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 Vladimir Putin for maneuvering himself into a crucial leadership position in the Syrian crisis. First, the Russian president commandeered US Secretary of State John Kerry’s offhand proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to avoid a military strike. While Kerry offered the option as an unlikely possibility, Putin seized it and turned it into a workable option, forcing President Obama to delay his request to Congress to consider military action. Putin followed that up with an editorial in The New York Times, pressing his case directly to the American people. Over the past week, the Russian president more firmly positioned Moscow as a key player in international management of not only Syria, but broader issues in the Middle East.

paxdick The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Pax Dickinson, whose sexist, racist tweets cost him as his job last week as CTO at Business Insider, the business and tech news website. Tech site Valleywag called Dickinson out Monday, citing offensive postings on his personal Twitter feed that go back years. He was gone the next day. Dickinson has tweeted choice words for – well, just about everyone who’s not a white heterosexual male. “Tech managers spend as much time worrying about how to hire talented female developers as they do worrying about how to hire a unicorn,” read one of his tamer rants, from 2012. Maybe he thought a disclaimer on his account, “Unprofessional opinions not endorsed by anyone respectable,” lent cover for his off-hours “brogrammer” to roam free. But that’s not how that Interweb thingy works, as surely any CTO should know.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to the media, for taking James Franco’s “I wish I was gay” quote out of context. The media lives for a celebrity like Franco, who does something provocative almost every month. He’s gone from actor to performance artist, keeping the world guessing as to whether he’s serious about attending several universities – simultaneously – doing art installations, and appearing on a soap opera as a villain named (what else?) James Franco. The man was ripe for a celebrity roast, during which several of his comedian friends joked about his sexuality. Franco’s response: “I get asked about it from all sides… It’s not something that bothers me in the slightest. I don’t even care if people think I’m gay. I mean, I wish I was gay.” Franco was trying to de-stigmatize questions about  sexuality, but the press pounced and turned the quote into exactly the sort of sensationalism that Franco, a sensational showman, was trying to avoid.

The Worm Turns…Into a Diplomat?

 The Worm Turns...Into a Diplomat?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Dennis Rodman (pictured with Kim Jong Un).

Dennis Rodman has always been a maverick. And while few thought they’d seen the last of him when he retired from professional basketball, even fewer could have predicted that the ostentatious athlete would be making headlines for his  attempts at international “diplomacy” nearly 15 years later.

On the court, Rodman was known as “The Worm” and played an aggressive defense for several top-ranked US teams. Off the court, he was equally well known for his multi-hued hair, wild tattoos, and laundry list of wives and legal woes. After stints in acting and professional wrestling, the now 52-year-old Rodman has a new career: unofficial ambassador to North Korea and its young dictator Kim Jong Un, or – as Rodman put it this week – his “friend for life.”

Returning from a  second trip to see Kim, Rodman held a press conference this week to dutifully convey Kim’s message to the world: Hey, North Korea isn’t so bad! Kim, Rodman insisted, is “a very good guy,” and, really, just wants to talk. One presumes Rodman’s state-managed tours of the North Korean countryside did not include the millions believed starving and living in forced poverty, or the gulags where multiple generations of a family are imprisoned for a single relative’s transgression.

While a few naïve hopefuls continue to view Rodman’s visits as positive, the growing feeling is this “basketball diplomacy” is at best entertaining and at worst embarrassing. As one late-night comedian put it, “Not since Sea Biscuit and Hitler has there been a more strange pairing of athlete and dictator.”

THE PR VERDICT:  “D” (PR Problematic) for Dennis Rodman. US Secretary of State John Kerry need not fear for his position.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  There is a fine line between outrageous and oafish. Rodman’s antics have always pushed the envelope, and he has been rewarded with lots of attention. But there is something pathetic about this latest publicity grab: Rodman appears less a savvy envoy and more an aging ex-basketball player mesmerized by a young despot who flatters him and makes him feel important. “I’m not a joke,” Rodman insisted at the press conference, sitting next to a bust of his own head. “Take me seriously.” If only it were that easy, Dennis.

Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

 Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Joan Juliet Buck.

Pity poor Joan Juliet Buck, Vogue stalwart and roving editor, who has come under intense scrutiny following her now infamous Vogue article on Asma Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. Written and published shortly before civil war broke out, Buck’s glowing profile, entitled “A Rose in the Desert,”  now looks impossibly ill judged. History will remember Asma as the consort of a ruthless dictator, and Vogue as being on the wrong side of the story.

But now Buck is fighting back. Sick and tired of having her name ridiculed as the author of the ultimate PR puff piece, she has broken her silence and given her version of how the article came about. It seems her editors at Vogue  misinterpreted the Arab spring as a storm in a teacup, as did the rest of the world. Buck’s explanation makes compelling reading. Published on The DailyBeast with an accompanying broadcast interview, Buck portrays herself as a writer uneasy with what she has been tasked to do but who went on regardless.

The blame, it seems, lies in equal parts. Buck is very clear that politics and foreign relations were not her area of expertise. She writes that she visited Syria “and understood nothing.” Though not entirely seduced by her hosts and wary of phone taps and hacks into her laptop, she was more concerned with filing her story than exploring simmering discontent. Buck paid the price, with Vogue severing relations with her after more than twenty years.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) to Joan Juliet Buck for an insightful and fascinating read. She lets the facts speak for themselves. No one is covered in glory.

The PR Takeaway: In matters of setting the record straight, focus less on blame and more on letting facts speak for themselves. Buck has endured substantial personal and professional ridicule since her article was published. Her version of events is a thrilling read. She portions little blame but makes the point that it’s easy to be wise after the event. The Assads were visited by Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Sting, Angelina and Brad, and Francis Ford Coppola during their PR push. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; Buck’s reputation may not be so damaged after all.