Clinton email mess avoidable 18 months ago

The FBI director scolded. The pundits pounced. Trump trumpeted. And crisis managers continued shaking their heads sadly, their inner souls singing: I told you so, I told you so.

In the end, for all the criticism, hours of video, billions of electrons and miles of newsprint involved in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s improper use of a private email system, the FBI determined she broke no laws.

Return therefore to March 2015, when it became publicly known Clinton used unsecured private servers for State Department emails. She held a news conference at the United Nations and purportedly answered all the speculation about her email use. But she did not. She shaded, obscured, feinted and disassembled. Watch and she barely makes eye contact with her audience. As I wrote at the time, even she doesn’t believe the hooey she’s selling. The result? None of the pressure on her to “come clean,” dissipated.

And then to September 2015, when she finally apologized for her email habits during an interview with ABC News.

Nine more months passed — months filled with her political opponents painting her as a criminal — and we have the FBI’s verdict. Extremely careless. Improper. Clueless, even. And, some would add, stupid and arrogant.

In her March defense, she said there were no rules against what she did. That’s like saying there are no rules against letting a dish towel get too close to the burner on a stove, but it’s common sense that it’s not a good idea.

Point here is that if Clinton had done the right thing, stood up and taken her lumps — in March 2015 — and even used exactly the language FBI Director James B. Comey did yesterday, the controversy would have deflated. Admissions from her that she was stupid, arrogant and wrong likely would have relegated it all to the basement of political criticism.

What might have happened if, at the March 2015 news conference at the U.N., she’d said what Comey said yesterday? “A person in my position ‘should have known that an unclassified system was no place’ for the emails I was sending.” If she’d said that, apologized and not tried to blunt and stall and pretend her actions were something other than they obviously were, she would have eased and possibly ended the crisis.

Mark Twain once said about doing what’s right: “That will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”

It’s staggering that a person of her intelligence and experience could not see that, could not see fit to take responsibility for her failings and admit those to the American people. Is her ambition to reach the White House so blinding that she can’t see reality as it swarms her?

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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Baylor, Starr make sex abuse crisis worse

Worst ever.

That seems the overwhelming consensus on former Baylor University President and Chancellor Kenneth Starr’s “performance” in an interview last week.

Starr, who was forced to step down, along with the Baptist school’s athletic director and head football coach, is embroiled in a football player sex abuse scandal that’s shaking the broader college community.

Starr, you might recall, is no stranger to major media exposure. It was his 1998 report that alleged that then President Bill Clinton lied during a deposition that he’d had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. This led to Clinton’s impeachment.

Thus as the world turns did Starr find himself in a mess at Baylor. The question in the interview where his handler blew up his image revolved around an email sent by a rape victim. A TV reporter asked if he’d seen the email. Amidst all his hemming and hawing about how many emails he gets and how many he actually sees, it’s pretty clear that an email with the Re: line of “I was raped at Baylor” is memorable.

But for all Starr’s fumbling and mumbling, the key to this interview blowing up was his crisis manager, Merrie Spaeth. First, she was introduced to the TV reporting team as a long-time family friend. That’s subterfuge right there, since she worked in the Reagan White House and owns her own PR firm. Then, she actually interrupted Starr’s interview, twice, really, to change how he answered the question about the rape email.

Whether the university or Starr personally retained Spaeth, this was a huge blunder. If you can’t prepare your subject for an interview and then get out of the way, you’re both under water. If the rape email question surprised Starr, he should have asked for more details and said he did not remember getting it, but that he would get back to the reporter after he reviewed the information.

It’s obviously a disaster for Starr, the university and Spaeth. And it was totally avoidable.

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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Kane, McCoy cases in Buffalo show different crisis responses

Buffalo’s a huge sports town. The television ratings for its woeful but improving Buffalo Sabres are nonetheless cresting near the top of the NHL standings.

People follow athletes in Buffalo like soccer players in Barcelona or skiers in Austria.

It’s instructive then to look at two of Buffalo’s higher-profile pro athletes and consider how each dealt with his own crisis.

First, LeSean McCoy, star running back for the Buffalo Bills, traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Bills in 2015. On the night of the Super Bowl, McCoy and some friends apparently got into a ruckus at a club with two off-duty Philly cops.

No charges yet filed; no clear indication of guilt; no comment from McCoy; no action either way by the NFL or the Bills.

