristic of the trust breaker, in thiscase, is the ability to neutralize the adverse effects that mayultimately be considered unfavorable to the levels oftrustworthiness. In addition to this, the trust breaker can alsodiscursively construct as well as offer communication channels on atrustworthy identity as well as emphasizing and providing evidencefor the existence of positive qualities and values (Mayer et al.,1995:710). In most instances, such strategies of communication can beimplemented simultaneously and integrated into a single case oftrust-repair discourse (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:12). In this case,the governor chose the strategy of offering positive response. Tobegin, he recognized the occurrence of the situation and indicatedthe corrective measures that he had taken since he was made aware ofthe role of some of his employees.

2.3. 3 Discourse-as-Text

This is regardedas the micro-level of language formations and meanings there is ahighly possibility of identifying a core set of linguistic resourcesthat utilize two discursive strategies that have been defined above(Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:12). This facilitates the analysis of thestrategies systematically and empirically based on the analysis ofthe text. Such an activity is used in discussing the responsesoffered by the chief executive officers of two major companies thathave been forced to defend themselves in the past. Examples of theinternational firms that have utilized the discursive strategiesinclude BP and the British Northern Rock (Fuoli &amp Paradis,2014:12). The governor used the same strategy that was implemented bythe two companies. He began by apologizing before proceeding toassure everyone that the situation was under control and being dealtwith effectively.

2.3.4 Neutralize the Negative

This is one ofthe strategies that can be achieved through the use of linguisticresources as in the case of a dialogic engagement. The neutralizethe negative category is inclusive of all the devices thatspeakers utilize in taking a stand on any of the prevailing issues.It is also applicable to the speakers when they offer alternativeopinions on the subjects of discussion, as well as in the provisionof the potential responses to the interlocutors (Fuoli &amp Paradis,2014:12). There are various resources included in this case andcomprise of epistemic modals such as be certain that, think,and believe. These words used by speakers to indicate thatthey are aware of the offences that have been committed. They alsoinclude expressions of attribution such as say, argue, andclaim in which the speaker attributes the role of individuals inthe outcomes. The markers of evidentiality include hear, showthat, and see (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:12). Thesemarkers indicate that the speaker is quite sure of what they aretalking about and not assumptions. Other resources that are includedin this strategy include adversative discourse markers and negationor denial. The former includes yet and but (Fuoli &ampParadis, 2014:12). Yet and but are used to indicatethat the actions experienced went against the expected norms. Thecommon factor between the resources is the dialogic functionality asargued by Bakhtin (1981). Additionally, they are all utilized indiscourse to mark the inter-subjective position to the speaker. Thisis accomplished with regard to the backdrop of prepositions as wellas the competing stances that all the texts may be profiled against(Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:12).

The case of thechief executive officer of BP is deemed to have utilized suchresources (Mayer et al., 1995:715). He used the concept of negationor denial to confront any form of accusations that had been directedtowards his firm. During his argument, the CEO used “not” toreject any claims that they had been irresponsible in theiractivities. The statement “our fundamental purpose is to createvalue for shareholders, but we also see ourselves as part of society,not apart from it” (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:13) highlightsthe role of negation in denial. At the same time, similar resourceswere used to neutralize the unfavorable discourse about the company.The case of the CEO of BP is analyzed below:

The chiefexecutive stated that one of the core responsibilities of the companywas the creation of wealth for its shareholders (National Commissionon the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, 2011).He declared that they considered themselves as part of the societyrather than apart from it. It is evident that there is the use of“not”, a negation to defend the company against any actual oranticipated accusations from various quarters within the society(Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:12). The statement also has acommunicative goal in the long run. In instances in which the levelof trust has been broken, the accused party should undertake toparticipate in a process that is aimed at ensuring that the previouslevel of association is attained between the different parts (Fuoli &ampParadis, 2014:12). The negotiation of trust between two or moreparties provides a connection between the contrasts of interpersonalbeliefs and a linguistic analysis of at the level ofdiscourse-as-text (Mayer et al., 1995:724).

According to themodels, once the levels of trust have been damaged, the trust breakerwill embark on the adoption of one or two discursive strategies withthe sole aim of ensuring that the trust is rebuilt to the initiallevels (Mayer et al., 1995:713). In some instances, the trust breakercan seek to neutralize the discourse that is deemed to have createdthe distrust dialogically (Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:2). They canalso use a combination of the strategies as a means of highlightingthe positive nature of their actions and those of their persona(Fuoli &amp Paradis, 2014:14). To accomplish such tasks, they needto be manifested through the use of dialogic engagement and theevaluative or useful language respectively. According to the modeldeveloped by Mayer et al. (1995:730), the communicative objective ofthe two discursive strategies is to offer improvements to thetrustor’s assessments trust breakers ability as well as theintegrity and benevolence, and finally, trust repair (Fuoli &ampParadis, 2014:14).

