NYC Mayor de Blasio and NYPD lock horns in crisis after murder of two cops

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ran as an unabashed liberal, in a city steered to the right during the administrations of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg.

While he praised the need for police and acknowledged how difficult their jobs can be, he also supported proper policing and pushed back against Giuliani’s “broken windows” law enforcement strategies.

Then Eric Garner’s killers escaped a grand jury indictment and, on Saturday, two NYPD officers were gunned down in their squad car in Brooklyn by an obviously deranged career criminal who had delusions of making up for the death of Garner in Staten Island, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.

Now New York City is in crisis, and the repercussions are being felt nationally.

Some crises offer clear routes to calmness. Others seem like a blind person heading through a minefield. This is one of the latter.

Even as Sony hired the real-life Olivia Pope — Judy Smith — as it deals with the backlash of its movie cancellation at the hands of North Korea-backed hackers, de Blasio faces overt rebellion in the ranks of police officers.

No one watching the video of more than 200 officers and detectives who turned out spontaneously Saturday to salute the bodies of the two murdered officers can blame their anger. For as long as anyone can recall, police did a thankless job. They seldom got noticed for their good deeds and their mistakes — many of them profound — seemed magnified.

As one who has ridden in the back of a police car to witness what the job is like, you can easily understand the distrust and anger felt toward de Blasio.

But as Jon Stewart said the other night, you can support police officers, recognize the difficulties they face, and still demand the highest professional standards. These are actions that presumably do not include the choke-hold takedown and death of an unarmed black man for selling loose cigarettes.

de Blasio faces an immense challenge and this crisis will not ease until police who hate his politics and demonstrators who hate seeing black men slain needlessly are heard.

The biggest key to easing this crisis is likely perseverance.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Sony torched by nation state hacking, a mess of all messes

It makes you long for the clearly defined lines of the Cold War, when Hollywood could mock the evil Soviet Union and its leaders because, well, they were evil and they couldn’t do anything about it.

Now Sony, which made a farce about assassinating the leader of North Korea, faces at least $50 million in immediate losses and an absence of revenues from the movie “The Interview,” for the next year. Wednesday the hacked movie maker suspended its Christmas release.

Target and others have suffered crises due to hackers. But this, ascribed in media reports by U.S. cyber experts as directly tied to North Korea, is a crisis of a whole different league.

A rogue state with its own set of bizarre values, even one as poor and backward as North Korea, is way out of the league of most corporations, even Sony, to contend with.

How has the company handled this crisis, which started with embarrassing revelations of private emails leaked by the hackers about President Obama and several actors?

So-so. It’s mostly responded with statements, though one of the most embarrassed top executives did do some interviews. And, it’s easy to see why. Not a lot of companies get hacked by a nuclear nation.

“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like,” Sony said in its statement.

That’s a pretty strong statement. And, there is surely a lot of sympathy for Sony and growing indignation that real or empty terrorist threats would kill a movie. But on the flip side, how can any responsible movie company, or theater company, not take those threats seriously?

“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” the company said in a statement. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”

The company added that it stands by the filmmakers and “their right to free expression.”

One can quibble here. Apparently, the company didn’t care a hoot about the filmmakers’ right to free expression because it caved — and properly so — in the face of pressure against that very free expression. I’d have left that line out.

“Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film,” a Sony spokesperson said when asked about a digital or VOD release.

The movie, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, is a comedy about a supposed interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un which the CIA adapts to an assassination.

Obviously, North Korea did not see that as funny.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Cosby crisis so deep and convincing there’s no way out

Comedian Bill Cosby has as much chance restoring his reputation as a slab of Jello does surviving a clutch of famished five-year-olds.

He’s toast. As he should be. The only question is when will a district attorney find the guts and gumption to turn the Cosby story from a daily cable TV horror show into a criminal prosecution.

There has been discussion of what, if anything, Cosby can do to “survive” this crisis. While some well-meaning experts suggest the rules of crisis management, Cosby’s in too deep, for too long, with too many allegation against him, to survive.

The facts of the cases are one thing; the perception is even worse, if that’s possible. Cosby will suffer even more because his reality is the extreme opposite of his persona. Cliff Huxtable and the hilarious comedian could not be further from the truth of an alleged serial rapist who his accusers say used his celebrity and connections to prey on unsuspecting women — some of whom no doubt believed him to actually be a funny, friendly, upstanding, fatherly type in a bad sweater.

Thanks to Eric Mower for flagging a link to a PR Week piece by Ron Anderson that discusses what a brand can do when its spokesperson turns villain. Cosby, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Tonya Harding David Letterman, Paula Deen, and a host of others went from hero to scoundrel in a matter of days, posing immense problems for the brands paying these celebs to promote them.

And in some cases, the most effective responses work. Get the facts out fast; be complete; demonstrate total transparency; sit down for interviews with no rules and answer every question until the reporters fall to the ground, worn out by the asking; apologize and take responsibility. All good.