Let’s turn then to Evander Kane, star Sabres forward who missed Monday’s practice because he was in Toronto late Sunday for the NBA All-Star Game. His coach, Dan Blysma, benched Kane from tonight’s game in Ottawa.

Kane today apologized for his mistake.

“First and foremost, I want to apologize to my teammates for letting them down,” Kane said. “Me missing practice yesterday was irresponsible and I take full accountability for my actions with what happened.”

No doubt Kane’s transgression and punishment are two on a 10 scale compared to McCoy’s, who could be charged with aggravated assault.

But there are many things McCoy could say that would not impinge on his criminal defense, should he need one, and still demonstrate that he cares about his teammates, the Bills organization, owners Terry and Kim Pegula and the fans.

Prosecutors and the courts will decide if he did anything criminal. But McCoy also should worry about his reputation and his future standing with the team. After all, some media and fans have called for his release, something that could cost him millions of dollars.

Added Kane today: “I wanted to apologize to my teammates, the Pegula family as well, our coaching staff and general manager,” he said. “It’s something that should have never happened. It’s something that I can promise you won’t happen again and it’s something that I’m definitely going to learn from.”

Along the same lines, how might this sound from McCoy?

“While I must wait for all the facts to come out in this case, I want to apologize to the Bills organization, the Pegulas and our fans. I cannot say much about what happened, but I can take responsibility for causing distress and concern to so many people who have supported me over the years. I’m confident I only acted in self-defense, but I acknowledge that a person others rely on and see as an athlete worth emulating should not have been at that place at that time.”

Maybe McCoy could learn a few pointers from Kane.

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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Managing QB Manning’s ‘crisis’ over HGH

We won’t know for some time, if ever, who’s telling the truth about allegations that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning used human growth hormone when recovering from potential career-ending injuries a few years back.

And, given the sorry history of Lance Armstrong and many others, it’s not worth speculating or taking sides. Today’s Washington Post, in advance of Sunday’s 50th Super Bowl, and possibly Manning’s final game, dives deep into what transpired around the controversial Al Jazeera report.

But what is clear is that Manning is taking no chances with his reputation, hiring lawyers, private investigators and one of the most high-profile crisis managers available, former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Why?

Because if you don’t like Papa John’s pizza, or you’re not one of the millions who can’t get the Nationwide Insurance jingle out of your head, then surely you understand that Manning stands to make as much or more money in the next decade as a TV pitchman and possible NFL commentator as he did on the field.

For Manning – a long-time media darling perceived as one of the NFL’s best, as well as one of it’s ‘good guys’ – much is at stake.

What has his investment returned?

At least he has a smart crisis manager. If you read the Post story, Fleischer walks several fine lines, commenting and appearing transparent when he can, but retreating behind health disclosure laws when he needs to. He plays the crisis management game at the same high level Manning does in the NFL.

This certainly beats what we call the ‘Death Strategy,’ delay, deny, deceive. Or, the more frequently used duck, cover, no comment approach. Both are devastatingly bad.

Manning previously had a squeaky clean reputation, which is why many of those accused with him faded into the background in follow up stories. No one wants to believe this aw shucks guy with the golden arm fell victim to the ethical failures and cheating that drove many others to sacrifice integrity for money. And at this point, no one can say he did.

But as one would expect from a Super Bowl quarterback, he’s mounting a good offense.

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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Flint water a huge problem for Michigan’s governor

Politicians don’t have it easy these days. But sitting office holders who upset the populace usually face impeachment [see, Governor of Maine, Clinton, Bill] or a well-financed opponent in the next election.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder is in a class by himself. Residents of the hard-bitten city want him arrested.

In case you’ve missed this mess, and according to mlive.com, Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint earlier this month because of the city’s lead in water crisis, apologizing for the state’s role in rising lead levels in Flint water and in the blood of young children.

The city changed its water source from Detroit’s source to the Flint River in April 2014. Following the switch, residents began complaining about discoloration and the water’s taste and smell. The city initially struggled with bacteria levels and the presence of a disinfectant byproduct, TTHM, in the water. The city eventually switched back to receiving water via the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which gets its water from Lake Huron. Those developments all occurred while the city was being run by an emergency manager appointed by the governor, mlive.com reported.

Earlier this week, Snyder called out the National Guard to help distribute bottled water to residents. Now comes word that 87 cases, 10 fatal, of Legionella bacteria were found in the Flint area, though any connection to the water crisis is unclear.

