Bogus Benghazi Report Blackens CBS’s Eye

 Bogus Benghazi Report Blackens CBSs Eye

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lara Logan (pictured, with Dylan Davies) and CBS.

Last week, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan made an unusual appearance on the CBS Early Show, not to trumpet an upcoming interview, but to apologize for a past one. Logan was engaging in a journalist’s worst case scenario: publicly admitting to having been duped by a source.

In a 60 Minutes segment last month, Logan interviewed a man called Morgan Jones, a security official at the American embassy in Benghazi. Jones said he witnessed the 2012 terrorist attack that cost the lives of four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens. Jones wrote his story in a book called The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There. The book was published Simon and Schuster, which is owned by CBS, the network that broadcasts 60 Minutes. Logan’s segment called into question the amount of aid the Obama administration sent to the embassy in Libya. Republicans quickly latched onto the report and used it as leverage to demand answers.

Then reports began to surface that Jones, whose real name is Dylan Davies, gave a very different account of the night of the embassy attack to his employer, Blue Mountain Security. CBS continued to defend the segment, but after two US officials said the report Davies gave the FBI concluded that Davies was not at the embassy during the attack, Logan and CBS were forced to recant. Considering its political ramifications, the gaffe was rightly called by one CBS executive “as big a mistake as there has been” in the 45-year history of 60 Minutes.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lara Logan and CBS.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Trust no one. At first glance, Logan’s “get” seemed like the scoop of the year. Yet the account of a single eyewitness should have raised a few eyebrows. While CBS insisted that their sources pointed toward veracity, they later had to recant. When making a statement that could, say, damage a presidential administration, iron-clad facts – not impassioned testimony from a book published by your parent company – must be the rule. Otherwise, your public apology may be your last televised segment.

Former US VP Cheney Opens Up in “Heart”

 Former US VP Cheney Opens Up in Heart

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to former US Vice President Dick Cheney.

How do you revamp the image of someone accused of being heartless? Show that he has a heart – literally. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, was published this week. Cheney, who served for eight years under President George W. Bush, kicked off the media on CBS’ 60 Minutes and continued on to the major morning shows.

Cheney is something of a cardiac miracle: he’s suffered five heart attacks and has had surgery to place stents, a pacemaker, and a pump. Finally, in 2012, he had a heart transplant.He waited 20 months for a new heart, nearly double the waiting time of most transplant recipients. No special treatment there.

The book has also provides interesting tidbits about Cheney’s tenure in the Bush White House. For one, his health history prompted him to sign a resignation letter in advance should he ever be alive but incapacitated. His cardiologist also had Cheney’s pacemaker altered so it couldn’t be hacked by a would-be assassin.

But the book serves another purpose. In the twilight of their lives, politicians have been known to contemplate their legacies. Heart shows that the now 72-year-old Cheney, whose nicknames include Darth Cheney and the Dark Lord, is, indeed, human – flesh and blood, just like the rest of us. At least, that’s what the book says.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to former US Vice President Dick Cheney. Nobody wants to go into that good night known as Dr. Evil.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: (Almost) no one is beyond redemption. When public figures open up about personal struggles or admit to fears, it can often blur the edges of a sharp character or reputation. Perhaps it’s through a memoir (safe but labor intensive) or on Oprah’s couch (riskier, but with a wider audience). In that sense, Cheney is lucky: His bad ticker has given him rich material to mine for such an effort. But can one book soften so many years of harsh criticism? That’s a tall order, and not one for the faint of heart.

Will She, Or Won’t She? Hillary Gets Coy

 Will She, Or Wont She? Hillary Gets Coy

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was so determined to succeed in her run for president, there were doubts that cooperation between her and the man who would be President, Barack Obama, was even possible. Vice President was out; would she even accept Secretary of State, or would she pack up her toys and go home? Everyone knows the answer to that one, as this week Secretary of State Clinton leaves her post having logged more flight miles than any of her predecessors. Now that her consolation prize post is over, is she setting her laser-beam sights again on the big chair?

There are no indications coming from her directly, though there are enough indications swirling around her to give political pundits much to speculate about. First came a positively chummy interview Sunday past, with Hillary and President Obama on 60 Minutes. When asked if she was considering another run in 2016, Clinton replied, “I don’t think either [Obama] or I can make predictions about what’s going to happen tomorrow or next year.” The interview was seen by many as an endorsement, despite the president’s attempt to laugh that off.

