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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News for the “get” of the decade: the first American television interview with former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden. Williams’ team had been negotiating with intermediaries for months, as Williams told the New York Times, and he affirmed that NBC didn’t win a bid; no money exchanged hands. Snowden’s payment? Complete secrecy of his whereabouts and a chance to tell his side of the story. NBC’s payoff? Obvious.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Greg Abbott, Republican contender in the race for Texas governor. Abbott’s supporters created large posters of an “Abortion Barbie” with Democratic opponent and pro-rights activist Wendy Davis’s face and put them around Los Angeles in advance of a fundraiser for Davis. Though Abbott’s reps said they weren’t behind the stunt and found it appalling, the bad taste stays all in his mouth.

 

mahbod 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to website Rap Genius, which forced the resignation of co-founder Mahbod Moghadam (left) after he made incredibly insensitive comments about the mass shootings at the University of Santa Barbara, CA. Rap Genius began as a site that annotates rap lyrics and has grown since then—but apparently not grown up. As the company’s explanation states, there was debate as to whether to include the shooter’s manifesto on the site in the first place; when they decided to go ahead, no one checked the annotations. While the action was swift, it did little to offset the damage that mere forethought could have stopped.

 

 

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.

Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

mark zuckerberg Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had just about enough of the government meddling with his website and spying on his users. So last week he called a pal to complain – President Obama.

Zuck casually mentioned the call in a Facebook page post responding to the latest revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (via activist journalist Glenn Greenwald). The story, which the NSA flatly denies, described how government computers masqueraded as Facebook servers to send malware that infected Facebook users’ machines in order to spy on them. The automated process meant the NSA could target millions of users.

In his post, Zuckerberg said he was “confused and frustrated” by the continuing reports of  government surveillance. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

The White House confirmed the conversation took place but offered nothing more, and nothing will really come of it. Zuck and his tech pals are in the right, of course, but powerless to do anything other than complain – loudly and visibly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Zuckerberg, who, if immobilized, at least needs to show he’s good and steamed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk the walk. In this matter, there seems to be little else that Facebook and other Tech Titans can do, at least publicly. With each new damning revelation, the public trust in sites like Facebook dies a little more, and that directly and dramatically affects the bottom line. When Snowden’s leaks first hit the press, the implication was that Facebook et al were complicit in the spying. That taint has never quite dissipated from the  seemingly interminable storyline. Zuck reached out in an necessary symbolic gesture with his phone call to the President – but it probably ended with, “Thanks, Obama.”

 

 

Obama’s Proposed NSA Reforms Fall Flat

 

 Obamas Proposed NSA Reforms Fall Flat

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for President Obama for his NSA speech.

Bold change seldom comes from modest action; just ask President Barack Obama. The proposed reforms he announced last week for how the National Security Agency goes about collecting data are hardly the stuff of decisive, game-changing leadership. But that was probably never the Administration’s intent.

Granted, fixing the White House’s PR mess over citizen eavesdropping is a tall order. The President’s speech in the Great Hall of the Justice Department follows months of the dripping faucet of leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, not to mention a particularly bad month for the intelligence community in general, with a critical judicial ruling and a tough review from a White House-appointed panel. In announcing the modest reforms, Obama spent a good portion of time defending the NSA’s most controversial programs as necessary measures in the ongoing battle against terrorists.

What irony, then, that Obama’s speech came on the same day another US President, Dwight Eisenhower, warned Americans about the “military-industrial complex” that threatened American democracy from within. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower said back in 1961. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” Against that standard, the verdict for Obama’s effort suffers.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for President Obama, who tried to walk the middle road, to no one’s benefit.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be mindful of history. Obama might not have channelled Eisenhower specifically, but he could have relied on more than modest reforms and a good speech to answer all the criticism over spying dropped on his doorstep. He surprised and satisfied no one with his tepid response to spying – not Congress, not tech companies who were obliging or grudging accomplices, not the American public. Pleasing no one with a middle-of the-road approach might be a somewhat effective strategy for governing, but not so much for PR.

Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

 Is Sochi Safe for the Olympics?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi and the winter Olympics.

The winter Olympics aren’t set to begin for another two weeks, but they’re already off to an uneasy start. Yesterday, video was released to the media by alleged terrorists who threatened to target the games and the Russian host city of Sochi.

These winter games and their setting already had a controversial relationship. As Russia passed laws hostile to homosexuals and lesbians, athletes both straight and gay protested. When tensions between US President Obama and Russian President Putin mounted over NSA file leaker Edward Snowden, Obama said early on that he’d be a no-show at the games. Then, in January, two deadly suicide bombings in Volgograd cast a bleak shadow over the impending competition and provoked questions about safety.

