Congressman Hits All the Right Notes in Apology

radel Congressman Hits All the Right Notes in Apology

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for US Rep. Trey Radel.

The public mea culpa is an essential PR exercise.  The offender seeks to lessen the sting of a misdeed and engender sympathy not scorn. For the V.A.P. – Very Apologetic Person – it’s never too late to say you’re sorry.

The latest example comes from US Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL), charged Tuesday with cocaine possession after he allegedly purchased the drug from an undercover agent. The self-styled  “Hip Hop Conservative” is the first sitting congressman in 30 years to be arrested on a drug charge. He quickly pleaded guilty Thursday and was sentenced to probation.

Radel issued a statement immediately after his arrest. He blamed alcoholism, which led him “to an extremely irresponsible choice” to buy drugs. He invoked his wife and young son and vowed to get help “so I can be a better man for both of them.” Finally, he noted the “positive side” of his arrest, which offered him “an opportunity to seek treatment and counseling” and a chance to set “an example for other struggling with this disease.” If there’s a note he missed, we’re not aware of it.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Trey Radel, who wasted no time singing every verse of the mea culpa aria.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Respond quickly and own your misdeeds. Had Radel delayed, the initial news story might have dealt only with his arrest. A follow-up would present his apologia, keeping the story alive. He executed well, copping to a lesser offense of alcoholism rather than a problem with illegal drugs. He proffered his “husband and father” bona fides and turned his arrest into an opportunity – a role model for recovery. He also took a near-instant plea, closing his legal proceedings out neatly. Next step? Take a quiet turn in rehab and emerge with  a personal story of  redemption to earn leniency in the court of public opinion.

 

Witherspoon’s Withering PR Moment

 Witherspoons Withering PR Moment

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Reese Witherspoon, from arrest to partial apology.

The producers of the new film Mud, starring Reese Witherspoon, were probably hoping for publicity of a different sort for this week’s premiere. Instead of hitting the talk show circuit as planned, Witherspoon made the front pages after being arrested outside Atlanta for boozily mouthing off to a Georgia state trooper.

The officer had pulled over the actress and her husband, Hollywood agent Jim Toth, after seeing Toth driving erratically. As Toth was being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, Witherspoon became unruly, belittling the trooper, refusing to stay in the car, and pulling out the classic ill-advised celebrity line: “Do you know who I am?”  She was taken away in handcuffs, charged with disorderly conduct, and spent the night in jail.

What an embarrassment for Witherspoon, an actress of the American Sweetheart variety with now-punchline ironic credits such as Walk the Line and Legally Blonde. As a 37-year-old mother of three, she can’t claim youthful indiscretion for this performance. Witherspoon canceled several scheduled appearances to promote her latest movie and issued an apology through her publicist.

Conspicuous by its absence in Witherspoon’s mea culpa, though, was a lack of acknowledgement of the seriousness of her and her husband’s alleged actions. The truly problematic issue here isn’t the disorderly conduct charge, but the couple getting into a car allegedly – and in her case admittedly – intoxicated. “Friends” like E! Host Chelsea Handler downplaying the incident didn’t improve on the situation. Given the broader implications of the arrests, Handler and others would do well to steer clear of this mess.

THE PR VERDICT:  “F” (Full Fiasco) for Reese Witherspoon, from the arrest to the partial apology.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Note to celebrities: Sometimes it’s not all about you. Throughout this unfortunate episode, Witherspoon doesn’t appear to have thought about anyone else besides herself and her husband. Though she may be under a legal directive to say little given the pending criminal charges, one hopes her image rehab will involve admitting their lack of judgment and perhaps taking a visible stand against drunk driving. Fortunately for the tipsy couple – and everyone else on the road – the only damage done here was on the PR front.

Why Are Rebekah And Her Friends Still In Trouble?

rebekahbrooks 300x168 Why Are Rebekah And Her Friends Still In Trouble?

The PR Verdict: “F” for a crisis strategy that is failing.

Rebekah Brooks, former CEO of News International and best buddy of Rupert and James Murdoch has been arrested for the second time.  Previously arrested last year, she is hitting the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. This time speculation is that the arrest concerns a charge of perverting the course of justice. Tough times ahead.

Despite endless protests from News International denying knowledge of widespread phone hacking and corruption of public officials, the arrests proceed and the parliamentary inquiry deepens. Public rage continues unabated.

In terms of crisis management, the hacking scandal was always a PR issue first and foremost.  Prioritising legal concerns over PR has been the major blunder.  As it happens things are looking bad on the legal front anyway.

The PR Verdict: “F” for a crisis management strategy that is failing.   Is it possible that News International’s ordeal might have been shorter-lived if PR concerns had driven and shaped the crisis strategy, with legal concerns in second place?

Pubic and political pressures have a nasty habit of taking a crisis in surprising directions.  What might have happened if News International had conceded wrongdoing and made amends at the outset?  The closing of News of the World, millions paid out in damages, the BSKYB acquisition blocked and multiple staff arrests could hardly be described as a strategic success.  It might have been wiser to take an earlier hit with a PR strategy that paid less attention to legal risk and prioritised reforming the company and closing the issue. No doubt Rebekah can tell us more in court.

To read about the latest arrests click here. To read more background about the phone hacking scandal click here.

Is there a news item that you think needs a grade? Send us your suggestion for the next PR Verdict: info@prverdict.com