Clinton was more direct during an interview with CNN yesterday, during which she said she had “absolutely no plans to run.” A forthcoming memoir may provide a few more interesting clues – or not. For now, the former First Lady and outgoing Secretary of State will keep everyone wondering whether she’ll try to add the ultimate title to her resume.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Hillary Clinton. Altogether more intriguing than any other politician.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Keep people guessing, and you keep people thinking about you. Clinton knows when to give, as she did during her very real testimony on the attack on the American consulate in Libya. She also knows when to withhold, with a blithe smile, as she does whenever she’s asked about another attempt at the presidency. Hillary Rodham Clinton has become a master of giving and withholding information, ensuring that the public, love her or hate her, will snap to attention whenever she speaks. Give a little . . . but not too much, and you’ll get the lion’s share of attention.

Total Arnold

 Total Arnold

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This week, Arnold Schwarzenegger began promoting his book, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. Schwarzenegger’s life is nearly unbelievable – he was a champion body builder who became the highest paid actor in Hollywood despite a heavyweight German accent and a nearly unpronounceable name. He then married a member of the Kennedy family and become governor of California. And the focal point of all his latest interviews? His affair with the housekeeper.

Surely Schwarzenegger didn’t want to include the chapter detailing his affair with housekeeper Mildred Baena, yet on some level he must have known this was the double-edged sword of PR: talk about the thing you don’t want to talk about, or no one will buy your book. In interviews, Schwarzenegger shows contrition, albeit insensitively, referring to the affair with Baena as “my screw-up” and “a disaster.” Arnie, it seems, is untroubled by how this might affect the result of this affair: his youngest son, Joseph. And it’s hard to tell whether he’s sorry for what he did to wife Maria Shriver, or sorry he got caught.

Schwarzenegger follows Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards, and many others whose works and lives became defined by a single act: that of schtupping the maid, or the prostitute, or sexting the intern. Only Bill Clinton moved beyond Monica, though his career remains tarnished by the scarlet letter.  Yet what do we really expect from The Governator? Nothing other than what he’s giving, and gives well: He doesn’t care what you think about him, only that you think about him.

The PR Verdict: B (Good Show) for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The grade is based not on character but for his handling of the media and for canny self-promotion via contrition.

The PR Takeaway: Scandal always outlasts notable works. Whatever leads those in positions of power towards the scandalous is for the Psychiatrist’s Verdict. But for our purposes, as Arnie clearly shows, the public relations prescription is to own up; apologize with sincerity; pour barbecue sauce on yourself in preparation of being grilled by the media; and get back to the business of doing whatever good works were interrupted by your poor judgment. Finally, get on with counting the royalties, while remaining contrite at all times.

What do you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s media profile? Give us your PR Verdict!

No Easy Interview for a Navy Seal

 No Easy Interview for a Navy Seal

The PR Verdict: B (Good Show) for Matt Bissonnette, Navy Seal and author of No Easy Day.

“Awesome” and “cool” were just some of the everyday terms that Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette used in a recent interview with 60 Minutes. He has gone public with a memoir, No Easy Day, of his time served during the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. The book is written under his nom de plume Mark Owen and coincides neatly with the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Bissonnette kicked off his informal and friendly TV interview with his appearance and voice disguised as he gave a tick-tock explanation of what happened in that now notorious Pakistani compound. Bissonnette gave few surprises. He stayed surprisingly close to the previously released official version of the event; this was not a mission to kill, but to “capture alive if feasible,” and the operation was a collective effort of talented individuals.

Bissonnette’s PR dilemma is to how comment on the events without creating controversy. Legally gagged from disclosing military secrets, his PR push is limited by the ever-present danger of inadvertently breaching official secrets.  His answer? Provide reassuring confirmation of already disclosed key facts, talk like an everyday humble guy and only give color and added information that are of limited consequence.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Matt Bissonnette’s PR push that treads a fine line but so far hasn’t overstepped boundaries.

The PR Takeaway: Stay on course, but add some spice. Bissonnette’s dilemma is that he could be accused of breaching official secrets. With most of the book’s proceeds going to organizations that help families of fallen Seals, his own motives are not open to debate. His minor details concerning who fired what when makes no appreciable difference to the overall established narrative – but it does make it almost impossible for the authorities to play a heavy hand. Skillfully done and elegantly handled.

To read more and see part of the 60 Minutes interview, click here.

Did you see the 60 Minutes interview, or read Matt Bissonnette’s book? Give us your PR Verdict!

 

 

 

 

Anderson Cooper: PR Perfect

 Anderson Cooper: PR Perfect

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anderson Cooper and his PR regarding his coming out.

So Anderson Cooper, CNN’s biggest “name” anchor, has confirmed he is gay. Cooper hit the headlines earlier this week with his e-mail correspondence to journalist and blogger  Andrew Sullivan, which included the unequivocal message, “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be.” The phrase was reprinted endlessly over the next three days. The media wondered if anyone was shocked or scandalized. The definitive response: No.

