Times, Le Monde Defend Against Accusations of Sexism

 Times, Le Monde Defend Against Accusations of Sexism

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Times and Le Monde (pictured: Natalie Nougayrede and Jill Abramson).

Last week was not a good one for women in media. Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, was fired, and Natalie Nougayrède, editor of Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, resigned. Both were the first women to hold their respective posts.

While both departures were shocking, neither was particularly surprising, given weeks of leaked news of discontent on both editorial floors. Most of the stories focused on managerial styles: Abramson was characterized as polarizing and mercurial, while Nougayrède’s management was described as authoritarian and “Putin-like.”

Accusations of sexism were inevitable, as women in media wondered if the same adjectives, applied to men, would have been pejoratives (“Putin-like” aside). The specifics in Nougayrède’s case, among them that she butted heads with editors over her attempts to put more emphasis on the digital version of the paper, could be used on either side of the argument. However, Abramson’s pay being lower than that of her male predecessor supported the accusations. On Saturday, Times owner Arthur Sulzberger Jr. released a statement saying that Abramson’s management style was the sole reason for her termination, and that her total pay package was similar to that of her predecessor – which turned out not to entirely add up. As of press time, Abramson was expected to tell her side of the story Monday morning.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Times and Le Monde.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be prepared to present facts. All business entities want bad PR to fade away quickly, but in the event that questions make it linger, facts dampen speculation. The difficulty in transitioning from print to digital is being emphasized as the conflict between Nougayrède and her staff; Abramson’s reaction to the salary discrepancy was hiring a lawyer, a move that ruffled her superiors’ feathers irreparably. The reason for her needing to do so, however, is something that keeps this story alive, and Times owners on the defensive.

Bottom Line? It’s Not Always About the Bottom Line

 Bottom Line? Its Not Always About the Bottom Line

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Mozilla.

When Brendan Eich stepped down from his position as chief executive of software company Mozilla last week, the general assumption was that his personal stance against same-sex marriage was to blame. But was morality the reason for Eich’s resignation from Mozilla after being appointed a mere two weeks ago? No, opines Farhad Manjoo in the international edition of Sunday’s New York Times. Manjoo instead points out a key factor about Mozilla that companies need to heed. For Mozilla, the bottom line isn’t the only bottom line.

Mozilla is a company with a mission, to promote “the development of the Internet as a public resource.” In other words, it’s not all about the money for Mozilla. In a highly competitive industry, Manjoo writes, corporate culture becomes as important as salary. Apple and Microsoft may be able to offer buckets of money to talented coders and software designers, but those people might go for the company offering something they believe in.

Mozillians spoke online of how Eich divided their community. One said, “He is actively harming Mozilla by not making a proper statement on these issues and making things right.” Eich’s probable forced resignation is yet another example of the importance of keeping one’s personal opinions out of business.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Mozilla, for distancing themselves from a debate that causes damage to their corporate culture and their brand.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Remember the refrain from The Godfather: It’s business, not personal. Whether you’re in business purely for profit or you have a mission, personal opinions can cost a company more than money. PR people exist for this purpose; had a few been consulted on this matter, Eich might not have a two-week position on his resume, and Mozilla wouldn’t have a new reputation of axing those it deems wrong.

Times Gives Credit Where It’s Due (ie, Not to Gwyneth)

 Times Gives Credit Where Its Due (ie, Not to Gwyneth)

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Katherine Woodward Thomas, who owes the NY Times big time.

Though the “paper of record” has suffered a few black eyes in the last decade, the New York Times does its due diligence. In an article about the hot new catchphrase “conscious uncoupling” used by Gwyneth Paltrow last week to announce her separation from husband Chris Martin, the Times discovered the person who really launched the phrase: psychotherapist, relationship expert and author Katherine Woodward Thomas.

Thanks to the Times, Thomas is now enjoying renewed fame. Thomas is the author of Calling In The One, a self-help book that described how Thomas found her husband. Years later, after the couple parted, Thomas created a “conscious uncoupling” workshop.

