Stephanopoulos steps into controversy over Clinton Foundation contribution

Oops.

ABC newscaster George Stephanopoulos stepped into some doodoo this week. And he compounded the odor and error by being forced by media inquiries to admit he contributed $75,000 to the foundation of his former boss, ex-president Bill Clinton. Who’s been in the news lately a bit because his former First Lady wants the top job.

georgeThis really is not a crisis, for Stephanopoulos or ABC, certainly nothing like NBC is still contending with about anchor Brian Williams.

It’s a reinforcement that cable and network anchors are really more entertainers, or even news readers, than journalists.

The New York Times story today sums up the issue perfectly:

WASHINGTON — Even after more than a decade as an analyst, anchor and public face for ABC News, George Stephanopoulos has never been able to shake the image that many Republicans have of him: Clinton hatchet man.

That image was glaring to the Republican strategists who blocked him from moderating a debate last year in the Senate race in Iowa.

It was the elephant in the room in 2011 when, after an interview that Mitt Romney’s advisers saw as especially argumentative, Mr. Stephanopoulos visited the campaign’s headquarters to try to reassure them that he was impartial.

And it has nagged at the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, who has told people repeatedly that he does not want the anchorman anywhere near a debate stage in 2016.

On Thursday, the question of Mr. Stephanopoulos’s political leanings and his future as a leader of the network’s campaign coverage spilled out into the open as he acknowledged donating $75,000 to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation over the past three years. He withdrew from playing any role in a planned Republican primary debate on ABC and called his donations an “uncharacteristic lapse.”

“I’m sorry because I don’t want anything to compromise my integrity or the standards of ABC News,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything that would raise questions in the minds of our viewers. I’m sorry all of that has happened.”

Once a pol, always a pol?

Come on, George. Did you honestly believe that giving money to the Clintons was a good idea, even at the time? Wasn’t it closer to, “I sort of have to do this, but I hope I don’t get caught?”

This wasn’t a lapse in judgment. It was a judgment. In five figures.

People contribute to charities for many reasons. They support the cause. They want to take a tax write off. They want to feel good about themselves. They want to sit at the head table at the annual gala, or have their name on the new building on campus. But there’s almost always a return on investment. You get your name listed with all the other high rollers.

What Stephanopoulos tried was to have it both ways — Clinton confidant and supporter and “objective” network anchor.

There is somewhat of a double standard here, but it’s only worth mentioning as a footnote. If Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity contributed $75,000 to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library or even the Romney Family Foundation [if there is such a thing] no one would blink. But then they don’t pretend to be objective.

Not smart, George. You got caught.

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 eight 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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Jeb Bush should know better than to take a hypothetical question

What family has had more media exposure and experience in the last few years than any other?

OK, if you said the Kardashian/West/Jenner clan, I can’t fault you.

But somewhere in the top two or three has to be the George H.W./Barbara/George W./Jeb Bushes.

And what any of them should know, and one of the key rules we emphasize in EMA’s media training, is you don’t answer a hypothetical question.

Whether it’s Barbara Walters asking what kind of tree you are, or Megyn Kelly on Fox asking about invading Iraq. Stick to reality. Ask me about here and now.

That’s why it’s so confounding to see the most recent contretemps involving the erstwhile Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor. Even Dubya would have gotten this one right.

And what reinforces this view is that he got the answer right — the second time, 24 hours later.

As MSNBC recounted: The story began on Monday, when Fox News aired an interview between Bush and host Megyn Kelly, in which she asked him whether “knowing what we know now,” the former Florida governor would have authorized the invasion of Iraq.

“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,” Bush said.

Later in the day, after the you know what hit the you know where, he back pedaled, claiming he didn’t understand the question, arguing he was being asked if he’d have made the same decision in 2002-03, as his brother did.

Here’s how The New York Times characterized Bush’s mop-up efforts the next day on Fox’s Sean Hannity radio program:

Image result for jeb bush megyn kelly

“I interpreted the question wrong, I guess,” Mr. Bush said. “I was talking about, given what people knew then.”

The attempt at mopping-up was quick, but it did not bring the controversy to an immediate end: When Mr. Hannity asked about the 2003 Iraq invasion again, in yes-or-no fashion, Mr. Bush said he did not know what the answer would have been, saying, “That’s a hypothetical.”

