The IRS Scandal: A Nixonian Approach?

Screen Shot 2013 05 22 at 8.03.19 AM The IRS Scandal: A Nixonian Approach? The Obama administration continues to do itself no favors in the controversy involving the Internal Revenue Service. The scandal has already prompted the resignation of Acting IRS Chief Steven Miller and spawned both Congressional hearings and a Justice Department criminal inquiry.

In this week’s installment, administration officials offered contradictory information about when they found out the IRS was targeting politically conservative groups for additional scrutiny. On Sunday, a White House representative told the Sunday talk shows the issue hit the presidential radar the previous week.  A day later, however, White House spokesman Jay Carney revealed that several senior aides, including President Obama’s chief of staff and a senior White House attorney, knew about the matter more than a month ago, but chose not to tell the president.  Certain senior U.S. Treasury officials knew about IRS activities last year. IRS official Lois Lerner shed no additional light in her testimony before Congress: she pleaded the Fifth Amendment, invoking her right against self-incrimination.

Fair or not, the progression of events has begun to draw comparisons to another political era: that of Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon. Prior to the Watergate scandal that ultimately swamped his presidency, Nixon wielded the IRS as a bludgeon against those on his “enemies list”. It was also during the congressional inquiry into Watergate that Senator Howard Baker, a Tennessee Republican, posed the now famous political question: What did the President know, and when did he know it? When it comes to the current scandal, the answer to that question seems far from clear.

THE PR VERDICT:  “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Obama administration. At best, the administration looks confused and inept; at worst, bullying and devious.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  The buck always stops at the top. A school of thought exists wherein keeping bad news from senior management is believed to provide protection from fallout. That’s the wrong approach. Whether president or CEO, an organization’s leader is always held accountable for its behavior. When things go awry, the best plan is to move quickly to apprise leadership, sort out the facts, take remedial action if necessary and be prepared to speak knowledgeably about the matter if needed. Anything less is asking for trouble.

The PRV Report Card: Winners & Losers

Screen Shot 2013 05 16 at 7.16.52 PM 150x150 The PRV Report Card: Winners & LosersPR Winner: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Republicans who have turned up the heat on the Obama’s second term. If true that life comes at you in threes, then this week was the triumvirate of PR gifts. Obama found himself on the back foot regarding the IRS/ Tea Party scandal, the Justice Department/AP phone record snooping, and finally the ongoing thorn in the side of the Administration that is Benghazi. No matter the merits, the concerted drum beating has been an effective PR attack. Objective one: change the news agenda and place the Administration on the defensive, unable to talk about what it wants to talk about. For this week at least, mission accomplished.

Screen Shot 2013 05 16 at 7.17.58 PM 150x150 The PRV Report Card: Winners & LosersPR Loser: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Barbara Walters and the media reaction to her announcement that she is stepping down. In what will be her long goodbye to broadcasting, America’s famous interviewer announced that she would be phasing herself out during a series of programmed appearances and TV specials over the next twelve months. Online and columnist reactions to her career were astonishingly scathing. Slammed as lightweight, fawning and inconsequential the reaction could have only made unhappy bedtime reading for Babs’ PR team. A couple more glowing endorsements from journalists who think Babs paved the way for other women might have given the coverage some more balance. For Babs and her team, this might be a tough twelve months.

Screen Shot 2013 05 16 at 7.19.58 PM 150x150 The PRV Report Card: Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Kylie Busutti, a former Victoria’s Secret model currently touting her book I’m No Angel. In her sad tale, Ms. Busutti recounts being shocked – shocked! – to find out that models are required to be absurdly thin and that Victoria’s Secret apparel is sexy, apparently too sexy for Busutti’s Christian faith. We’re not sure what deserted island this young woman grew up on, but these are hardly revelations. There is something rank, too, about claiming a moral high ground that wouldn’t let her continue in such a tawdry profession but does, apparently, permit trying to capitalize on it.