2.4 Linguistic Approaches to Blame Avoidance

There are variouslinguistic approaches to blame avoidance. Most of such texts relateto the cases of political and bureaucratic communications. Variousscholars have developed distinct approaches that can be used tohighlight the importance the most appropriate texts. According toWodak (2006a), a pragmatic approach to blaming as well as denial canwork in most political scenarios. The concept of the blame can beanalyzed as a feature of conflict in various ways. Some of themethods that arise in this case include discourse analysis,argumentation analysis, speech act theory, conversation analysis, andrhetoric. In most instances, it is evident that blame and denial arestrategically organized to ensure positive self-presentation. For allpolitical office holders, it is necessary to develop the mostappropriate communication mechanism depending on the issue at hand aswell as the reaction of the population (Hansson, 2015:2).

Politicians andoffice holders are usually faced with the task of holding debates orquestion-and-answers sessions. They have to develop a particular wayof arguing as a means of convincing the audience that the officeholders are not responsible for the trust that has been broken. Thisis aimed at ensuring that the blame is transferred to otherindividuals or in most instances, the official is deemed to havecommitted no offense (Hansson, 2015:2). The first step, in this case,involves developing argumentative motives for the purpose ofmanipulating the perception of loss and the perception of agency. Theformer is accomplished through by declaring the non-existence of aframework to blame others due to the diminutive nature of the offensecommitted. The latter, on the other hand, involves the argument thatthe harm that occurred was unintentional and involuntary. Theshifting of blame is one of the most common strategies within thepolitical arena (Hansson, 2015:2).

The analysis ofthe shift of blame arguments includes the integration of thepragma-dialectical approach (Hansson, 2015:4). In this kind ofanalysis, one will tempt to shift the blame using thepseudo-argumentative backing of claims. In other instances, the useof argumentative fallacies can be utilized in ensuring that certainpremises of rational decision making are entirely neglected. Some ofthe arguments that fall under this category include trajectio inalium which involves shifting the responsibility of the individualresponsible for the offense, argumentum ad hominem that involvesattacking the character of the opponent as a means of discreditingthem, and the use of unclear and ambiguous language (Hansson,2015:4).

Other argumentsinclude the straw man that works by misinterpreting the position ofthe opponent, post hoc/ ergo propter hoc in which the claim indicatessome degree of equality between temporal sequence and casualty, andargumentum ad populum (Hansson, 2015:4). The latter argumentconcludes that the proposition being made is true because it appealsto a larger percentage of the affected population. Finally, theargumentum ad misericordiam appeals to the feelings and emissions ofthe audience thereby leading them to make favorable conclusions onthe matter of discussion. In other instances, the arguments involvethe deflection of blame is characterized by the use of topoi. Thisrefers to quasi-argumentative shortcuts and content related warrantsthat are more likely to connect the prevailing argument and claim(Hansson, 2015:4). At the same time, the plausibility of such aconnection can be questioned quickly.

When thearguments are to be utilized in the political scenario, the topicwill be applied to justify the existing positions by providingfamiliar places rather than substantial evidence. When such astrategy is put in place, the other groups are regarded as thescapegoats as they are blamed for causing trouble and disrupting thestatus quo as well as the political discontent (Hansson, 2015:7). Atypical example in which scapegoats are used in the political scenesis the declaration by those in authority that they were following therules when a particular harm occurred. This process is known asapplying the topos of law. According to the civil servants,therefore, the damage in question is deemed to have occurredinvoluntarily. Therefore, is anyone is to be held responsible for theoutcome, it should be the individuals who passed the legislationsthat were strictly adhered to during the process and resulted in theharm. Most politicians have mastered the art of identifying the mostappropriate argumentation strategies in analyzing the steps taken bythe executives in their attempts to avoid blame.

Lakoff (2008)argues that thinking is not rational at all times. In addition tothis, the human brain does not automatically produce criticalreasoning. As such, it is useful to analyze the discursive means ofblame avoidance among the executive members of the government(Hansson, 2015:7). The individuals are also encouraged to focus onthe reflexive modes of reasoning as well as the related strategies ofargumentation and emotional persuasion. The primary rationale ofavoiding blame is to prevent being seen as a villain. Rather, theleaders want to be depicted as heroes. For this reason, most of thegovernment officials caught in various forms of scandals tends toargue that they are heroes or the helpers of the heroes and theyshould be treated as such.

