Snowden’s “Trap” for Putin Misses Its Mark

Vlad Snowden Snowdens Trap for Putin Misses Its Mark

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden is raising questions about state-sponsored citizen surveillance. No, this is not a repeat from last May. The former National Security Agency contractor, whose classified disclosures exposed a host of US global surveillance programs, is proving himself to be an equal opportunity agitator by taking aim at his homeland-in-exile, Russia, and his putative host, Vladimir Putin.

In what was widely dismissed as a propaganda stunt for the Russian president, Snowden showed up on Russian television on Putin’s annual call-in meeting with the nation. Appearing via a video link, Snowden asked Putin whether Russia spies on its citizens like the US does. The former KGB agent responded that Russia’s “special services are strictly controlled by the state and society, and their activity is regulated by law.” He added, for good measure, that Russia has neither the money nor the “technical devices” the US has.

Snowden himself followed up with a newspaper column to explain the ulterior motive for his appearance: He was hoping to trap Putin with a question that “cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program.” His motive, he said, was to spark a debate over Russia’s own surveillance programs. Fat chance of that happening in his adopted land.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden, whose naïve idealism could be his undoing.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t believe your own hype. Edward Snowden wants to expand his crusade, doubtless fortified by world reaction to date. Whether hero or traitor, though, his stature in either capacity doesn’t travel well, nor might it live long. His disclosures of US spying did, in fact, ignite an international debate. No chance of that same scrutiny happening in Russia. Nor is Putin likely to care much if Snowden’s “trap” sparks global condemnation. Just ask Ukraine.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to security firm Codenomicon and Google researcher Neel Mehta, both of whom discovered the web security bug known as Heartbleed. The bug, a flaw that allows access to user information on what was thought to be safely encrypted websites and search engines, has been around for a while, but was found simultaneously by vigilant researchers Mehta and Codenomicon. All sounded the alarm, which may have circumvented breaches in the millions.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Katherine Heigl, who perpetuated her image as a cranky prima donna with a lawsuit against drugstore chain Duane Reade. The store’s transgression? Tweeting a photo of her walking with two of their shopping bags. Heigl is a “highly recognized celebrity… When plaintiff chooses to endorse a product or service, she is highly selective and well compensated,” the lawsuit sniffed. In other words, as one gossip web site snarked, “Basically: Katherine Heigl don’t do no free advertising. She can’t just have her grumpy, exhausted face freely associated with some drugstore FOR FREE..” Perhaps Heigl should invest in a good mirror. Duane Reade carries them, we hear…

kimjongun The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO the North Korean Parliament, who this week re-elected, to no one’s surprise, dictator Kim Jong-un as head the country’s top governing agency, the National Defense Commission. Kim’s election (if that really is the right word) means he is still in control despite political turmoil in the regime and can work to consolidate power by filling leadership posts left vacant by – you guessed it – his purges. The government-run news agency called his re-election a sign of  “the unchanged will of the military and the people” to support him.

More Errors Than Answers in Missing Flight Mystery

 More Errors Than Answers in Missing Flight Mystery

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines. (Pictured: Hishamuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s Minister of Transport.)

At press time, the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was nearing its second week. As time goes by it seems the Malaysian government knows less, rather than more – and what was thought to be known is corrected.

As a NewYorker.com article details, the few facts on hand are fluid. There is the timing of the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, first reported as being turned off 12 minutes before the final communique from the cockpit. Now authorities admit they don’t know when it was switched off. The direction of the plane before it fell off radar was also wrong, costing time and untold millions in wasted search efforts. And while the crew and even passengers were initially not suspected as part of the disappearance, all, especially the pilot and co-pilot, are under intense scrutiny.

Relatives waiting for news of their family members have progressed from shocked to angry, shouting at Malaysian officials at press conferences. Some have become so mistrustful of the information being given, or withheld, that they’ve threatened a hunger strike. Experts, unable to guess what might have happened (with one quiet exception) can only agree on one thing: the Malaysian government has, in trying to handle this situation alone, prolonged and even contributed to the mystery.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Malaysian government.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In times of disaster, opt for complete transparency. Had Malaysia accepted offered help from the United States and other governments, there might have been at the very least a few more iron-clad answers. Even the US and Russia collaborated at the Olympics to thwart terrorist threats. At this point experts are coming to the conclusion that we may never know what happened to Flight 370. The only thing anyone can be sure of is that in situations such as this, being secretive never pays.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