Though Paltrow failed to cite Thomas as the source of the phrase in her now-famous divorce announcement –  a blog post on her website Goop – Thomas does in the Times. She attributes it to a friend who used it to describe his drama-free divorce, and Thomas asked if she could use it. Thomas also mentions that she’d been in talks with her publisher, Crown, about a book on the subject. After this article, it’s likely that Crown will be consciously rushing this one to the printer.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Katherine Woodward Thomas, who owes the NY Times big time.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Make sure credit is given where it’s due. It’s unclear from the Times article whether Crown alerted the Times to the true source of the catchphrase, or whether this was the result of a reporter doing extra digging. If it’s the former, good work. Though the term conscious uncoupling is mostly being made fun of, it’s of the moment and in the media. The originator can now ride the wave to sales. If, however, the truth was revealed not by a diligent flak but a curious reporter, someone at Crown has some explaining to do.

Newsweek Gets Press, and Controversy, With Bitcoin Story

 Newsweek Gets Press, and Controversy, With Bitcoin Story

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Newsweek.

Venerable news journal Newsweek returned to the stands on Friday after a 14-month absence. Clearly a big cover story was needed, and they had one: the identity of the founder of Bitcoin, the digital currency with mysterious origins. Apparently, there’s still some mystery – and a lot of controversy over the article.

Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman said she had proof that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto was the founder of Bitcoin. Nakamoto, described by the New York Times as “a reclusive train collector,” then gave a two-hour interview to AP denying Newsweek‘s claims. At the heart of the debate is a brief conversation that took place outside Nakamoto’s home; Goodman’s interpretation of his response to questions about Bitcoin was that he was the founder. Nakamoto says he misunderstood her questions.

The magazine issued a statement saying they stand by the story, with well-worded acknowledgement of the online attacks toward Goodman, her reporting, even her character. Others in the media are calling into question Goodman’s proof and journalistic ethics. Given that Bitcoin has recently given investors a tumultuous ride, some speculate the Newsweek article has put Nakamoto in danger, without strong enough proof of association.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Newsweek.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: With great risk, there are two outcomes: great rewards, or spectacularly bad problems. Clearly, Newsweek needed a big story after over a year off the stands and many questioning the future of print media. (A few might also scratch their heads as to why the online version gives free access to the entire feature; isn’t the point of magazines to sell magazines, not give the content away?) This explosive story gave Newsweek the media splash they needed, and the negative attention they never wanted. Well, they got people talking. Should their sources be proven wrong, they may wish they’d gone with something slightly quieter.

Football Star Comes Out of the Closet

 Football Star Comes Out of the Closet

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for football player Michael Sam.

It may be easier for public figures to reveal their sexual orientation these days, but much depends on the environment. The world of professional sports is now closely watching what happens with University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who recently revealed he is gay.

Sam, 24, is up for the National Football League draft. If chosen by a major team, he will be the NFL’s first, and so far only, openly gay player. Sam came out ahead of the draft because, he said, rumors had been circulating. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” he told the New York Times and ESPN. “I just want to own my truth.”

His teammates were reported as being entirely supportive, as was the university. The NFL’s statement said, “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage… We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.” Others associated with football, including players, have been less complementary, saying homosexuality has no place in the locker room. In a time when coming out is easier but not always accepted, one can only make a personal choice to, as Sam said, own one’s truth, and then choose how to tell it.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Michael Sam. A football player at the top of his game has played his hand well.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Turn a challenge into an opportunity. While Michael Sam may have been forced to reveal his sexual orientation due to rumors, he took charge of the situation by turning his media revelation into a platform. “I don’t think I should be defined as Michael Sam, the gay athlete, or the gay football player,” he said in the New York Times video. “I want to be a football player.” If he keeps playing as well as he has, his actions may speak louder than any words about whether sexual orientation matters.

Allen Responds to Farrow’s Claims in Times

 Allen Responds to Farrows Claims in Times

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Woody Allen.

The old saying “fight fire with fire” was updated in the ongoing, uncomfortably public drama surrounding Dylan Farrow and her adoptive father Woody Allen. A week after Farrow gave a vivid account of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Allen to the New York Times, Allen responded with a self-penned Opinion piece, also in the Times.