The scholars havealso developed the “Bad Apple frame”. According to this approach,the blame is shifted within an organization (Hansson, 2015:4).Working on the argument that one bad apple spoils the barrel, it isbelieved that once the individuals within an organization have beendeemed as lacking moral uprightness, and then there is a highlikelihood that the institution will be corrupted in the end.Therefore, when the personnel of an organization engage in activitiesthat are considered to be immoral and illegal, then the reputation ofthe entire institution is deemed to have violated the standard rulesof operations. The Bad Apple approach that was developed by thescholars works in two significant ways (Hansson, 2015:4).

The firstinstance is aimed at protecting the organization and the prevailingmodes of operation and as such, when the bad individual is dismissed,there is a certain level of redemption and the team proceeds with itsdaily activities. On the other hand, the method is utilized infinding the target of the organization to blame. In the latterinstance, all other members of the organization escape once a targetwithin the agency has received the blame (Hansson, 2015:8). Thisapproach is deemed to be effective because it takes intoconsideration the conceptual metaphors such as morality is purity andimmorality are rottenness as well as the hero-villain ideology. It isfor this reason that most institutions respond to major accusationsby convicting an individual or a group of few people rather than makethe necessary corrections to the flawed system of operation.

Another criticalcomponent in the analysis of blame avoidance techniques is throughthe denial mechanism (Hansson, 2015:8). Rejection is regarded by mostspecialists as the preferred mode of reaction to blaming. However, itcan be passed in various forms. The social defense strategies includethe following goal denial, intention denial, act denial, controldenial, and finally mitigations when describing the adverse actionsthat may have been committed by another individual. In the act denialtype, one rejects their involvement in the above issue (Hansson,2015:7). In addition to this, they are likely to state that they werenot aware of the occurrence of the particular event. The controldenial mechanism, on the other hand, is based on the declaration ofthe harmful event was not planned. Rather, it is deemed to have beenan accident. The intentional denial is utilized in instances in whichthe target claims that his message was misinterpreted, and the publicgot the wrong meaning of what they meant to state in the first place.

Goal denialrefers to an instance in which one declares that they did not engagein the activity as a way of obtaining the expected outcome. Theyargue that they did not know that things would take a turn for theworst (Hansson, 2015:5). They, therefore, argue that they shouldindeed be considered to have played no role in the harm that occurredto the larger percentage of the population. Finally, the concept ofdowntoning and using euphemism is deemed as an effective strategy formost of the executive office holders when indicating denying theirinvolvements in particular occurrences. The above-stated denialmechanisms are utilized by the targets to absolve themselves of anyform of blame by transferring the responsibility to other individualsthat are deemed to have played a role.


This part of thepaper will conduct a review of the transcript of New Jersey GovernorChris Christie’s press conference following the revelations thatsome of his employees had been involved in the traffic snarl up thatsubsequently affected the delivery of most essential services to theresidents of Fort Lee. Through the integration of blame avoidance andtrust repair discourse, the analysis will take into considerationvarious aspects of the message and the target audience on which themessage was expected to have a considerable impact in the long run.

The first part ofthe analysis will be based on the linguistic approaches of blameavoidance that were used by the governor in trying to deviate theblame from him and his office. The strategies discussed in thisregard included arguments, framing, denial, representation of theactors and actions, legitimization, and manipulation (Hansson,2015:1). After that, the analysis will focus on the approachesdeveloped by public administrators towards blame avoidance. In termsof trust repair, the paper will concentrate on the two majorcommunicative actions that include neutralizing the negativity andemphasis on the positive. Additionally, this section of the paperwill integrate the three major concepts that are relevant to thetopic, and they include ability, integrity, and benevolence.

3.1 Ways of Arguing

This strategy ismore efficient in televised events as was the case of the pressconference by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. There are twoprimary reasons for making argumentative moves to facilitatemanipulation. The New Jersey Governor used the perception of agency.According to this framework, the blame is passed onto someone else inan attempt to exonerate the primary individual in charge ofoperations. The governor, in his speech, declared that the actions ofsome of the people on his team had left him embarrassed. This was ablame game tactic by the chief executive of New Jersey. By declaringthat the closure of the George Washington Bridge that connects NewJersey and New York was not his doing, the governor has alreadyshifted the blame to his staff.

