If you saw New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the news last week, you saw an example of true leadership in the face of a crisis.

And you saw something else: A staunch Republican and critic of President Barack Obama react with grace and cooperation to a visit from the Democratic commander in chief.

It's a little difficult to imagine our governor doing the same thing if the president offered federal computer security help for our recent Internet unpleasantness. Our governor would probably say something about how South Carolina doesn't need federal help, and thanks but no thanks.

Now let's be clear: Nobody has died as a result of the cyberattack here, so it's nothing like the devastation wrought by Sandy in New Jersey and the rest of the Northeast.

But every citizen who filed a tax return in South Carolina since 1998 — 3.6 million of the 4.6 million estimated population (according to the 2011 census figures) — has the potential to be affected by this security breach for years to come.

It is an unfortunate way to spotlight our state on the national stage.

And it's been revealing of the governor's crisis-management skills.

Blame game

Call it gravitas, call it maturity, call it whatever you want, it's the quality that separates a good leader from a great leader.

And Gov. Haley won't make the leap if she can't get over her disdain for the press, or at least set it aside for the good of the citizens of South Carolina.

To insinuate that the press broke the toll-free help hotline by calling it too much was clumsy. Reporters are South Carolinians too, and have a right to register for the service the same as anyone else. (Though anybody trying to steal a journalist's credit identity is likely to be largely disappointed.)

To tell the media that coming to talk to them in the daily news conferences is the thing she hates the most about this event was an understandably human reaction, but also probably not the best plan.

Perhaps she thought better of that, or somebody on her staff did, which is why she responded to a social media request for stories about identity theft. That's human and relatable.

Unfortunately, it doesn't change the fact that she delayed releasing the news about the hacking for two weeks, or the seeming total lack of outreach to the elderly and other populations for whom registering online for credit monitoring may not be a viable option.

And even now, more than a week later, we still don't know exactly what information the hackers obtained, how they got in, or the extent of the damage.

That's the challenge of the leadership role, to be relatable and authoritative. She has to rise above this stuff.

To see her stumble through what could be the biggest crisis of her governorship so far should be food for thought for those contemplating a role for her on the national stage.

One thing she did right was cancel her scheduled campaign appearances for Mitt Romney. You have to take care of problems on the home front first. That message seems to have gotten through loud and clear.

When contacted this year about antagonism between politicians and the media in South Carolina, Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, said this tension always has existed.

Red herrings

Public officials are afraid that at the end of the day, or at the end of the next tweet, they will come out looking stupid. And with daily fact-checks, there's some justification for that. Nobody likes to have their integrity impugned, as Bierbauer noted.

“You can ask the same question in a more brusque fashion or a more genteel fashion,” he said. “But that doesn't detract or diminish from the objective.”

So it's expected that then-state Rep. Haley would be antagonistic toward the media when in the final weeks of the gubernatorial election they are asking her about alleged extramarital affairs.

It's even understandable, from a parental perspective, that she might be a little miffed when people ask how her teenage daughter got her job at the statehouse gift shop this summer when we were averaging 9.5 percent unemployment.

But to throw out red herrings and beat up on the media during a time of crisis is ill advised. Because at some point, you have to prioritize leadership over petty problems.

Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.