Technically and from a PR standpoint, Allen responded two days after Farrow’s piece ran: His publicist stated facts surrounding the original allegations, and his lawyer followed two days later by restating facts. Never once was Dylan Farrow called a liar; rather, blame was shifted to her mother, Mia Farrow.

Allen continued in that vein, stating the findings of the special unit assigned to child sexual abuse, as well as giving a more personal account. So far, so good. But that gives way to a more emotional side of Allen. He addresses Mia’s coy pondering about son Ronan’s paternity, citing her hint of infidelity as testament to “what kind of character we are dealing with here.”

By the end, the angry Allen becomes a father despairing over a lost relationship, as well as having this alleged incident discussed publicly again. “This piece will be my final word on the matter,” he writes. “Enough people have been hurt.”

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Woody Allen.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: State your case by stating the facts, and then move on. One could hardly expect anyone accused of a heinous crime to remain calm, whether in person or on paper. In cases such as these, damned if you do, damned if you don’t; an unemotional response might have had people calling Woody Allen unfeeling, while the emotion he displayed – anger against Mia Farrow – may also tarnish him. From a PR perspective, his choice to speak, his method of communication, and his venue were all appropriate, as was his promise at the end to say no more.

Allen’s Team Responds to Farrow’s Open Letter

 Allens Team Responds to Farrows Open Letter

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Woody Allen’s PR and legal team. (Pictured: Allen’s lawyer Elkan Abramowitz)

The denial of allegations of sexual abuse is extremely difficult to nearly impossible, especially in a public forum. Yet it was absolutely impossible for Woody Allen to remain silent after his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter detailing her account of Allen sexually abusing her as a child. But what would Allen say, and how?

The first line of PR response was not for Allen himself to go public. His reaction was given the next day through his longtime publicist Leslee Dart, who said Mr. Allen would respond directly “very soon.” She then listed the legal facts about the investigation.

Another response came yesterday – again, not from Allen, but from his lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz, who gave an exclusive interview to the Today Show. His stance was crucial, as he was speaking for Allen: Would he call the victim a liar? Not a chance. “In my view, she’s not lying,” Abramowitz said. “She truly believes this happened.” He went on to reiterate the legal facts and to present Allen’s explanation: that Mia Farrow, enraged over Allen’s then-new relationship with her adopted daughter (with André Previn) Soon-Yi, coached daughter Dylan to say she was molested. Another talking point Abramowitz made was that Allen was not angry with Dylan Farrow. “His reaction is one of overwhelming sadness,” Abramowitz said.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Woody Allen’s PR and legal team.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Respond – don’t react. Allen’s team is obviously skilled and wise. While Allen’s answer could only be maintaining his innocence, the way this was presented was crucial. One cannot claim innocence without implying that the accuser – in this case, the alleged victim –  is a liar. Unless, that is, blame is diverted to the mother and a reason given for her to manipulate a child. In the court of public opinion, reasonable doubt has been introduced.

Farrow Accuses Allen in NY Times

 Farrow Accuses Allen in NY Times

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Dylan Farrow.

In a weekend filled with public relations news – Yahoo’s mail breach, a former Chris Christie associate saying his boss knew about Bridgegate, the loss of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman – one story stood out. Yet from a PR standpoint, it’s one of most difficult to assess. We’re talking – as is everyone in the media – about Dylan Farrow‘s accusation of sexual molestation by her adoptive stepfather Woody Allen.

Farrow wrote about the abuse in Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times. This was both an interesting and obvious choice. Interesting because Kristof is known for writing about sexual abuse of women and girls all over the world. Obvious because, as Kristof discloses, he is a friend of Farrow’s adoptive mother, Mia Farrow, and her brother Ronan Farrow.

Reaction from the media was swift, and only two sides could be taken. There were those who agreed with Farrow that Allen should not have been honored by the Golden Globes, and those who defended Allen by recounting the fact that he was never formally charged.