The statement “Iam embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people onmy team,” (Washington Post, 2014) is a declaration by the governorthat the residents of Fort Lee should not blame him for the closureof the bridge thereby curtailing the delivery of essential services.The governor uses the argumentative fallacy of trajectio in alium inwhich he transfers the responsibility of the event to two of hisformer staff members. He states that, “this morning I`ve terminatedthe employment of Bridget Kelly, effective immediately,”(Washington Post, 2014), to inform the public on the name of thepublic officers in the cover up.

3.2 Ways of Framing

In the politicalexecutive cases, the role of villain and heroes has a substantialeffect on the performance of trust related issues (Hansson, 2015:4).In most instances, the occupants of such offices want to be regardedas heroes. The governor reminds the public that he has always been aneffective leader and will continue to be so. His statement, “I comeout here to this office where I`ve been many times before and I`vecome out here today…” (Washington Post, 2014) is meant toconvince the press that he is still the leader they elected and hismorals have not changed. The Bad Apple frame works efficiently. Thebelief that actions of one member of staff can ultimately indicatethe rotten nature of the entire organization features prominently inthis case (Hansson, 2015:4). The Office of the Governor was regardedas one of the most tight-knight staff within the region. In hisspeech, the governor declared that, “since the time I was, I`ve engendered the sense and feeling among the peopleclosest to me that we`re a family, and we work together and we telleach other truth, we support each other when we need to be supported,and we admonish each other when we need to be admonished”(Washington Post, 2014). However, it later occurred that one of theindividuals that played a significant role in the Bridge Scandal wasa senior officer in the office of the governor. The governor wastherefore forced to address this issue, and he indicated that he wasindeed disappointed by the fact that someone from within the closeknight group had played a significant role in ensuring that thesaboteurs had their plan. To highlight his disappointment, he statedthat, “I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in thatcircle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust”(Washington Post, 2014). By declaring that only Bridget Kelly wasinvolved in the conspiracy, the governor was working on the premisethat one rotten apple (Kelly) was not an indication that the entireteam (The Governor`s staff), was indeed bad. His was a technique inwhich a single target was identified to carry the blame so that atthe end of the day, every other individual within the team wouldescape the responsibility.

Bridget Kelly wasdeemed as the scapegoat despite the possibility of other personswithin the close-knit group having played significant roles inensuring that the closure of the bridge came to fruition. Thegovernor also declared that the termination of Kelly’s employmentwas meant to be immediate as a means of highlighting the seriousnesswith which the issue had been taken into consideration. The immediatenature of the action was intended to reassure the public that thegovernor was doing all in his powers to ensure that the issue wasresolved, and those found culpable had faced the necessaryrepercussions. “I`ve terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly,effective immediately” (Washington Post, 2014). By using the term‘immediately’, the governor is reminding everyone of theseriousness of the issue at hand.

3.3 Ways of Denying

Denying is one ofthe most commonly used means of defenses. In this case, one arguesthat they had no involvement in the outcomes that transpired(Hansson, 2015:5). In other instances, the argument is based on thefact that the scenario culminated out of an accident and as such, noone should be held accountable. In some cases, one may argue thatthey were misquoted, and did not exactly mean to say or be involvedin the actions that transpired. Another way of denial entails turningthe table on another person so that they are considered to have beenresponsible for the harm that occurred.

Chris Christieuses various techniques of denial in his speech regarding theactivities that unfolded at Fort Lee with the closure of the bridgethat denied the delivery of service to most of the locals of thearea. The first type of denial is the act-denial. In this case, thegovernor states that he had no involvement in the occurrence despitethe fact some of his staff were found to have played prominent rolesin the outcome of the day. He declares that “…there`s no way thatanybody would think that I know about everything that`s going on…”(Washington Post, 2014). In addition to this, he states that he didnot authorize any of his employees to partake in the planning andexecution of the illegal activities that were meant to sabotage theoperations of the mayor of Fort Lee through the closure of the GeorgeWashington Bridge. To back his claims, the Governor indicates that heonly heard of the retribution at the moment when it was reported inthe daily papers. In this case, the Governor states that he shouldnot be accused of having had an involvement in the outcomes since heplayed no role in the activities that culminated on that particularday. He later claims that he knew it was a traffic study and as suchwas not aware of other plans to close the bridge.