But in this crisis, none of that is going to help. Cosby’s done.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

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Rolling Stone apology over UVA rape article not enough

Rolling Stone published a story recounting a woman’s allegations of gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia.

There is no doubt that sexual assaults and rape are a hideous problem at every college campus. These are serious, heart-rending issues that must be dealt with effectively by students, parents, college administrators and law enforcement. And, the fault in this story lies not with the alleged victim of sexual assault, but with the reporter and the magazine’s editors, all of whom failed to properly vet the facts.

But this is about stupid journalism. Publication of investigative stories must reach the highest standards of journalistic care — because usually the allegations are so serious and potentially damaging to those targeted that all facts must be 100 percent accurate.

Rolling Stone failed to meet those standards and thus was forced to apologize for shoddy reporting and incorrect facts. The story nonetheless led to student protests at UVA and, 100 percent right or wrong, will probably bring much-needed reforms to that and other universities.

The crisis in sexual assault on campuses is widespread and speaks to too much drinking, lax enforcement, a boys-will-be-boys attitude and a host of other, larger societal issues.

The crisis for Rolling Stone and its reporting is to its credibility. The magazine issued a thorough apology, but the damage is done. In addition to apologizing, it would do well to bring in a panel of experts to review its editing procedures. It needs to do much more than express sorrow.

As Yvonne Abraham wrote in The Boston Globe, this is, indeed, a disaster for everyone.

The destructive fallout goes beyond one woman’s suffering. The Rolling Stone story, which had helped make it all but impossible to ignore the scourge of campus sexual assault, is now going to do the opposite. Because now, emboldened by this one possibly fabricated story of rape, the chorus of people who believe women routinely make these things up will grow louder.

It already has. You could see them doing their happy dances in the comments below the Post story, which, a couple of hours after it went up, looked a lot like 1950. If it turns out to be entirely false, Jackie’s story will join other fake narratives — the Tawana Brawley debacle, the accusations against the Duke lacrosse players — as weapons for those moral cave-dwellers who would have you believe that women “cry rape” all the time for attention, or revenge.

The managing editor, Will Dana, deserves credit for admitting the lapses. Other publications and broadcasters in similar positions were not as forthcoming.

But this is a self-inflicted wound. The crisis was totally avoidable. Maybe it was with more staffing and more experienced editors. Maybe it was with less pressure on all print publications to make splashes of relevancy in a digital world. Maybe it was demanding corroboration from other sources, more in-depth reporting. And maybe, the reporter and publication needed to maintain skepticism about every source, every time.

What reforms will Rolling Stone incorporate into its editing process to make sure this can’t happen again? In other words, what internal audit will it perform — as it would expect the targets of its investigations to utilize — that reforms the magazine?

There is a crisis of sexual assault on American college campuses — where women go to learn and grow and where they should be safe — as well as in society at large. It needed a credible story to focus on the human impact of these assaults, not one that went up in flames.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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When weather crisis hits your backyard with the nation watching

People living in Buffalo tell each other that snowfall — however intense and long-lasting– is always better than hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes and wild fires. Because it melts.
As anyone outside of Buffalo with a weather jones knows, in the last 24 hours towns in a region as little as a mile from downtown recorded 50-60-70 inches of snow in 24 hours. The New York State Thruway — in the Woodstock cry of Country Joe MacDonald — “is closed, man,” from the Pennsylvania line to Rochester. Authorities attributed five deaths to the storm, which is expected to continue on and off for another day or two, possibly adding as much as two feet in additional snowfall.
At the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, where the U.S. Weather Service officially records snowfall, 3.9 inches fell. Two to five miles south and east, 25 times as much snow fell.
This is all the result of a phenomenon known as “lake-effect snow.” In short, when strong, cold, westerly winds blow over Lake Erie the moisture collected from the warm [44-degree] lake turns into snow. How much you get depends on the wind’s direction.
As you can see from this picture of downtown Buffalo’s waterfront yesterday, the wall of snow is south of the city limits. What makes this storm extraordinary is that the “snow band” sat in the same spot for 24 hours; hence the buildup for everyone living behind that wall, or south and east of the lake.
This constitutes a crisis for any community and good communications is essential. Political leaders, from Buffalo Mayor Brown to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, learned long ago to get out front fast. Cuomo, at the request of the mayor and county exec, called out the National Guard Tuesday to help remove the snow, free trapped motorists and make sure everyone is as safe as possible.
Media, especially social, television and radio, have kept a drumbeat of information and warnings flowing. Obviously, in the hard-hit areas, travel is restricted and people are staying home from work and school.
But it is a serious situation and while not as widely life-threatening to most as a hurricane or earthquake could be, it’s nothing to take lightly. A 48-year-old man died in his car, which was covered with 10 feet of snow, possibly plowed on top of him. Whether exhaust fumes or lack of oxygen killed him, there are real dangers out there.
Political leaders must step up, put public safety first, and enforce sensible laws — as they have in this case.
One aspect of coping with this storm is that it started around 7 p.m. Monday, when people were home from work and school. Past storms caught people mid-day or middle of the afternoon and offices and schools were crammed with people looking for food and lodging. Also, snow is light and most places have retained power and heat. Thus life’s essentials are present and people just have to wait it out.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.
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Did Red Cross let PR trump shelter and food, or is critical story very thin?

