Rodney King was never an easy hero to love. The man who became a symbol of racial tensions that led to a week of deadly riots in Los Angeles twenty years ago was found dead in his pool last weekend after living a complicated life. The media has been trying hard to recap that life, but what seems to have had the most resonance in the national discussion were five simple words that became a philosophical plea.
Rodney King was no PR dream. After publishing a memoir in April, his life was an open book of drug and alcohol abuse. Arrested multiple times, he told the LA Times that he blamed politicians and lawyers “for taking a battered and confused addict and trying to make him into a symbol for civil rights.” He was in every way the reluctant activist.
While the reluctant activist in life, his death has provoked widespread debate about race relations. King’s famous quote at the time of the riots,” Can we call get along?” is the tag line that followed him. He is remembered for what he said, but perhaps he should be remembered for what he asked.
The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Rodney King and his legacy. Despite complicated personal circumstances, with one simple question he opened up a conversation that continues after his death.
PR Takeaway: Sometimes asking a question has more impact than answering one. For a man whose chaotic ups and downs have been tracked by the media over the last twenty years, King’s press coverage was noticeably respectful and thoughtful. The statement he made at a packed news conference, pleading for calm at the time of the riots, became not only a headline but a philosophical question. A presumably unplanned PR moment, but one with staying power.
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What’s your PR Verdict on the media’s coverage of Rodney King, both in life and at the time of his passing? Leave a comment, below.