From a PR point of view, this was handled perfectly. Cooper had never publicly indicated if he was–or wasn’t. That changed when a recent feature in Entertainment Weekly examined how celebrities handle coming out. Andrew Sullivan approached Cooper for comment, and Cooper’s response made headlines.

Cooper crafted a number of well-worded, thoughtful paragraphs explaining his reasons for coming out now and his previous reticence. He sent them to Sullivan who republished it in full, with Cooper’s permission. Next step: Cooper was unavailable for any interviews due to being on assignment. The void was filled with praise and endorsements from friends and colleagues. Nicely handled.

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anderson Cooper and his PR regarding his coming out.  Simple message, no details, well expressed, STOP.

The PR Takeaway: This was an elegant PR exercise. Closeted celebrities, take note: Keep the message and the delivery simple. Make your point clearly. Say what you have to say and make sure it is unedited (therefore, stay away  from lengthy sit-down TV interviews). Place it with a friendly media source, and then be unavailable. Nothing more to add. Nothing more to explain. And, in Cooper’s case, get back to saving the world.

Will Anderson Cooper’s self-outing have any repercussions? Should he have come out, or kept himself out of the limelight? Give us your PR Verdict!

What Did Mike Wallace Tell Us About Journalism?

mikewallace What Did Mike Wallace Tell Us About Journalism?

The PR Verdict: “A” for a career that helped define broadcast journalism.

What does the death of veteran 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace at 93 tell us about the way we like our news?  The justifiable tributes have been flowing in thick and fast.  What’s noteworthy is what he is being remembered for.

CBS in its own tribute to Wallace said he “took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  He (Wallace) characterized himself as “nosey and insistent.”  CBS then lists proudly the 20th century icons that “…submitted to a Mike Wallace interview. He lectured Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, on corruption.  He lectured Yassir Arafat on violence and asked the Ayatollah Khoumeini if he were crazy.”

The complaint du jour of journalism, particularly broadcast journalism is that that it has lost the art of professional objectivity.  Journalists nowadays always have an angle, so goes the refrain from both the media establishment and opinion formers, and crusading journalism that starts with a point of view isn’t that way we want our news.  CBS and Wallace however proved that that isn’t always true.

The PR Verdict: “A” for an impressive career that helped define broadcast journalism.  In looking back over interview footage it’s clear that ‘nosey and insistent journalism” was always in vogue.

The material CBS chose in compiling Wallace’s interview highlights makes for fascinating viewing.  Confronting, insistent questioning and getting a rise out of the interviewee seem to be the hallmark of success for both Wallace and his producers at CBS.  The truth may be that we don’t mind opinionated and righteous journalism after all.

To see the compilation of Mike Wallace’s greatest interviews from CBS click here.

What’s your PR Verdict on the interviews?

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How Much Is That Art In The Window?

artbaselmiami How Much Is That Art In The Window?

The PR Verdict: “C” for Art Basel Miami and and the contemporary art market.

60 Minutes last night revisited the contemporary art market, twenty years after its first report on the business.   Back then, the segment was accused of being nothing more than a “send up” of the art market.   Last night proved nothing has changed in twenty years.

This time the focus was on Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), the contemporary art fair held in Miami.   Accompanied by shots of private planes, cocktails and trophy wives,  “the one percent”  were described as benefitting from an art market that sizzles while the stock market fizzles.

The segment interviewed some of the more notorious art dealers at ABMB.  All came off badly,  sounding more like cynical and pushy time-share sales staff.  With over $5.5 billion transacted at contemporary auctions alone,  60 Minutes alluded to the perils of price fixing in an unregulated market.  Bottom line, dealers and ABMB didn’t challenge the segment’s suggestion that the whole market is nothing more than a giant con with some dealers unwittingly giving credence to the idea.

The PR Verdict: “C” for Art Basel and the contemporary art market industry.  This was a rerun of the 60 Minutes story from 20 years ago,  only with higher prices.

Next time the leading dealers and art fair producers should aim to change the context of the discussion.  Why not start with acknowledging that like any specialist market, the contemporary art market has its own language and context.  None of it is understandable at first blush.  Giving 15,000 people access to an art fair doesn’t mean they have understood the subject mater just as giving 15,000 people access to data on options trading also doesn’t guarantee widespread understanding.  To move the conversation on from the gee-whiz approach to prices, something more considered was needed.

To see the 60 Minutes segment click here.  To see a gallery of art from December’s ABMB click here.