Then, he seemed to go out of his way to absolve his brother, former President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion: “Mistakes were made, as they always are in life,” Mr. Bush said.

It was the third time in six weeks that Mr. Bush had to back pedal, offering a stark reminder that despite his deep political ties and his family’s history in elected office, he remains a novice on the national campaign trail.

Allies believe that Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, has had to contend with an unfair level of scrutiny that no other Republican has faced. Though his team still lacks formal structure, Mr. Bush is generally more visible than, say, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who entered the race for the Democratic nomination in mid-April but has not taken reporters’ questions in three weeks.

But for Mr. Bush, the last six weeks have been a bracing reminder that helping a relative run for president is not the same as running yourself.

Mr. Bush, who is said to take a dim view of his Republican rivals’ leadership qualities, prides himself on his candor, authenticity and ability to work without a script, and his skills as a candidate have noticeably sharpened. But he has repeatedly paid a price for straying from his briefing notes.

Rookie or not, if you get a hypothetical question, here’s a good way to answer:

“That’s hypothetical, Megyn, and no one can rewrite history. Obviously, Iraq did not turn out as anyone would have liked. But looking back on it now, I believe that Americans served there with honor, and we upheld the principals this nation was founded on.”

Hypothetically, at least.

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 eight 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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Last week, Tom Brady had a problem; today he’s up to his hips in crisis

You know the story: NFL star quarterback Tom Brady, the hero of the New England Patriots’ decade of success, was caught cheating. He knew of or ordered deflated footballs in the AFL Championship game in January.

Rather than come clean, accept responsibility and take his punishment — a four-game regular season suspension, pending an appeal — he stonewalled and disassembled. He appealed to his fans and his base and let his agent and family talk about how outraged everyone was.

Image result for tom brady

Look around Camp Brady, if you plotted the outrage on a map, you’d have the rights to a loyal, supportive blue section of eastern New England, while the rest of the country is angry red.

Sure, we dislike the Patriots for their improbable success on a stupid call by Seattle in the last Super Bowl. But like the Yankees, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Tiger Woods and any other dominant, smart, aggressive sports franchise, we’re jealous of their success.

Nonetheless, Brady played this one like he couldn’t hold on to a wet football. He withheld evidence. If he is really as innocent as he claimed, show investigators your texts and emails. No? Then the hammer comes down.

Said team owner Robert Kraft: “Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league … Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”

Well that would make sense — if Brady would stop withholding evidence.

And what’s all the more amazing for the NFL is the penalties against the team and Kraft. Two lost draft choices, including a first rounder that could have located the next Brady, and a $1 million fine.

What choice did the NFL have? It has to be as hard on its stars as it is on its felons.

The issue now, however, is Brady. He had a window last week when he could have apologized, gone proactive, admitted that he sought to gain an advantage he should not have had. Fans would understand. How much holding goes on that’s never called? How sticky are the gloves receivers wear? Everyone seeks an edge. It’s America.

But Americans have little use for liars, especially those — the emperor has no clothes — who continue to profess innocence and should about unfair accusations, when 99 percent of the world sees the facts as they are.

He is severely risking his reputation, his legacy and his entire image.

Pete Rose is still waiting for the Baseball Hall of Fame to call.

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 eight 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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Tom Brady has a reputation problem, not a crisis, and it’s solvable

The “Deflategate” report is out, and at an inflated 243 pages — plus footnotes — finds New England Patriots quarterback and three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady lied about his involvement and hid evidence that might have incriminated him even more.

Is this a crisis? No. This is football. Police officers shooting to death unarmed black men is a crisis. The Syrian civil war is a crisis. ISIS is a crisis. Global warming is a crisis.

This is a hit to Brady’s aww-shucks persona, his up-by-the-bootstraps success story and his fairy tale life with a mega-model wife and homes that look like they belong in Victorian England. Not to mention his exquisite success throwing footballs, in- or de-flated.

The report concludes Tom Brady probably cheated by using under-inflated footballs, breaking NFL rules and gaining an unfair advantage in the AFC Championship game last January, prior to winning the Super Bowl.

Image result for tom brady footballs colts game

Is this Mark McGwire cheating? Lance Armstrong cheating? No. And compared to what is perceived as rampant use of performance enhancing drugs by NFL players, the ongoing crisis of player domestic abuse and the overall criminality of some players, this isn’t even the league’s biggest issue.

