Disgraced former CIA Director and retired Gen. David Petraeus began his rehabilitation campaign this week and received generally favorable reviews.
He resigned Nov. 9, 2012 after admitting to an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, following an FBI investigation.
To start his comeback, he waited five months and then chose an audience — the University of Southern California’s annual ROTC dinner on Tuesday — that presumably respected him for his military career, command in Iraq and Afghanistan and valued his patriotism over his extramarital events.
“Needless to say, I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago. I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing. So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret – and apologize for – the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters,” he said.
Apology is a required first step, followed immediately by taking responsibility, especially if the crisis is personal rather than institutional. He did the right thing there.
Will it help? Former Sen. John Edwards, who also had an affair, and while his wife was dying of cancer, has yet to step forward publicly to acknowledge and apologize for his behavior. Tiger Woods has taken more than three years to recover from his infidelities. Bill Clinton, like Edwards, denied and lied about his infidelities. Petraeus admitted his.
At least one expert in crisis communications said that if his apology comes across as heartfelt and sincere, the public will indeed be seeing much more of him.
“America is a very forgiving nation,” said Michael Levine who, among dozens of other celebrity clients, represented Michael Jackson during his first child molestation investigation.
“If he follows the path of humility, personal responsibility and contrition, I submit to you that he will be very successful in his ability to rehabilitate his image,” he said.
For a man with a stellar military and intelligence career who some speculated had his eye on the White House, can he rehabilitate himself enough to return to high public office or plum private sector board positions?
Remains to be seen. One guess is that he’s still “too vulnerable” for public office. Eliot Spitzer, who as governor of New York engaged high-priced hookers, has played in the media realm, but five years after his resignation has not sought public office. any Petraeus’ opponent would hammer at his hypocrisy and lies.
The other issue in Petraeus’ reputational rehabilitation is his strongest constituency. Whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican, a military leader and former four-star is likely going to seek office with a conservative base. Without over-generalizing, people who respected him as a general and would have supported him in a presidential primary may be less inclined to do so after the affair.
But if he has those ambitions, polls are no doubt underway to determine if his speech — which was widely covered and generally in positive tones — is actually restoring his positives.
His first step in several months made sense.
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 at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.