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.

Pistorius Takes the Stand

oscar pistorius court day seven his murder trial heard lawyer barry roux question testimony 150x150 Pistorius Takes the Stand

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Oscar Pistorius.

There’s rarely any discussion of good or bad PR associated with murder trials; the defendant is declared innocent or guilty, and the case is closed. Things may be different in the case of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, currently on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius says he awoke during the night of February 14, 2013, hearing sounds. He told police he shot towards where he thought an intruder was hiding, only to find Steenkamp his victim. The prosecution has so far done a persuasive job of presenting an ex-girlfriend who told of Pistorius randomly shooting guns, a text message from Steenkamp saying she was afraid of him, and neighbors who heard angry shouts and terrified screams.

While listening to testimony, Pistorius has hardly been stoic. He has wept, held his head in his hands, been violently ill. But would he take the stand? His lawyers apparently thought it best. Yesterday, Pistorius – not shown on camera, but audible – gave a shaken testimony that halted proceedings when he eventually broke down.

Will it spare him from a 25 year prison term? It’s possible. The gun-carrying, temperamental boyfriend image was replaced by the trembling voice of a shattered man. Should Pistorius be declared innocent, his emotional testimony may also exonerate him in the court of public opinion.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Oscar Pistorius.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When all seems lost, that’s the time to take a risk. Most lawyers are wary of putting clients on the stand; not only can they be torn apart by the prosecution, but they may not show enough emotion, of the appropriate kind, for the jury’s liking. Pistorius, however, has been doing nothing but demonstrating remorse. His lawyers, facing the prosecution’s construction of a monster, put on the stand a man weeping and overcome with grief. The monster image has taken a hit.

PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

obamacare logo  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, whose supporters, including its namesake, had reason to celebrate Monday when enrollments pushed slightly past the original sign-up target of 7 million. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that target for initial sign-up period through March 31. Despite a horribly marred start and with withering opposition at every turn, the mandated healthcare program saw sign-ups somehow make their numbers. And while public opinion is still hardly enthusiastic, one poll did find for the first time that public support for the healthcare law surpassed opposition. Perhaps the rally will prompt lukewarm supporters to stop apologizing and start cheering.

  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to General Motors’ chief executive Mary Barra, for a defense statement best summed up by “I don’t know.” As the head of GM faced a House subcommittee investigating what the car company knew and when regarding flaws that led to numerous deaths and injuries, Barra’s responses infuriated senators and the families of the deceased alike. PR is in freefall, and GM is still recalling millions of cars and facing possible criminal charges. In leaving Barra to claim ignorance or hang herself and her company, GM’s legal and PR teams register a complete fail.

  PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Britain’s Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, whose editorial boards told a parliamentary science committee they believe humans are negatively impacting global climate conditions. Really? That’s rather confusing considering, as the committee chairman put it, “some papers regularly give a platform to lobby groups or indeed conspiracy theorists – many not even qualified scientists – who pooh-pooh the evidence and attack UK climate scientists.” We are shocked, shocked, to find out that publications, looking to increase readership, might take one view in their papers while believing the exact opposite. Yawn.

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.

Shadow Over GM Recall Grows Longer

 Shadow Over GM Recall Grows Longer

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

The news from General Motors continues to get worse. Last month the carmaker began a worldwide recall of over one million of its vehicles, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ions, due to faulty ignition switches that resulted in 12 deaths. Then, a federal review of those GM vehicles dating from 2003 to 2012 found that faulty airbags were responsible for an astonishing 303 deaths.

Lawmakers are pressing for answers as to how long GM knew about the issues and what they did about them. GM’s answer has been to launch what chief executive Mary T. Barra calls an “unvarnished” investigation. Leading this investigation will be the law firm of King & Spalding – the same firm that had been defending GM in wrongful death lawsuits.

Conflict of interest? Whether it will be in reality or not isn’t really the question. The firm will have to do enough digging to preserve their reputation while still being able to call GM one of their main clients. But if anyone asked internal PR what this move would look like to the outside world, GM apparently ignored that information as well.