But it might be for Brady. As Juliet Macur writes in The New York Times:

What we know for certain is that the investigators’ report taints his résumé, which might be hard for some fans to believe.

Sorry, folks. So much for the feel-good story of a player drafted in the sixth round out of Michigan who turned out to be a star and seemingly could do no wrong. After Wednesday’s news, that story line has taken a sharp turn. It’s turned depressing, actually.

Brady’s more-probable-than-not involvement in deflating those footballs means that he had lost faith in himself as an athlete and in his ability to accomplish amazing feats on the strength of his talent alone. It shows that he — the Patriots’ trusty No. 12 — has been doubting himself.

The saddest part of all this is that this scandal will diminish his legacy, which is a pity. Could Brady have thrown all of those touchdown passes in the playoffs with fully inflated footballs? It’s more probable than not.

What should Brady do? Immediately? What he should do is not have surrogates — owner Robert Kraft and Brady’s agent Don Yee — disparage the report, the distinguished team the NFL hired to do it and try to blame everyone but the team and Brady.

What he should do is call a news conference, admit he was aware the balls were deflated, admit, if it’s true, that he asked for that, and take his likely three- or four-game suspension with grace and humility. Come clean, accept responsibility and take the hit.

Don’t duck, or hide behind semantics or dice facts, as he did prior to the Super Bowl.

This is not a felony. Everyone at every level in every sport has tried to gain an advantage over an opponent by bending rules. It’s human nature. We argue calls at first base when we know the runner was out. We need cameras to separate fact from fiction about a receiver catching the football before it hits the ground. We fight with the chair umpire about a tennis ball being in or out, to our advantage; or at least we did until computer-aided cameras settled those issues. Offside in soccer is still a mystery and a fertile place to gain unfair advantage.

The quickest way to restore and maintain Brady’s reputation is to accept responsibility, admit the wrongdoing, pledge to never do it again, and move on.

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 eight 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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Fresh dose of social media reality: Prepare for the crisis caused by a hoax

Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and New Balance running shoes found common ground this week that had nothing to do with working out, something Reid, a former boxer, is known for.

They each were thrown into crisis because of a hoax, a complete fabrication, lies. All the result of social media access and manipulation.

nbProbably the more damaging was the Twitter post yesterday that used the Baltimore rioting as a backdrop and inserted New Balance as “Official sneaker of the 2015 Baltimore looters.”

Somewhere, one idiot thought that was funny enough to take down a whole brand’s reputation with a hoax.

Some people saw it and started ripping the company on Twitter. Company spokespeople responded quickly and assured everyone this was not true. But it took hours to reverse the hoax’s momentum.

Image result for Sen. Harry Reid

For Harry Reid, who for most of the winter wore a bandage over his right eye, the hoax was more personal and briefly just as damaging. A critic of a conservative blog called Power Line, called the blogger to complain. That morphed into pretending the critic witnessed Reid’s brother at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Nevada bloodied and talking about a fight with a  family member.

The blogger, with some qualifications, went with the story that Reid and his brother had gotten into a major fight, resulting in the senator’s eye injury, plus broken ribs and other injuries Reid [secretively] had not divulged.

Given what passes for political misbehavior these days, this would not have led to any real problems for the former Senate majority leader, even if it were true. But to have your family depicted that way is no joy. The critic/blogger source said he wanted to embarrass the conservative blogger and show how poor his ethics were. This only raises a question about whether ethics are relative. A hoax is a hoax.

There are obvious lessons here for the rest of us, and they’re all scary. Most of us can understand a “legitimate” crisis caused by a natural disaster, embezzlement, theft, malfeasance, carelessness, or even stupidity. But when one individual, seeing a picture of a man wearing New Balance walking past a burning building, can fabricate that into a corporate takedown, no one is safe.

New Balance reacted quickly and effectively and turned the mess into a crisis of hours, not days. And the most relevant measure of crisis management is time containment and duration.

But we’re years past the days when someone with the New Balance takedown idea called a newspaper, radio or television reporter and tried to peddle lies. Those reporters, if it even got that far, would have called the company for comment and confirmation and never done a story.

These days we believe almost anything we see on social media — in Reid’s case the Las Vegas Sun actually unmasked the hoaxer/AA source — and one person can throw whole companies off their game. Think about stock price manipulation; CEO removal plots; potential criminal charges; consumer boycotts; and on and on.

