Today's guest post is by former Peppercommer Jeff Kasko.
No, I’m not talking about the ex-Governator from California, but Congressman Anthony Weiner (D – Brooklyn & Queens), a smart, aggressive pol who seems pretty media-savvy and loves the spotlight almost as much as Senator Chuck Schumer does! Apparently, Weiner may have posted a lewd photo (of an aroused man’s crotch – with the underwear on) on his Twitter account for all his “followers” to see, even though it was meant only for a certain female college admirer from Seattle who he has allegedly never met.
I’m following the Weiner situation with gusto because of the mix of PR, politics, sex and new media involved. When a public official gets caught doing something stupid, I’m always interested in how they address the crisis, how they face the media piling on, and what tactics they use to protect their reputation before they face the voters again or resign in disgrace. (Full disclosure – I serve as an elected official in my hometown, and, every once in a while, I have a teeny tiny bit of sympathy for the politician facing a media onslaught. But not this time.)
As a Peppercom alumnus (2000-2002), I certainly learned a few things about reputation management and crisis communications from Steve Cody and Ed Moed (for certain clients, not the agency!). Among the basic rules:
• Answer all questions. Don’t run away and hide from your predicament.
• Take charge and own the crisis before others do.
• Don’t blame others. Take some responsibility
• Don’t lie. Be open and honest.
• Be serious and contrite and never joke around about the situation.
• Be smart and careful about using media to help you.
If I were advising Congressman Weiner, I would strongly encourage him to apply some of these basic rules before going out and trying to manage (and mangle) this situation himself. (Further disclosure – I’m a Republican and not at all interested in helping salvage or advance the political career of the newly married gentleman from New York, Mr. Weiner).
So what grade would I give the congressman for his handling of this over the past few days? An F – no question. He’s broken most, if not all, of the above rules. We’re almost a week into Weinergate and there are now more doubts and more questions about his conduct than before he went on his media tour of morning shows and cable news to try and defend himself and blame others.
Weiner says he was hacked, that this was a prank, and that he doesn’t know the college student in Seattle. But he also said he cannot say for sure whether the crotch shot is his or not. That photo — and all others he previously posted — was apparently deleted right after it mistakenly went out to thousands of his followers. And he hasn’t turned over his Blackberry and Twitter account to any law enforcement agency or asked for an investigation. This, at the same time that he was making jokes with Washington reporters for “being a little stiff yesterday.”
Things didn’t get much better this past weekend. Weiner cancelled appearances at a political party convention and the Israel Day parade in New York, and he isn’t talking to media anymore.
I don’t know if Congressman Weiner is guilty of anything regarding the photo and the tweet and the college girl. But I think the verdict is in on his recent reputation/crisis management efforts. I think it’s a textbook PR case of how not to handle a controversy.
It's almost Nixonesque (or Clintonesque, for my Republican friends out there): It's not so much the initial mistake, but the aftermath and how it's handled that makes it so bad.
I’ll be online first thing in the morning to see what he says next.