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.