Another form ofdenial involves passing blame to the victim (Hansson, 2015:5). Inthis case, the governor shifts the blame to his staff. He claims thatKelly Brigit and his former campaign manager known as Bill Stepienwere the individuals who were involved in sabotaging normaloperations at the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey andNew York (Washington Post, 2014). The responsibility is transferredto these two individuals who are regarded to have played asignificant role in the scandal. When one of the news reportersquestions the governor about the rumors that many other people couldhave been involved in the planning and execution of the activitiesthat were witnessed on that particular day, he states that he wouldonly interview the senior staff since they are the ones that aredirectly required to report to him on a constant basis. Despite thegovernor indicating clearly that he had no role in the activities, hegoes ahead to state that the two employees that had been involved inthe planning and execution of the strategy had been relieved of theirduties.

3.4 Ways of Representing the Actors and Actions

This is one ofthe ways of avoiding blame (Hansson, 2015:6). Under this form ofanalysis, individuals tend to focus their attention on exclusion andthe background of the potential individuals to be taken for blame.Vagueness is also a strategy that is introduced as a means ofavoiding personal and institutional blame risks. This involves theuse of euphemism (Hansson, 2015:8). In the case of the New Jerseygovernor, it is evident that he is trying to exonerate his officefrom blame by naming a few of the employees that were involved in theevents of that particular day.

The governor wasin the past a U.S Attorney. However, when questioned whether thescenario would be able to attract the attention of the currentattorney in terms of investigations into the conduct of theemployees, he dodges the question by using a personal example. Inthis regard, he states that during his time at the attorney’soffice, one of the things he hated most was the contribution ofpoliticians into his line of work. And in contour with this custom,he would not be able to tell the current attorney what to do. In anutshell, the governor had failed to answer the questions that hadbeen directed at him. Instead of providing a legitimate argument,Christie declared that he was unsure whether the actions of his staffhad merited the involvement of the law enforcement agencies. Withregard to the role of the attorney, the governor responded that,“when I was U.S. attorney, I hated when politicians stood behind apodium and said this is what the U.S. attorney should or shouldn`tdo, and I`m not going to engage in that kind of conduct at all”(Washington Post, 2014).

Vagueness occursat the moment the governor declares that he has been questioning hisstaff regarding their knowledge of the series of events that led tothe closure of the George Washington Bridge that connects New Jerseyand New York. Despite the fact that such efforts had not bornereturns in discovering the role of Kelly Brigit on the scandal, thegovernor deems it fit to continue with the same plan. In anotherinstance, he is reminded that he has over 65,000 employees andinterviewing each of them would take a lot of time and resources.Additionally, only between five and seven employees from his innercircle are believed to have been involved in the scandal. Therefore,the additional interviews would not add any value to the governor andhis team. As such he should consider other avenues that would lead toimproved decision-making outcomes. When questioned whether he wouldinterview all his employees by one of the journalists, the governorreplied by stating, “yeah, the senior staff” (Washington Post,2014).

The governor alsoweighs in on the rebellious nature of the mayor. This was in responseto whether he had sabotaged the activities of Jersey City Mayor Fulopon political grounds. The governor states that even though the mayorvoted for the Democratic candidate rather than him, he holds nogrudge against him. To stereotype against the mayor, he states thatthere have been a lot of conflicts surrounding him (the mayor). Hegives an example of disagreements between the mayor and the SenatePresident. This is aimed at indicating that the governor is not thesource of conflict, rather, it is the nature of the mayor to beinvolved in feuds with all individuals. The mayor intends to vouchfor himself when he declares that his government had in the pastapproved the disbursement of $190 million of EDA financing tofacilitate the completion of projects in Jersey City despite theexisting feud with Mayor Fulop. In terms of the mayor’srelationship, the governor states that “Mayor Fulop seems to behaving a lot of disagreements with lots of people — with me, withthe Senate president and others” (Washington Post, 2014). However,“the political relationships in this state go up and down(Washington Post, 2014).

3.5 Ways of Legitimizing

This process ofavoiding blame uses the concept of justification of outcomes bygiving the examples of particular institutions (Hansson, 2015:7). Insuch instances, the government officials will identify the legaltenets whose provisions allow for the activity to occur. Activitiesthat are deemed to have gone against the moral code of conducts areusually countered by a pool of legitimizations to declare thelegitimacy of the occurrence. The four categories for legitimizing inorder to avoid blame include authority legitimization, moralevaluation legitimization, rationalism legitimization, mythopoesis(Hansson, 2015:7).