Liz Wahl RT The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Liz Wahl, an American anchor for state-owned RT (Russia Today) TV, who resigned on air Wednesday citing the Kremlin’s political interference with the network’s news reporting – in this case, concerning Russia’s invasion of Crimea in the wake of political upheaval in Ukraine. Wahl minced no words in drawing a link to President Vladimir Putin, saying she could no longer be “part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.” A day earlier, colleague and fellow anchor Abby Martin  had similarly denounced Putin’s invasion – and faced reassignment as a result. Brava to both.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who publicly identified herself as a porn star, at least by her nom-du-film (she says her “birth name” is still personal information). Knox’s secret was out after she was recognized at a college party. At first, she shied away from inquiring minds, but then approached Playboy, XOJane.com and others to explain that a) she had to do this because school is “f*cking expensive” and b) women in porn need to be more empowered – and she will be their leader. Even Playboy had trouble swallowing that one. Advice to Belle: keep your mouth shut.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who took to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee with harsh words for the media, Democrats, and President Obama. He had zero words about the investigation into his alleged involvement in Bridgegate, nor any of the party-crossing banter that won the Republican governor many a Democratic vote in the last election. His pro-life conservative tone is one he hasn’t used in a while, making many wonder which side Christie is really on. The answer is simple: whichever one will get him the most votes.

“A New Russia” – Same As the Old Russia

 A New Russia   Same As the Old Russia

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Barely a week ago, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, came to a triumphant close. The games were free from terrorism, the ceremonies were lavish, the competition fierce and exciting. Russian President Vladimir Putin had made good, and the world could agree with Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, when he closed the games by proclaiming, “This is the new face of Russia.” Days later, the old Russia would rear its head.

Over the weekend, Russian soldiers seized airports in Ukraine in what seems the start of an invasion. Crimea is now involved in a tug of what many fear will be war. “This is the red alert,” said Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk to reporters. “This is not a threat, this is actually a declaration of war to my country.”

Yatsenyuk was appealing to the West for help, and while the West has condemned Russia’s actions, President Putin shows no sign of being concerned or deterred. The “new face of Russia” looks very familiar.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Time out doesn’t mean an about face. In one sense, Russian President Putin did exactly what he was supposed to do: put political disagreements aside so the world could come together in the spirit of the Olympic Games. He was a gracious host to his guests, though he displaced his own people and killed stray dogs to build the Olympic Park. Nonetheless, Russia’s PR received an incredible boost during the Games. Within days, all of that good will has been undone. Having put on a grand party, it’s back to business as usual, and Putin cares less how Russia looks to the world now.

Soda Endorsement Lands Johansson in Hot Water

 

ad 124673358 150x150 Soda Endorsement Lands Johansson in Hot Water

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Scarlett Johansson.


A seemingly routine product promo has put Scarlett Johansson in the middle of a geopolitical mess.

Johansson recently agreed to front SodaStream, the popular beverage maker. As part of the campaign, the 29-year-old actress will be featured in a commercial this weekend on Superbowl Sunday, one of the most widely viewed events in US television. The deal, however, is causing a furor. Oxfam, the UK-based international charity, has harshly criticized Johansson, saying SodaStream’s facilities in the hotly contested West Bank region of Jerusalem are an affront to the work Oxfam does on behalf of Palestinians.

It’s a particularly big “oops” for Johansson, who’s been an Oxfam ambassador since 2007. In a public war of words, Oxfam said businesses that operate in Israeli settlements “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Johansson countered that SodaStream’s policy of providing equal pay and benefits to Israeli and Palestinian employees shows it wants peace between Israel and Palestine.

Johansson claims she “never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance.” However, there’s no disputing she’s there now.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Scarlett Johansson, whose “belief” that SodaStream is helping build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians strains credulity. SodaStream makes soda – not peace agreements.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Due diligence applies to celebrities too. In 2009, a similar scene played out between Oxfam and Sex and the City actress Kristin Davis, who endorsed a cosmetics company with a West Bank factory. She cut ties with the company after negative media pressure. With Oxfam’s position well known, it seems unlikely Johansson’s camp didn’t expect their reaction. She also could have spoken privately with Oxfam before inking the SodaStream deal. Instead, she’s choosing to battle a charity in the public eye. The result? The unfortunate impression that she’s willing to imperil years of good works for a lucrative spokesperson gig.

Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

 Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi and the winter Olympics.

The winter Olympics aren’t set to begin for another two weeks, but they’re already off to an uneasy start. Yesterday, video was released to the media by alleged terrorists who threatened to target the games and the Russian host city of Sochi.

These winter games and their setting already had a controversial relationship. As Russia passed laws hostile to homosexuals and lesbians, athletes both straight and gay protested. When tensions between US President Obama and Russian President Putin mounted over NSA file leaker Edward Snowden, Obama said early on that he’d be a no-show at the games. Then, in January, two deadly suicide bombings in Volgograd cast a bleak shadow over the impending competition and provoked questions about safety.

