Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, no stranger to odd remarks he ends up apologizing for, is again caught in a controversy and crisis of his own making.
This time he made some off-color comments in early December about Catholics, Notre Dame and the Southeast Conference. Hasty apologies went out and were mostly accepted. The comments were inappropriate in any setting, but especially as “jokes” in a public setting.
The rule is simple. If you don’t want to see it on the 6 o’clock news or read it in the paper or see it on Facebook, YouTube or Gawker, don’t say it. Nothing is off the record. Nothing will be held in confidence. Short of a signed “do not disclose” agreement, trust no one.
Mitt Romney found out nothing is private and the 47 percenters comments probably cost him the presidency. Gee and other high-level presidents, CEOs, Congressmen, governors, mayors, etc. must learn that as well.
As the Columbus Dispatch reported Friday, cited by my EMA colleague Peter Osborne:
Gee apologized for the remarks he made at the Dec. 5 meeting of the university’s Athletic Council. He’s now on a “remediation plan,” university officials said, but an OSU spokeswoman said she couldn’t provide details.
Gee attended the meeting to talk about the expansion of the Big Ten Conference, which had just announced that it would be adding the University of Maryland and Rutgers. But he quickly swerved to Notre Dame. Notre Dame was never invited to the Big Ten because “they’re not very good partners,” he said.
“The fathers are holy on Sunday and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” he said in an audio recording provided by OSU. “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or Friday so, literally, I can say that very truthfully.”
Gee has a history of loose lips sinking his own ship.
In November 2010, he boasted that Ohio State’s football schedule didn’t include teams on par with the “Little Sisters of the Poor.” He later sent a personal check to the real Little Sisters of the Poor in northwestern Ohio and followed up with a visit to the nuns months later.
Last year, Gee apologized for comparing the problem of coordinating the school’s many divisions to the Polish army, an off-the-cuff remark that a Polish-American group called a “slanderous”display of bigotry and ignorance.
Since his most recent slip-up, Gee also has apologized to Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, who accepted the apology, said Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown. Brown called Gee’s remarks in the speech “most regrettable.”
Honestly, the smartest and best treatment of the topic came in the response from the U.S. Conference of Bishops, a group that has had a lot of practice in recent years devising smart responses in crisis.
“President Gee had the graciousness to apologize. The Catholic Church believes in forgiveness. Case closed,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh.
That is a classic A+1, as we call it in our media and crisis training. Answer the question, but then immediately add an element to the comment that furthers your argument, brand or good work.
Maybe someone actually benefitted from this 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 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.