Baldwin Is Bad News for MSNBC

alec baldwin 150x150 Baldwin Is Bad News for MSNBC

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for MSNBC and Alec Baldwin.

MSNBC’s new program Up Late, hosted by Alec Baldwin, is off to an inauspicious start. Barely a month into its run, the show has been suspended for two weeks after the volatile actor let loose a tirade last week that included calling a paparazzo a “c*cks*cking fag.” Baldwin’s defense?  He claims he said “fathead” and didn’t know the c-word was an insult….

Baldwin’s now notorious uncontrollable rage and slurs are wholly at odds with a brand that MSNBC has spent a lot of time (and money) cultivating. The network’s multi-year “Lean Forward” ad campaign, begun in 2010, describes its philosophy as “progressive,” dedicated to covering news and ideas that move the country forward. More broadly, Baldwin’s latest spectacle comes during national conversations on bullying and discrimination, and at a time when the gay rights movement is making tremendous strides in the US – all issues that the network covers on a daily basis.

This isn’t the first time Baldwin has embarrassed himself in front of TV cameras, and it almost certainly won’t be the last. That MSNBC would hire and then keep on someone whose behavior repeatedly flies in the face of the company’s stated values is more than a mystery. It’s bad news.

PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for MSNBC.

PR TAKEAWAY: Cut your losses. Brand attributes are meaningless if the company’s public representatives don’t embody them. In today’s fickle and fast-paced world reputations can be destroyed in a matter of days. Waiting to see if problems fix themselves is playing with fire. For MSNBC, better to part ways early before this burning issue gets any hotter.

Can Al Jazeera News Work in America?

 Can Al Jazeera News Work in America?

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Al Jazeera America.

One of the most important developments in television news in nearly 20 years is underway in the US, but you might not even know it. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based broadcasting giant, has been quietly building Al Jazeera America, the first major US news channel since Fox News and MSNBC launched in the mid-1990s.

Having acquired the network infrastructure with its $500 million purchase of Al Gore’s Current TV in January, Al Jazeera has hired nearly 700 employees, including CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, and is planning to open a dozen US news bureaus. Al Jazeera America, which is scheduled to launch on August 20, says it will distinguish itself by focusing on in-depth reporting of stories that many Americans say they don’t get from the current slate of news channels.

Compared to the hefty corporate investment, the PR push has been minimal. There have been press releases and meetings with top editorial boards but, overall, Al Jazeera has been conservative in promoting the new channel. This makes sense. Although the network certainly wants to attract a broad audience, there is risk associated with this venture. Most Americans first heard of Al Jazeera in 2001, when it broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden following the September 11th terrorist attacks. It’s not unrealistic to think many potential viewers will associate the name with that event. Others will worry that Al Jazeera will attempt to push certain ideological agendas. Management’s focus now should be on building a fully fledged news operation with a keen understanding of what American viewers are looking for.

THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Al Jazeera, whose ambitious plans may alter the American landscape of network news.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Show, don’t tell. When something is risky or untested, let the product speak for itself.  For Al Jazeera, there is little to be gained by hyping the channel prior to launch. Doing so will inevitably invite criticism that the network can’t answer yet. Instead, Al Jazeera America should keep on keeping on: staying in the press by hiring top talent, opening news bureaus, and being selective about the interviews it does. Bring out the PR bells and whistles once the channel is up and running.