The authoritylegitimization of blame avoidance involves making personal referencesto the status or role of an individual, references to traditions andconformity and commendation. The New Jersey Governor in mostinstances, reminded the press gathered that he had occupiedleadership positions over the years and was, therefore, experiencedenough to manage his territory effectively. Despite his long serviceto the nation in different capacities, at no time had he ever beenfound to be involved in any form of conspiracy. He reminded them thatas the governor, he had the mandate to ensure service provision tothe electorate. This was to disregard the party positions that hadbeen taken in the past. Democrats and Republicans were to receiveequal services since it was their right. Therefore, the governor usedhis status and previous positions as a leader to refute hisinvolvement in the scandal. In this case, he reminds them that he hasbeen the governor for some time and he is focused on servicedelivery. He is therefore disappointed as the chief executive sincewhat transpired is “not the environment that he’s worked so hardto achieve (Washington Post, 2014).

The moralevaluation legitimization of blame avoidance involves the integrationof the assessment, analogies, and abstractions to legitimize aparticular occurrence. The governor apologized to the electorate andthe residents of Fort Lee for the closure of the bridge at a timewhen the delivery of services was disrupted. He also indicated thatthe employees who had committed the crime did not have the needs ofthe people at heart. They had no moral authority to participate inthe activities as this would lead to an adverse outcome in the longrun. By stating that the employees had faced the requiredconsequences for their roles in the outcomes, the governor waspassing the blame to other individuals and justifying his decision todismiss the employees for not adhering to the moral code of conductthat is expected of them.

Rationalizationlegitimization uses reference goals as well as the effects ofinstitutionalized social actions (Hansson, 2015:7). It alsoincorporates the natural order of things. The governor stated that hewas disappointed at the realization that part of his staff had playeda role in the closure of the bridge. Despite the fact that he wasaccused of being a political bully, the governor declared that hisoffice could not be used for vendetta. He was charged with ensuringthe efficient delivery of services to all and sundry within hisjurisdiction. The governor declared that the actions of his twosenior employees had gone against the natural order of events, and hewas therefore disappointed that the individuals he had trusted themost to facilitate the delivery of his promises to the electorate hadplayed a significant role in curtailing his mandate to the public.

3.6 Ways of Manipulating

Manipulation isone of the means used by the politicians to escape blame. This formof blame avoidance is applicable in various major areas of operations(Hansson, 2015:8). To begin, it is utilized by the government toreproduce their power and hurt the interests of the less powerfulgroups. The governor was put in the spotlight when he was questionedabout his management skills. It came to light that he was amicro-manager and has over the years maintained a tight-knit group ofindividuals that he trusts the most. These are the people that he hadcomplete confidence in and as such communicated on a constant basis.When questioned whether the betrayal by the tight group indicatedthat he was not in control of the going-ons within his office, herejected being a micro-manager. Additionally, when asked about hisjudgment regarding whether the placing of cones on the road to changea couple of lanes was legitimate, he declared that he did not knowwhat a legitimate traffic study entailed. Despite the fact that hehad been a U.S attorney for a substantial period, he had the audacityto lie that he did not know various legal extracts.

The governor wasable to manipulate his audience by claiming that he was not involvedin the plan to actually close a few lanes along the bridge therebyleading to traffic snarl-ups and the delays in the delivery ofvarious essential services to the residents of Fort Lee. By selectingBrigit Kelly and Bill Stepien for criticism and subsequentlydismissing them from services, the office of the governor had focusedon exonerating itself from blame and passing the responsibility tothe two individuals. With this, the public would have beenmanipulated into believing that the governor had acted according tohis powers. In the real sense, however, this problem might have gonebeyond the two employees, and they were just implicated to avoidfurther conflict within the office of the governor. Finally, thisdecision exonerated the governor from blame and maintained hisreputation as an effective leader who could not be compromised undergiven conditions. Through his speech, the governor had thereforeattempted to manipulate his audience into believing that he had norole in the events of the day. With regards to the closure of thebridge, he declared that he “knew nothing about the closure untilit started to be reported in the papers. But even then he was told itwas a traffic study” (Washington Post, 2014)

3.7 Approaches Developed by Public Administrators towards BlameAvoidance

Holders ofgovernment positions have over the years used four primary strategieswhen attempting to exonerate themselves from blame (Hood &amp Lodge,2006:13). These plans include winning the argument, drawing a line,changing the subject, and keeping a low profile. Under winning theargument criteria, the individual focuses on the provision ofplausible excuses and justifications. While admitting the existenceof a problem, they acknowledge that someone else was responsible forthe outcome (Hansson, 2015:8). There are three types of denial inthis case, and they include total problem denial, partial problemdenial, and the denial of a problem supplemented by a counter-attack.Regarding drawing a line, the individuals come out with an apology atan earlier stage to close the door on any forms of criticisms thatmay arise at a future date. The officeholder may also change thesubject of discussion to shift the blame from the public agenda.Finally, keeping a low profile has been identified as one of the waysof avoiding public scrutiny (Hansson, 2015:8).