Yesterday, video of two men allegedly with Anars Al Sunna, an Islamist group, was released to the media. The men claim responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, calling them “only a little example, a little step,” of what may come. President Putin promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect all attending the games. But US Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said American officials working with Russia “found a departure of cooperation that is very concerning.”

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sochi, host city of the winter Olympics and target of terrorists.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Truces can be temporary and lead to victory. Russia and the United States have always had uneasy relations and will likely continue to do so. But in times of crisis, such as when terrorists are openly threatening, there is an opportunity for both sides to come together and win. Shake hands, forge forces and work as a team. When the games are done, everyone can go back to the way things were. But the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics could go down in history for an entirely different, and positive, reason.

NSA’s Defense On Ally Spying: We Didn’t. But We Would

Merkel NSA 150x150 NSAs Defense On Ally Spying: We Didnt. But We Would

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (“PR Problematic”) for the NSA. (Pictured: German Chancellor Angela Merkel)

The National Security Agency (NSA) this week defended itself against explosive charges that it has spied for years on top world leaders, including US allies. The accusations, which have infuriated Europe, come courtesy of Edward Snowden, the US citizen holed up in Russia who continues to dole out incriminating and deeply embarrassing tidbits about what the US has been up to since the Cold War ended.

Appearing before the US House Intelligence Committee, the NSA’s top brass responded to the charges in a way befitting a spy shop, both denying and acknowledging the accusations. To paraphrase: No, they did not spy on France and Spain; France and Spain did that themselves, and sent the information over to the US. However, they do think spying on one’s allies is perfectly fine.

It is? Yes, according to the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., who said snooping on other countries’ leaders has gone on for decades. “It is one of the first things I learned in intelligence school in 1963. It’s a fundamental given.”

It may be a given in spy school, but it comes as a bit of a shock to everyone else, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is livid over claims the US has been tapping her mobile phone for years. President Obama has left his intelligence chiefs to fend for themselves, intimating he was unaware of their overzealous eavesdropping.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (“PR Problematic”) for the NSA. The revelations, and embarrassment, just keep on coming.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Sometimes stating the obvious isn’t, well, so obvious. Industries besides espionage – think medicine or technology – operate in ways that aren’t easily understood or accessible by those outside. That makes PR tricky when matters spill over into the outside world. Good PRs invest time in educating journalists about their clients. Those regular lunches or “meet-and-greets” with senior personnel don’t always yield stories, but they do give reporters a basic knowledge of how companies or industries work. It works well with technical industries; perhaps “PR 101” should be added to the intelligence school’s curriculum too.

Obama Administration’s Epic Tech Fails

 Obama Administrations Epic Tech Fails

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors. (Pictured: NSA leaker Edward Snowden)

Earlier this week, President Obama had to call French President Francois Hollande and explain, if he could, why the US was spying on the phone records of over 70 million French citizens. The issue was brought to light by former US National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed NSA secrets to several news agencies months ago. Now more than ever, it is imperative that President Obama’s technical administration locate the fugitive tech expert. Not just to save face; they could actually use his help.

Aside from being unable to locate Snowden, a man of Bourne-movie level abilities to erase every trace of his movements, the Obama administration has lost credibility over the technical glitches on Healthcare.gov, the main portal to signing up for mandatory Obamacare. Yesterday, another gaffe: a Twitter feed that has been revealing embarrassing inside information about foreign policy for the past two years was traced back to Jofi Joseph, an official in the White House’s National Security Staff. #howembarrassing.

Americans have grown uncomfortably accustomed to government failures. A lack of regulations allowed the collapse of the economy. Bipartisanship led to a shutdown. Now the website to register for healthcare doesn’t work, prompting the president to record a video encouraging people to sign up “the old fashioned way,” via phone or in person. Presumably, this video was made around the time of the  call to the French president about the tech guy the CIA can’t find, and before the Twitter revelation.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you want to do your best, surround yourself with the best. America is not exactly short on technical excellence, yet the president’s cabinet signed off on using ten-year-old technology for Healthcare.gov. The military stands by the accuracy of its drones, yet the US can’t find one guy who’s talked to several major international newspapers, or another guy dissing the White House from inside the White House. The PR solution would be obtaining the best and the brightest to fix the glitches and increase security. Maybe Snowden could provide a reference.

