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.

Two and a Half Men Trouble Again

 Two and a Half Men Trouble Again

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the “no comment” response. (From left: Angus T. Jones, Ashton Kutcher, Jon Cryer.)

What’s the PR tactic to take when the star of a hit TV show bites the hand that feeds? PRs could only watch in horror at the no-holds-barred fighting that occurred when Charlie Sheen, star of CBS’s cash cow Two and a Half Men, slung criticisms and even religious slurs at the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre. Sheen was fired, Ashton Kutcher was hired, ratings soared, and advertisers and the networks slept soundly.

For a while. The next issue was a comparatively smaller bump in the road: Kutcher’s highly publicized split from wife Demi Moore after an affair. Of more concern was the ratings drop after Kutcher’s first top-rated appearance, but both problems ultimately smoothed out with little need for damage control.

Hopefully the show’s PRs were well-rested enough to deal with the latest flap. The “Half” man, ie the 19 year old teenager who is the third character in the show, Angus T. Jones, has taken a page from the Sheen hand-book. Jones, who has starred in the series for nine years, has appeared in a video posted by a Christian church, criticising the show as “filth.”  He added, “I’m not OK with what I’m learning, what the Bible says, and being on that television show . . . Please stop watching it.” The response from CBS and Warner Bros.? No comment.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) from the network, the studio, and all involved with the show for sticking with “no comment.”

The PR Takeaway: The hand that feeds holds the power. There are a few PR tactics available when when a star goes violently off message. One is to plead insanity or addiction; that worked well with Sheen. The second is to quietly persuade the actor to recant, claiming that the video was a joke, or that the statements were taken out of context. The third is to wait for the news to move on – which it will more quickly when fuel is not added to the fire. The Sheen/Lorre battle escalated because both spoke too plainly to the media. This issue with Jones could die down fast if the only response is “no comment.” It’s a tactic Jones may also wish he’d followed when his contract is up for renewal this year.

Ahmadinejad Courts Satan’s Media

 Ahmadinejad Courts Satans Media

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for yet another loony Ahmadinejad appearance at the UN.

Do the rules of PR apply to President Ahmadinejad of Iran? In New York for the UN Summit, he has participated in a dizzying media blitz of interviews including CNN, CBS, the AP, and other national outlets. The Iranian President, who has previously described the US as “Satan,” seems oddly keen to court domestic US opinion, or at the very least, take advantage of Great Satan’s media.

His scheduled interviews appeared to be part of a typical PR curtain raiser, designed to drum up anticipation for his speech before the UN. He told CNN and other outlets that his main message is that he wants “a new world order for all of humanity.”

Ahmadinejad describes this new world order as a world where there is “justice, morality, purity, and compassion.” He can’t help mentioning that this utopia would ultimately involve the “elimination” of Israel, although he softened his message by saying he would be neutral on the issue of his child marrying a Jew. If Ahmadinejad’s intention was to court US opinion – and why else talk to all the outlets – his messaging was clearly irreconcilable with most US mainstream views.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for yet another loony Ahmadinejad appearance at the UN, buttressed by a thorough PR blitz that guaranteed coverage while doing nothing to enhance credibility.

The PR Takeaway: The most basic PR lesson is “Without trust, nothing works.” Ahmadinejad said in multiple US interviews that he would “not dismiss” one-on-one talks with America on his nuclear program and that he was open to negotiation. If his PR intention was to soften US domestic opinion,  then his PR offensive was a resounding failure. As long as he continues to trade in his grab bag of hate names and villains, then his PR blitz only reinforces the perception that he is not to be trusted, notwithstanding his plea at the UN to “hold hands with all of humanity.”

Have you heard the Iranian President’s speech at the UN? 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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