In the case ofNew Jersey Governor, he felt that the most appropriate way to win theargument was by denying his involvement in the activities of the dayas well passing the blame to some members of his staff. Additionally,he held a press conference to exonerate himself from blame byindicating that the necessary investigation had already commencedestablishing the conducts of a few individuals. Concerning drawingthe line, the governor started the press conference by offering anapology to the residents of Fort Lee and any other persons that mayhave been affected by the occurrences that were witnessed on thatday. In this regard, the governor stated that “I apologize to thepeople of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the statelegislature” (Washington Post, 2014). This was aimed at diffusingthe influence of the critics since it can be argued that the governorhad been able to show a given level of remorse to the unfortunateevents. In addition to this, he had taken the necessary reactivemeasures by dismissing two former employees despite the fact thatthey were part of his close-knit group. This showed that the governorwas committed to ensuring that the issue at hand had been resolvedand those found responsible dealt with appropriately.

At one particularpoint, the governor changed the subject of discussion by talkingabout his management skills and the fact that the Jersey City mayorhad been involved in various conflicts in the past. When talkingabout the latter, the governor stated that the closure of the bridgewas not as a result of the mayor’s decision not to support hisre-election bid. He argued that he was just one the individuals thatthe mayor had disagreed with. The closure of the bridge was,therefore, a matter of coincidence and had no connection to theexisting feud between the governor and the mayor. Additionally, whenasked about the role of his employees in the scandal, he denied thathe was a micromanager as had been believed by many individuals. Hestated that all his employees were left to accomplish their taskfreely as long as their duties were within the provisions of law. Hehad confidence to in them and as such, he was rather disappointed bythe actions of Brigit Kelly and Bill Stepien.

The relationshipsbetween blame avoidance and trust repair are evident in the discourseaimed at renegotiating the broken trust. Just as a person is likelyto deny their involvement in a crime so as to avoid blame, the sameindividual can seek to neutralize the negative in the trust repairdiscourse. The latter involves the use of a dialogic involvement. Instarting his speech, the governor stated that “there`s no doubt inmy mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completelyunacceptable and showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role ofgovernment and for the people that were trusted to serve”(Washington Post, 2014). This statement aims at arguing his caseeffectively at the audience while also ensuring that he tries toneutralize the negative effects of the decision to close the bridge.

Another majorsimilarity that shows the association between blame avoidance andtrust repair is the strategy utilized by the public administrators.Winning the argument and changing the subject are some of the mostcommon policies that have been witnessed within the public domain. Inhis press the governor stated that he was “embarrassed andhumiliated by the conduct of some of the people on his team”(Washington Post, 2014). In this case, two conclusions can be maderegarding the statement. The first one indicates that the governorhad not role in organizing and executing the plan that culminated inthe closure of the George Washington Bridge. Additionally, he isdeclaring that the decision by some of his employees to engage inillegal activities went against his beliefs and he is remorseful. Themessage has been tailored in a way that it defends the governor whileadmonishing the employees. The use of the words embarrass andhumiliate, go a long way in diverting the blame from thegovernor while also ensuring that his reputation is not negativelyaffected.

By manipulatingthe thinking of his followers, the governor is able to avoid blameand build the trust of the electorate in his performance. He uses hispast performance to highlight his role in developing his area ofjurisdiction. By stating that “I think over time I have developedthe reputation for telling you all the truth” (Washington Post,2014), the governor reminds people of his excellent performance. Overtime is used by the governor to indicate that his integrity is acontinuous process and as such, the electorate should have faith inhim and trust his judgment. Additionally, this is not only aimed atexonerating him from blame but also assuring the people of New Jerseythat his government has their best interests at heart. The governoralso uses the word see in order to protect his administrationfrom any form of blame with regards to the closure of the GeorgeWashington Bridge. The schematic representation of “…as I see it– there could be disagreements, but the truth as I see it”(Washington Post, 2014) is shown below.