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 eight 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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What was Bud Light ‘thinking?’ Well, it wasn’t, that’s obvious. No means no.

Anyone in crisis management long enough will see a vast variety of outside causes: Hackers, embezzlers, liars, cheats, reprobates, felons, and, just plain stupid.

The worst crisis cause is a self-inflicted one, the dummy. There are plenty of outside forces conspiring to throw your company into a crisis that cuts sales, prompts a recall or destroys your well-constructed reputation. Avoid at all costs the crisis generated from within. It’s the only one you can control.

[Full disclosure, Eric Mower + Associates represents several competing beer brands, but this post is not about beer; it’s about social media and marketing that causes a self-inflicted crisis.]

Bud Light, as part of its national campaign of throwing unsuspecting guys into party central, decided to add a new slogan. At its most benign, it’s still only marginally acceptable. But given the appropriate furor it generated on social media yesterday, it is demonstrably ridiculous.

The slogan? “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”

budAre you kidding me? Wait, April Fool’s was four weeks ago, I guess you’re serious.

This is bad on so many levels. I’ve been in dozens of great brainstorming sessions for clients. If a team at Eric Mower + Associates, and every other agency and company I can imagine, were to try to add a new level of zing to Anheuser-Busch-InBev’s “Up for Anything Campaign,” that line would have been laughed at as a cynical, ludicrous joke. It never would have made it on to a sticky, much less out of the conference room.

It’s unfathomable that this actually could have made it through multiple levels of approvals and onto beer labels. Who ran this brainstorm? The partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?

Given the national furor over date rape, fraternity and drinking excess and generally rude behavior — frequently by the demographic Bud Light appeals to — it’s even more amazing. Should we take the “no” out of drunk driving?

Further, what this does, in practical terms, is unmask as puffery all the “drink responsibly” work by the world’s largest beer maker.

How bad was it? The slogan attracted this comment, according to The New York Times, from Congresswoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.:

“This grossly shortsighted marketing tactic shows an epic lack of understanding of the dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption, such as sexual assault and drunk driving. We need responsible companies to help us tackle these serious public health and safety problems, not encourage them.”

Self-inflicted crisis? Keep the “no” in those.

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 eight 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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Have to love a CEO who makes ice cream, and says he’s sorry in a crisis

What’s not to like about ice cream? OK, too much deliciousness adds L-Bs. But we still enjoy it — operative word being “joy.”

That may be, at least in part, why we like the effort by Blue Bell Creameries of Brenham, TX, surrounding its recall of all its products due to bacterial contamination that sickened people in Kansas. With warmer weather arriving and Blue Bell selling products in 23 states — it’s the nation’s third-largest ice cream producer — this is a major hit for the company.

One proven way out of a crisis like this, especially a public product recall covering half the country, is to speak out, take responsibility, pledge and then deliver improvement and apologize. It often earns a public benefit of the doubt.

President and CEO Paul Kruse issued a 36-second video apology yesterday. Even it is folksy and sincere, looking like it was filmed a little hastily in the company’s office lobby as cars pass by outside. But it works.

kruseIce cream is often regional, due to realistic limits on shipment durations, and I’ve never enjoyed Blue Bell, which was founded in 1907. I’m a Perry’s fan, but Ben & Jerry’s, Schrafft’s and even Breyer’s in a pinch, are also memorable. Who doesn’t love ice cream?

That’s why Kruse’s apology works. No nonsense. We screwed up. You need to be able to trust our products. Ice cream, he said, “should be a joy and a pleasure to eat.” He notes he eats some daily. [I’m one of you. I could have caught this too.]

He concludes: “We’re going to get this right.”

He’s genuine, humble and present. He didn’t send out a spokesman. He faced the issue head on.

“We’re committed to doing the 100 percent right thing, and the best way to do that is to take all of our products off the market until we can be confident that they are safe,” Kruse said in a statement.

This is the Tylenol strategy, which has recently been showing signs of age — and ageist — but it works here. Honest, forthright, determined.

“We are heartbroken about this situation and we apologize to all of our loyal Blue Bell fans and customers. Our entire history has been about making the very best and highest quality ice cream and we intend to fix this problem,” Kruse said.

I’m smiling all the way to the freezer.

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 eight 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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