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

cnn 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to CNN, for its measured but pointed response to political posturing by the Republican National Committee. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus threatened to bar both CNN and corporate sibling NBC News from the 2016 Presidential debate process, in response to a mini-series on Hillary Clinton being produced by CNN Films, another affiliate. Priebus said the program amounted to an “in-kind donation” for Clinton, a likely Presidential candidate, and her fellow Democrats. One can certainly debate the suitability of airing such a program, given the corprate connections and timing. But in a statement, CNN noted that the project is in its early stages, called on the RNC to reserve judgment, and noted, correctly, that the only people to be harmed by the RNC’s threat would be voters.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersLOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to summer blockbusters with bloated budgets. July may have been one of the hottest months on record  – but not at the box office. Movie studios are facing huge losses after a string of big budget releases tanked at the box office, including Pacific Rim, White House Down, After Earth, and, most notably, The Lone Ranger. Disney suffered a shellacking on that film, spending anywhere from $200 to $400 million when all the marketing was said and done, and taking in a relatively embarrassing $175 million. Star Johnny Depp blamed bad pre-release PR, Steven Spielberg prophesied the blockbuster implosion, and moviegoers merely stayed home and binge-viewed Orange Is the New Black on NetFlix. The upside? Maybe Hollywood is finally done with sequels to Transformers.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO President Obama for canceling his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the impetus for which clearly was Russia’s “disappointing” asylum-granting to Edward Snowden, the American secret-leaker. But to what end? A few weeks ago, Obama said he wouldn’t “scramble jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Now, he’s refusing to meet with world leaders over him. By canceling, the President himself has elevated The Snowden Affair to a whole new level. Instead of a tête-á-tête with the Russian president prior to the G20 summit, the White House announced, President Obama will head to that geopolitical hotspot, Sweden. Boy, Putin must be shaking in his fur-lined boots.

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 Edward Snowden, the American intelligence analyst-turned-global fugitive who reportedly walked out of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday a free man (for now). Snowden’s improbable mission to expose secret American surveillance programs will see another chapter writ after Russia granted the 30-year-old temporary asylum for one year. During his five weeks in the airport’s transit lounge, Snowden stayed away from cameras and stressed, through statements and spokespeople, that his quest is about the American people. The aura he’s created is one of honest motivation and cool determination. Folk hero, anyone?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: F (FULL FIASCO) to Barbara Morgan (at left, with Anthony Weiner), communications director for the death-spiraling Anthony Weiner campaign who – not realizing she was on the record – went on a profanity-filled tirade to a journalist. Anthony Weiner, of course, is the delusional mayoral candidate for New York City who has repeatedly sent photos of his crotch to young women. It was in commenting on one of them that Ms. Morgan unleashed her verbal assault, calling former intern Olivia Nuzzi a “slutbag,” a “bitch,” and several other unprintable epithets. In a shocking development, Weiner said he’ll stand by her.  The only thing missing from this circus is a clown car.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to the Obama Administration, for over-promising on releasing new details about the government’s domestic electronic surveillance program. The not-so-big reveal came as Administration officials again appeared before Congress to testify on the legality and necessity of the surveillance program. But the three – yes, just three – documents were heavily censored and clarified “nothing of importance,” as the New York Times editorialized. Testimony before Congress also produced nada of substance. Meanwhile, events continue to blow past the Administration’s efforts to contain the damage: UK newspaper The Guardian published more spying program details, and a day later, Russia granted secret-leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum.

Department of Defense In De Facto Denial

dod computer1 Department of Defense In De Facto Denial

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Department of Defense.

While NSA secret-leaker Edward Snowden apparently bides his time in the transit zone of Moscow’s airport, the repercussions of his actions continue to confound US officialdom – and their PR teams, it seems. The latest questionable move comes from the Department of Defense.

Last week, The Herald of Monterey County, California learned that internet access to UK newspaper The Guardian, which first broke Snowden’s revelations, had been restricted at a nearby army base. Except it wasn’t just at the base, and it wasn’t just the Guardian’s site: The DoD was blocking all articles about the NSA leaks from millions of government owned computers. Automated filters were installed to censor any article containing information still deemed classified – even though details have been spread to the four corners of the known Interwebs.

Spokespeople for the US Army and DoD cited the need for “network hygiene” to keep the once-secret information from further unauthorized disclosure. A primary concern was money: According to one military flack, it takes “a lot of time” to remove classified material viewed online by news-reading military personnel on government computers. The flack generously noted that DoD “is also not going to block websites from the American public in general.” Just those serving in uniform, apparently.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Department of Defense, for sticking to a rulebook that no longer makes sense.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When events are moving fast, be ready to improvise. How does it look to go by the book when no one else is following the rules? This applies especially in the lightning-fast realm of information technology. The Defense Department’s PR team sought to spin the site-censoring as a cost issue. But why spend money at all on what seems an absurd exercise to begin with? DOD’s policy, and its PR positioning, make as much as sense as – ahem – keeping your head in the sand when the horse has already left the barn.