Yesterday, video of two men allegedly with Anars Al Sunna, an Islamist group, was released to the media. The men claim responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, calling them “only a little example, a little step,” of what may come. President Putin promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect all attending the games. But US Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said American officials working with Russia “found a departure of cooperation that is very concerning.”

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi, host city of the winter Olympics and target of terrorists.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Truces can be temporary and lead to victory. Russia and the United States have always had uneasy relations and will likely continue to do so. But in times of crisis, such as when terrorists are openly threatening, there is an opportunity for both sides to come together and win. Shake hands, forge forces and work as a team. When the games are done, everyone can go back to the way things were. But the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics could go down in history for an entirely different, and positive, reason.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Valérie Trierweller, the French first lady who staged a PR coup by checking herself into hospital after a magazine revealed that French President François Hollande has been having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. The media reported that Trierweller is so weak she cannot stand and is suffering from “low morale.” Despite being so indisposed, she’s made it clear she has no intention of leaving her philandering companion. Might Hollande have used this opportunity to declare his allegiance to Gayet? We’ll never know, since Trierweller’s canny move ensures she is the sympathetic figure in this love triangle. Hollande is left to send chocolates and flowers, while Gayet has launched a lawsuit. Touché, madame.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

PR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Hillary Clinton. A bipartisan Senate report on the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi found that the incident, which left four Americans dead, was preventable. Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, was not the only one blamed, but the findings are grave and cast a pall on talk of her possible bid for president in 2016.

randikaye The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO CNN’s Randi Kaye, who braved the confines of a pot smoke-filled stretch limo apparently for hours as part of her network’s coverage of Colorado’s newly-legalized marijuana industry – and appeared on camera visibly stoned as a result. Wrapping up her report on Anderson Cooper’s evening segment on Tuesday, Kaye giggled a lot and told the host that she’d had trouble remembering all the questions she wanted to ask during her reporting. Cooper asked but didn’t quite get the answer on whether Kaye’s Rocky Mountain high was passively or actively acquired. Pro tip for next time? Roll down a window.

Former Secretary of Defense Declares War

 Former Secretary of Defense Declares War

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Could PR get any worse for the Obama administration after the HealthCare.gov debacle? Last week, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates released Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, which reads like a secretary declaring war on a sitting president.

Highlights include Gates writing of a meeting on the war in Afghanistan in March 2011. “I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his… For him, it’s about getting out.” Similar candor was used to describe Congress and US Vice President Joe Biden.

Why write a scathing memoir about a sitting president and a war in progress? The media’s verdict is that Duty could be retitled Betrayal.  In interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Gates obliquely said, “My objective was to…try and provide a non-partisan look at the kind of issues that have riven our country and riven our government for the last number of years.” Which doesn’t explain the need to do it now as much as another statement: “Why was I so angry all the time? …because getting anything done in Washington was so damnably hard.”

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Candor guarantees media time. While Gates has been criticized for the harshness and timing of his book, he has dominated the media. In a sea of watery apologies from politicians, Gates comes off as a strong and outraged voice. He may inflame, but if nothing else he’s seen the trend of growing impatience with politics and has acted on it. Right or wrong? Immaterial; the answer is, effective. 

 

The “Selfie” Seen ‘Round the World

 The Selfie Seen Round the World

PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for President Obama

If President Obama wasn’t suffering enough PR damage lately, a seemingly thoughtless gesture during the memorial service for anti-apartheid crusader and former South African President Nelson Mandela sealed the deal.

Acting as though they were at a party instead of a memorial service, Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt took a break from the eulogies to snap what is known in today’s tech parlance as a “selfie”. Unfortunately for them, someone else was snapping their photo at the same time – and the photo immediately went viral.

Everything about the photo induces a wince, from the trio crowding their heads together like goofy teenagers to a possibly furious Michelle Obama appearing to ignore them. Sadly, the selfie seen ’round the world became more newsworthy than Obama’s own moving and powerful speech about Mandela’s life.

Is there a silver lining here? Possibly. The faux pas also overshadowed Obama’s other gaffe that day, an  “unplanned” handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro that forced the White House to reiterate the president’s “grave concerns” about human rights violations in the Caribbean nation.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for President Obama.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Public figures are always on display, never more than when the chips are down. In late November, a poll suggested a majority of Americans don’t think Obama trustworthy as his advisers sought to divert attention from the PR debacle associated with the rollout of Obamacare. Using his exceptional oratorical skills at Mandela’s memorial service might have been a way to remove some of the tarnish. Unfortunately, forgetting that he must always be presidential cost him that opportunity.