Figure: SchematicRepresentation (Fuoli&amp Paradis, 2014:13)

Epistemic Modals

The relationship between trust repair and blame avoidance ishighlighted further in the use of the epistemic modals. These are asub-type of linguistic modals utilized in the analysis of thespeaker`s judgment as well as their degree of confidence. It alsodetermines the belief upon which a statement is based. Examples ofsuch words include certain, think, and believe. They are used toestimate the likelihood that a particular outcome will be true orfalse. For example, the governor states that “I brought my seniorstaff together I think about four weeks ago tomorrow”(Washington, 2014) in his press conference. The choice of wordsindicates that the governor wants the public to believe his words torepair the broken trust. Additionally, the use of epistemic modal isaimed at avoiding blame by highlighting the steps taken by thegovernor in dealing with the issue at hand. In this case, it is usedto showcase that the governor is stating the truth.

Expression of Attribution

Attribution refers to the process of identifying an individual to beresponsible for a particular occurrence. It also involves assigningan individual some quality. The governor used various expressions ofattribution such as “say” and “claim.” These words are aimedat pointing the focus on another individual. For example when thegovernor declares that “I don`t know what else to say exceptto tell them that I had no knowledge of this,” (Washington Post,2014), he is attempting to show remorse for the outcomes. This canwork by repairing the trust between him and the electorate as well asabsolving him from blame. Evidentiality also features in thegovernor’s statement. This is an epistemic modality that shows thespeaker’s assessment of the evidence. It indicates a surety that agiven action has indeed occurred. Some of the words under thiscategory include “hear”, “show that”, and “see.” When thegovernor states that, “Certainly, you know, hearing thestory would be good for everybody,” (Washington Post, 2014) he isindicating that he is sure of the results. This not only repairstrust between him and his supporters but also enables him to avoidblame.


From the aboveanalysis, it is evident that there is a significant relationshipbetween blame avoidance and trust repair. This is more important whentaking into consideration the civic officers whose performances arebased on the public perception. Such individuals regard the conceptof trust to be a major indication of their evaluation. Therefore,they will go to greater lengths to ensure that any factor that wouldsignificantly affect their public approval ratings is eliminated atthe earliest opportunity. This ensures that they remain in the goodbooks of the public. The similarities between blame avoidance andtrust repair are related to the point that some of the strategiescomplement one another for the purpose of achieving the desirableobjectives among the public administrators.

There is a closerelationship between the types of denial and some of thecommunicative actions taken by the government officials. One majorcharacteristic of the latter is the neutralization of the negative.Under this variable, an administrator uses dialogic techniques tofocus on his strong points at the expense of the arguments forwardedby other persons. This ensures that they are in a stronger positionto prove to the public that they have done the right thing. Byemphasizing on the positivity, the public officials can improve thelevel of trust among the public. In the same regard, one can avoidblame by legitimization and denial. Through blame avoidancetechniques, the individuals refute their involvement in the act thatsubsequently led to the outcomes experienced in the long run. Thisensures that the blame is placed on another party, and they continueto be in the same public platform as they did before. From both casesof trust repair and blame avoidance, it is evident that theperception of the public on a given public office holder can nosedivein case no action is taken to restore the faith of the voters on thecapability of a given individual.

The study hasindicated the existence of a relationship between blame avoidance andtrust repair. This is evident in some of the strategies utilized bythe public administrators in order to avoid blame. The expectedoutcomes in such instances are focused on ensuring that blame is notforwarded against a specific officeholder. The neutralization of thenegative elements of the events and focus on the positives are twoconcepts under trust repair that are in close association with thestrategies of avoiding the blame such as arguing, framing, anddenying, and manipulation.

The trust-repairdiscourse model used by the governor had three major levels ofanalysis namely the sought effect, communicative action, anddiscourse-as-text. Sought effect uses language in terms of the socialcontext of the speaker. It identifies the main communicative goal ofthe trust-breaker. In this case, the governor had sought to make hisstand known with regards to the role of some of his employees. Thetrust breakers (TB) were Kelly Brigit and Bill Stepien. The secondlevel is known as communicative action. This is the part that wassignificantly evident in Governor Chris Christie’s transcript forthe press conference. He neutralized the negative outcomes byapologizing and showing remorse. Additionally, he emphasized on thepositive by indicating the necessary steps that he had taken toensure that all those responsible for the controversy had faced thenecessary consequences.

The governorutilized various appropriate techniques of blame avoidance, the majorones being arguments, denial, framing, legitimization, andmanipulation. Other strategies that have been utilized by thegovernment administrators include winning the argument, drawing aline, alteration of the subject of discussion, and keeping a lowprofile. In the case of the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, thefirst two were the most common strategies utilized. Blame avoidanceand trust repair are therefore closely associated since they are allaimed at ensuring that the reputations of the officeholders are nottainted.


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