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Even in times of triage – perhaps especially so – appearances matter. When faced with a product issue that has resulted in death, companies must quickly go into damage control. The smartest take immediate measures to prevent further injury or loss of life, own up, and set their PR firms to work on image rebuild. In GM’s case that time is over. And ironically, the company’s goal – preserve the bottom line by presenting the image of taking action – can shoot itself in the foot with the implication of more coverups, this time by the company’s trusted law firm. It’s an action, but it’s hardly a strategy, and it may cause more damage than it controls.

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

kentucky attorney general jack conway gay marriage 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Jack Conway, the Attorney General of Kentucky who refused to appeal the lifting of a ban on gay marriage in his state. Conway said he could not support this last bastion of discrimination, despite many voters supporting the ban and his plan to run for governor. “There were plenty of people who advised me this is very risky for me politically,” Conway said. “But I talked it over with my wife, and she said, ‘You know what Jack, you really stink when you are insincere.'” This sincere move, which goes against Conway’s Catholic background but aligns with his political ideals, makes him smell like a rose.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the various entities searching for seemingly ill-fated Malaysia Airlines 370. The plane, with more than 230 passengers, was last reported over the Gulf of Thailand. For family and friends, the probable disaster has been compounded by a barrage of incomplete, incorrect and contradictory information about the plane’s whereabouts, how long it was in the air, and who was aboard. It’s true that no one has any answers yet. But a basic tenet of crisis communications is to designate a single point of contact through which all information will flow. That’s no easy feat when there are multiple countries and agencies  involved. By bungling communications, however, an already terrible situation has been made even worse.

barack obama between two ferns 580 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO President Obama, who submitted to a fake interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis last week, to inconclusive effect. Appearing on the “Between Two Ferns” web series, Obama ostensibly came to plug Obamacare to an audience of young people. The appearance was funny enough, but gave even the most passionate Obama supporters pause for its irreverence. His detractors rolled out the big artillery: The dignity of the office, national security and Lord knows what else we hold dear was put at stake, they declaimed. Hardly, but Obama did look like he was doing a B-movie cameo. The joke might be more on a nation that needs its sitting president to play for laughs to promote policy.

Newsweek Gets Press, and Controversy, With Bitcoin Story

 Newsweek Gets Press, and Controversy, With Bitcoin Story

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Newsweek.

Venerable news journal Newsweek returned to the stands on Friday after a 14-month absence. Clearly a big cover story was needed, and they had one: the identity of the founder of Bitcoin, the digital currency with mysterious origins. Apparently, there’s still some mystery – and a lot of controversy over the article.

Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman said she had proof that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto was the founder of Bitcoin. Nakamoto, described by the New York Times as “a reclusive train collector,” then gave a two-hour interview to AP denying Newsweek‘s claims. At the heart of the debate is a brief conversation that took place outside Nakamoto’s home; Goodman’s interpretation of his response to questions about Bitcoin was that he was the founder. Nakamoto says he misunderstood her questions.

The magazine issued a statement saying they stand by the story, with well-worded acknowledgement of the online attacks toward Goodman, her reporting, even her character. Others in the media are calling into question Goodman’s proof and journalistic ethics. Given that Bitcoin has recently given investors a tumultuous ride, some speculate the Newsweek article has put Nakamoto in danger, without strong enough proof of association.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Newsweek.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: With great risk, there are two outcomes: great rewards, or spectacularly bad problems. Clearly, Newsweek needed a big story after over a year off the stands and many questioning the future of print media. (A few might also scratch their heads as to why the online version gives free access to the entire feature; isn’t the point of magazines to sell magazines, not give the content away?) This explosive story gave Newsweek the media splash they needed, and the negative attention they never wanted. Well, they got people talking. Should their sources be proven wrong, they may wish they’d gone with something slightly quieter.

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.