From a PR standpoint, the effects on Allen are obviously dire. (At the time of this posting Allen had not responded, but his rep did; read her statement here.) As the statute of limitations has run out on the case by at least 15 years, no legal action can be taken. Farrow’s point was to speak out, she said, for herself and for other victims. In that respect, she has been heard.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Dylan Farrow.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When dropping a bombshell, choose your vehicle wisely. There’s no doubt Farrow could have made millions with a tell-all memoir or an exclusive to a tabloid. However, Farrow said her point was to speak out for herself and for other victims of abuse. By choosing the column of a champion of women’s rights in a respected newspaper, with no money exchanged, she maintained the integrity of her goal.

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Prince Harry, who will join a team of war veterans trekking to the South Pole to raise awareness for wounded soldiers. The 200-mile race for Walking With the Wounded features three teams comprised of military veterans and a celebrity; Harry is the only celeb who has served in combat. At a reception at Buckingham Palace, the prince introduced the team participants to Queen Elizabeth, addressing her as “Granny.” A charitable effort within character and down-to-earth charm have taken Harry further than the South Pole from the embarrassment of those nude Vegas photos and drunken escapades.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Bloomberg News, which found the journalistic shoe on the other foot courtesy of The New York Times. Quoting at least four employee sources, the Times alleged that Bloomberg intentionally killed provocative news stories about China because the organization feared retribution by the Chinese government. The story continues to percolate despite a vehement denial from Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, whose refutation essentially claims the stories aren’t dead – they’re just sleeping. The well-sourced and detailed Times account gives an impression of veracity, while Winkler’s quasi repudiation rings hollow. Sometimes “no comment” is the right comment.

NSA The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO the National Security Agency, whose top lawyer told Congress this week the spy agency can’t determine how often it spies on Americans without spying on them more. Robert Litt, general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy that it would be “very resource-intensive” for the NSA to identify the nationality of people whose data is collected indirectly – for example, the recipients of a surveillance target’s email. Doing so “would perversely require a greater invasion of that person’s privacy,” he said. That prompted Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to observe: “Isn’t it a bad thing that the NSA doesn’t even have a rough sense of how many Americans have had their information collected under a law … that specifically prohibits targeting Americans?”

Mariel Hemingway’s Crazy (But Not Insane) PR Blitz

 Mariel Hemingways Crazy (But Not Insane) PR Blitz

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mariel Hemingway.

This past weekend, readers of the New York Times Magazine met a vibrant health nut with an outlook as sunny as her blonde hair. Similarly, viewers of highly-rated news program CBS Sunday Morning watched this same woman bouncing on a trampoline and discussing her family. Neither would be extraordinary except when speaking of Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of legendary author Ernest Hemingway and heir to grave family misfortune.

In contrast to Mariel Hemingway’s smoothie-making, trampoline-jumping optimism is the legend of the rest of her family. Ernest’s story, ended by his own hand with a shotgun blast, is well known, but only one of many suicides in the Hemingway clan, including Mariel’s sister, supermodel Margaux.

Mariel has made conscious, if somewhat predictable, life course changes: yoga, meditation, a clear eye at the role alcoholism played in her family. She is now the subject of a documentary, aptly titled Running From Crazy. The film premiered to praise at Sundance and will open in theaters November 1.

Hence the media blitz, and a more perfect subject could not be found. At 51, Mariel Hemingway is beautiful, fit, and swiftly becoming that latest darling of buzzphrases, a “lifestyle brand.” She’s a happy surprise in the “whatever happened to” annals of celebrity. She comes from one of the most storied families in America, and she’s more than willing to discuss her family tragedies. However, she’s not airing dirty laundry. Rather, she seems to be saying that if she can survive the Hemingway curse, adversity is something that can be bounced back from. Perhaps on a trampoline.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Mariel Hemingway.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: While using the PR playbook, rewrite and improve. Some typical PR ops are celebrities making a comeback; celebrities getting healthy; celebrity memoirs; and famous family secrets. Hemingway puts a new and optimistic spin on them. This is a story that could have gone so wrong and yet has gone so right. Instead of being a joke or a bore, Hemingway is the happy ending her grandfather could not have written.