When government fails to meet its base obligations — chief among them maintaining public safety — residents will be furious. And they will be emotional, especially when their children are at risk.

This won’t be an easy crisis to solve. The governor can’t blame others; he can’t feign ignorance; and he can’t pretend the problem is exaggerated. Apologizing, which he did, is a good start.

But unless he finds a quick and lasting solution, his best move may be to resign.

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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Amazon belatedly responds to New York Times takedown of its employee culture

Jay Carney, now the global vice president for corporate affairs at Amazon, served as President Obama’s press secretary. He knows about quick, factual responses to crisis issues.

Thus his — and Amazon’s — languid approach to finally countering a New York Times August 15 takedown of the web retailing giant’s work culture is paradoxical.

jayCarney’s seemingly calm, but devastating, rebuttal — replete with facts about the named sources in the Times’ diatribe that seriously question the newspaper’s and its reporters’ professional ethics — is smoothly effective.

As a former Time [singular] reporter, Carney knows the journalism business and the culture. He systematically dismantles the story’s most dramatic testimony against Amazon.

For its part, the Times trots out the usual journalistic red herrings. The reporters spent six months on the story; they interviewed more than 100 people; Amazon is ruthless and says so itself. None of it undermines Carney’s body blows. The newspaper’s defenses so far feel more like explanations of why this was a newsworthy story — which no one disputes — than a factual girding of the reporters’ methods and writing.

But the problem with Carney’s rebuttal is that it comes more than two months after the original story ran. Not only did more than 2 million Times readers [print and digital] have a chance to read the original story, but it was a shared sensation across social media and the web. Conclusion: Amazon is a modern slave driver.

Amazon founder [and Washington Post owner] Jeff Bezos did at the time make some reactive comments about the story, defending his company. But they were pro forma and not specific enough to matter.

Carney’s counterpunch, however, was on the nose. But he threw it so late one has to wonder what effect it will ultimately have in changing readers’ perceptions of Amazon’s culture; and, it begs the question of why.

Clearly, Carney and his team needed to dig into the story’s charges, track down the former employees and fact-check their stories. You don’t want to rebut The New York Times with half the facts. He also probably had to run the whole thing by corporate lawyers, since the piece includes release of an email from one of the reporters to an Amazon official that publicly undresses the reporter’s motives and ensuing hypocrisy.

We’d commend Carney and Amazon for getting out the facts and in an effective vehicle. But they failed in the other half of the “facts fast” equation — to the company’s detriment.

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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Planned Parenthood not yet crisis free, but doing a lot correctly toward that goal

When videos surfaced in July of a Planned Parenthood official from Southern California discussing the costs of supplying fetal tissue for research, the outrage was quick and the crisis immediate.

But Planned Parenthood — and especially its president, Cecile Richards — built an effective and aggressive crisis-management response.

Image result for cecile richards planned parenthood congress

First, the organization that supports and promotes women’s health, detailed the facts. As The New York Times reported:

Of Planned Parenthood’s nearly 700 health centers nationwide, only two — one in California and one in Washington State — supply fetal tissue to researchers, and only the one in California has been getting reimbursed, the organization said.

Next, Planned Parenthood had experts examine the video taken by an unabashed opponent, and put out a report showing how it was edited to maximize the anti-Planned Parenthood effect. While not a third-party assessment, it helped supporters find reason to stay the course.

Then Richards stepped to the fore and on the cusp of Republicans threatening to close down the government over Planned Parenthood funding in the federal budget, she went before two Congressional committees and presented facts with aplomb.

While it’s difficult to find neutral observers in this fight, after her testimony the Republicans opposing federal funding for the group did not achieve the votes to pull it, or to shut down the government in protest.

Then, on Tuesday, Richards announced that Planned Parenthood would halt supplying any fetal tissue to anyone. This is smart. And while the organization is a long way from salvation on this issue — five more Congressional committees plan to hold hearings — it maneuvered through this crisis as successfully as anyone might have expected.

“This is Planned Parenthood standing strong, saying that we are not going to be bullied, even by five congressional committees, into walking away from important research and women’s desire to donate,” said Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of the group. “We are not going to stand around getting flogged with false accusations for something that’s never been our motivation to participate in tissue donation.”

It’s a good case study on what to do.

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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