When Americans throw around adjectives like “venerable,” “respected,” and “committed,” those words most often refer to organizations like the United Way, branches of the military, the service academies and the Red Cross.

Yet all of these suffered various scandals over the last 15 years, and now it’s the Red Cross’s turn. As Pro Publica and NPR reported on the second anniversary of hurricane Sandy, the Red Cross apparently worked at least as hard burnishing its own reputation as it did helping storm victims find shelter, food and hope.

These findings come from the very Red Cross employees most involved with trying to get

aid where it needed to go.

“It was just clear to me that they weren’t interested in doing mass care; they were interested in the illusion of mass care,” says Richard Rieckenberg, who helped lead the Red Cross’ response to Sandy and Hurricane Isaac.

Ouch.

Hits like this go right to mission and reputation. Americans are endlessly generous, especially in times of great national catastrophe. But they are equally furious if they feel scammed or lied to.

So how did the Red Cross respond to this attack on its credibility and reputation? Pretty darned well.

Yesterday  it issued a Myth/Fact news release that went into extensive detail on each charge in the story. The release even takes on the main “whistleblower” in the Pro Publica report and fights back with the best weapons anyone can use in such a situation: Facts.

Myth: The American Red Cross cares more about its image and reputation than providing service to those in need

Fact: Our mission is to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies, and that alone is what guided our service delivery decisions during Sandy and during every emergency. With the help of our donors and 17,000 workers – 90% of whom are volunteers – we delivered 17 million meals and snacks, 7 million relief items, and hosted 74,000 overnight stays in shelters to people who urgently needed our services.

Every year, the Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters, most of which are home fires that never make headlines. If the Red Cross cared more about image and PR than providing services, we wouldn’t spend time responding to these silent disasters.

And, here’s an especially effective rebuttal:

Myth: The Red Cross allowed sex offenders in shelters

Fact: The Red Cross has policies and procedures in place to handle the presence of sex offenders in shelters and works closely with law enforcement in the shelter management process.

Shelter registration forms ask if people are required to register with the state for any reason. If the answer is “yes” the shelter manager must speak with the individual immediately. If a shelter resident is identified as a registered sex offender, the Red Cross will work with local law enforcement to determine what’s best for the safety of those in the shelter.

There was at least one situation during Sandy where a shelter resident identified someone who he/she thought was a sex offender. When this was brought to our attention, we brought in additional resources and handled the matter.

We provided this information to NPR and Pro Publica, and they chose not to include it.

It’s not clear what effect this story will have on Red Cross fundraising or effectiveness, but if the story accuses the organization of using PR the wrong way, it should give the Red Cross credit for employing PR and crisis management the proper way by using facts to rebut its critics.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Face facts, Ebola is not a crisis in America, so let’s look at real ones

America’s Ebola “crisis” prompted concerns, created some needed awareness here and about the real problem in Africa, and was otherwise stupidly magnified by 24/7 cable television and Election Day next week.

But Ebola is not a crisis. A handful of people in America were exposed to the disease, and one died. Others either never had it, or recovered. Here’s just one of many thoughtful editorials about the disconnect.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the agency critics seem to think has failed in dealing with Ebola — there are many more causes of death politicians and cable news anchors could get lathered about. These include, for 2011, the latest year available:

187,464 people died from injuries;

46,047 from poisoning;

33,783 from motor vehicle accidents;

32,351 from firearms;

Not that these causes are ignored by politicians or the media, but they show what a non-crisis Ebola really is, at least in America.

A nurse from Maine, who returned from West Africa to a forced quarantine in a New Jersey hospital, would seem to have every right to protest. She never had Ebola, nor its early symptoms. These are irrational fears. They do not constitute a crisis.

If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie really thinks he’s “protecting the people of New Jersey,” by quarantining nurse Kaci Hickox and that’s his highest priority, he ought to be walking the streets of Trenton, Newark and Paterson to help crime victims.

Preparedness is positive. Training health-care workers to keep them and their patients safe is smart. Acting like nearly 300 million Americans face imminent threat from Ebola is exaggerated and irresponsible, a craven play on fears to boost ratings.

You want a crisis? Look to Chicago’s gun wars; Detroit’s poverty; Miami’s drug running; San Diego’s immigrant challenges.

Let’s not overuse the word, lest we don’t recognize a real crisis.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

 

 

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