For pajama-clad citizen journalists, the Anthony Weiner Twitter debacle is the content gift that keeps on giving. And things are heading south for the congressman to such an extent that he had to call Bill Clinton and apologize for a sex scandal. That’s rich.
Weiner represents a very liberal and Democratic dominated district in New York. He may be able to survive this mess, especially if it turns out that he did not violate any laws. But what does this say about some of the people we elect to represent us, about the news media, and about the standard advice that most everyone has memorized now about crisis communications?
E.J. Dionne Jr. has an interesting perspective in his WaPo article, “Anthony Weiner and the tweet road to oblivion“:
At what point do we decide that a political system has become decadent?
The breaking point for me was the Anthony Weiner story, not just or even primarily for what he did but because it came at the end of what old Thomas Jefferson might call “a long train of abuses.” You really do wonder what’s happening to our democracy and those who serve it.
The Weiner circus is bad enough. Social networking has taken us where human nature always threatens to go: downward. Do we want to give politicians incentives to limit their thinking to 140 characters? Will Weiner’s experience — and former congressman Chris Lee’s adventures on Craigslist — encourage politicians to question whether constituents want anything close to the level of detail about their lives that fans expect from pop stars and marquee athletes?
Weiner’s self-destruction is a terrible blow for cable television bookers and will create a certain sadness among liberals who are short of troops willing to take it to the other side from one five-minute news cycle to the next. And let’s simply stipulate that all the negative adjectives being thrown Weiner’s way are justified.
What’s amazing is that the Scandal Management Handbook, 36th edition, offered him the perfect way out. When caught, fess up immediately, declare right from the start that you are a victim of a terrible addiction, go into treatment and disappear for a while.
You are rarely challenged these days when you take a loss of virtue and turn it into a medical condition. And you avoid the problem of encouraging your allies to defend you on a matter about which you know you are guilty. Weiner’s congressional colleagues are reluctant to defend him because they accepted his denial and feel badly burned.
The advice from the public relations handbook on how to manage a crisis is essentially as follows: take responsibility, disclose the bad news as quickly as possible, offer a sincere apology, initiate steps to correct the problem.
Weiner understood this up to a point. According to Politico, he even offered to provide PR assistance to a “porn star” and sexting buddy. Here’s from the story:
The next day, Weiner asked Lee if she needed assistance in crafting a message to put out to the press and public. “Do you need to talk to a professional PR type person to give u advice? I can have someone on my team call. (Yeah, my team is doing great. Ugh).”
It’s not clear, though, if Weiner was referring to having someone on his congressional staff help her – which might violate House rules – or wanted a private sector PR consultant to help Lee handle press inquiries. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said on Monday that she has ordered an ethics probe of Weiner and the New York Democrat said he would cooperate.
Maybe it’s time to rewrite the textbook crisis communications response to emphasize two key points that Weiner and others in similar situations apparently don’t get.
- Tell the truth
- Don’t do things that are going to trigger a crisis