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Government public affairs offices have a responsibility to share information with the public, but they also have an interest in portraying their agencies in the best light.

The flacks from the Transportation Security Administration were taking a drubbing from Lynn Sweet, the veteran Chicago Sun-Times journalist. It was just before the start of a September congressional hearing looking into yet another scandal at the agency, this time involving federal air marshals procuring prostitutes and recording sex acts on their government phones. 

Sweet, who has no patience for the faux pleasantries that can smooth interactions between reporters and the people they cover in Washington, hammered them with questions: When were the employees suspended? Under what circumstances can federal managers confiscate employees’ phones? How many similar incidents at the agency are under investigation?

They’re salient questions that seasoned public affairs staff should be able to answer off the cuff, especially with ample notice. The venue was a public hearing, so it wasn’t an ambush.

Read more about public affairs officers and their conflicting loyalties here.