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 the teams in the World Cup. Whether they won, lost, or bit opposing team members, they created drama, last-seconds goal tension, and must-see games. Gone was the bad PR facing Brazil in the weeks leading up to the games, all of it replaced by football frenzy the world over—even in the US, where it’s still called soccer.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to United States Speaker of the House John Boehner and Congress, who tied this week for new lows in partisanship. House Speaker Boehner confirmed this week that he intends to sue President Barack Obama for unlawful use of executive order. The announcement was made soon after Congress nearly came to a brawl over an IRS scandal involving missing emails with sensitive information—a perfect opportunity to point fingers and cry “J’accuse!” at the other side. At a time of historically low levels of trust in government, these elected officials should think twice about their choice of focus.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Chen Guanbiao, the Chinese millionaire who took out an ad in The New York Times to tell the world he would treat 300 homeless New Yorkers to a fancy luncheon and give each of them $300 in cash. Chen, a recycling businessman with a penchant for publicity stunts, was asked by his charity liaison for a donation of $90,000 instead, to protect the homeless from using the money for drugs. At the lunch, Chen had homeless people pose for photos of him giving them cash—that they had to return—so he could maintain his business card statement, “Most Charismatic Philanthropist of China.”

Romney Rips Police Chief for Obama Slur

Romney Romney Rips Police Chief for Obama Slur

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR PERFECT) for Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney might not have been a particularly awesome Presidential candidate (or a particularly enlightened pet owner), but in matters of basic human decency, his bona fides are unassailable. So it was appropriate and magnanimous of him to sound off over the weekend in defense of the man who bested him in 2012, Barack Obama.

Romney, in a statement to The Boston Herald, excoriated Robert Copeland, the rural New Hampshire police commissioner who was overheard using a racial slur to describe the President – and who, despite widespread and uniform condemnation, initially refused even to apologize, let alone resign. Defending his N-word usage, Copeland said the President “meets and exceeds my criteria for such.” His forced resignation was announced by the town government yesterday.

Romney, who owns a nearby vacation home in New Hampshire, minced no words is calling for Copeland to apologize and resign, in no particular order. “The vile epithet used and confirmed by the commissioner has no place in our community,” he told the Herald. Good for Mitt.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mitt Romney, for throwing his moral authority around – and knowing he had to.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when you must speak up. It is as important as knowing when not to. Romney’s remarks about his onetime opponent’s White House tenure and the 2012 Presidential contest haven’t always been supportive or conciliatory. And likely the passage of time hasn’t fully dulled his smarting from the 2012 loss. In the current matter, he could have kept quiet, but likely sooner or later the press would have come calling, expecting an opinion. Romney, among other Obama critics who have also called for Copeland’s resignation, is uniquely credentialed to weigh in: He lives in the community. That made it all the more necessary that he speak out. After all, in the end all politics is local. Along with The World Outside, Romney’s neighbors also deserved to know where he stood.

Elizabeth Warren: Champion of US’ Disappearing Middle Class

 Elizabeth Warren: Champion of US’ Disappearing Middle Class

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

You know your PR is on the “stun” setting when the question about the presidential election goes from whether Hillary Clinton will run to whether you’ll run with her. Welcome to Elizabeth Warren’s new world.

Warren, the Democratic Senator of Massachusetts who chaired the government oversight panel on the 2008 bailout, released her latest book, A Fighting Chance, this week. The book is part memoir of her childhood in rural Oklahoma, part commentary on the plight of America’s middle class. (An article in The New York Times about America’s middle class no longer being the richest in the world could not be better timed.) Warren’s plainspoken indictments of political and corporate actions that led up to the financial collapse will likely be read raptly by many a disenchanted American.

Now Warren’s is one of the names being bandied about for 2016. She says she has no intention of running for president herself, nor has Hillary Clinton committed to a run. But Warren is already taking another step in her role as champion of America’s ailing middle class.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Check the weather and step out accordingly. Since the economic collapse that still has the US (and the world) reeling, Americans have grown mistrustful of politicians and banks. Enter Warren, daughter of a janitor and a minimum-wage earner who became a Harvard law professor, who seems to speak the same fed-up language that average people do, basher of big banks and crusader for the little guy. The 2016 election is a while away, but Elizabeth Warren’s message is right on time.

US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

 US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act. (Pictured: President Obama, former US Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius)

After a mortifying rollout, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is finally in place. Over 7 million Americans have signed up, a number higher than the original goal, and President Obama’s legacy – healthcare for all – seems underway. The act narrowly survived constant attack by Republicans, not to mention its own faulty website. However, one casualty that no amount of healthcare could fix was the reputation of US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and its effect on the ACA.

Obamacare was under Sebelius’s watch, and she largely took the fall, rightly or not, willingly or not, for the severely flawed rollout. It was Sebelius, facing an angry mob of senators, who had to admit that Healthcare.gov, the ACA website where most Americans were to sign up, had barely been tested before going live. Damage control appearances caused even more damage, especially an uncomfortable appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. All of it was fuel for Republicans determined to repeal the ACA.

Sebelius, a former governor of Kansas who was once a contender for vice president in 2008, was a likely candidate for termination after the ACA rollout fiasco. The question is now whether the falling ax will do further harm to an already tarnished initiative.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to let sleeping dogs lie, especially when they’re vicious. Letting Sebelius go during the worst of the ACA’s rollout would have caused even more turmoil for Obamacare. Her resignation comes on a high note of above-goal enrollment; the best timing for a bad situation. Now Sylvia Mathews Burwell, formerly director of the Office of Management and Budget, suits up against Republicans bent on finding chinks in the armor of the ACA. It’s a tough job; just ask Kathleen Sebelius.

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

Liz Wahl RT The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Liz Wahl, an American anchor for state-owned RT (Russia Today) TV, who resigned on air Wednesday citing the Kremlin’s political interference with the network’s news reporting – in this case, concerning Russia’s invasion of Crimea in the wake of political upheaval in Ukraine. Wahl minced no words in drawing a link to President Vladimir Putin, saying she could no longer be “part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.” A day earlier, colleague and fellow anchor Abby Martin  had similarly denounced Putin’s invasion – and faced reassignment as a result. Brava to both.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who publicly identified herself as a porn star, at least by her nom-du-film (she says her “birth name” is still personal information). Knox’s secret was out after she was recognized at a college party. At first, she shied away from inquiring minds, but then approached Playboy, XOJane.com and others to explain that a) she had to do this because school is “f*cking expensive” and b) women in porn need to be more empowered – and she will be their leader. Even Playboy had trouble swallowing that one. Advice to Belle: keep your mouth shut.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who took to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee with harsh words for the media, Democrats, and President Obama. He had zero words about the investigation into his alleged involvement in Bridgegate, nor any of the party-crossing banter that won the Republican governor many a Democratic vote in the last election. His pro-life conservative tone is one he hasn’t used in a while, making many wonder which side Christie is really on. The answer is simple: whichever one will get him the most votes.

SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

edlee SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is trying to broker peace in his city between the haves and the have-mores – that is, between the middle class and the Next Notch Up. Many of the latter group hail from the tech industry, whose financial and political support helped Lee win office in 2011. Judging from recent published remarks, the mayor might need to recalibrate his socioeconomic bearings to keep his impartial referee’s cap.

Interviewed in Time on how tech wealth has fueled divisions and resentments among residents, Lee conceded that his city might have “missed some steps” in tending to its middle class – and then made a misstep of his own. “We might have a broader range of defining the middle class,” Lee told Time. “I’m talking maybe $80,000 to $150,000.”

That range, as it turns out, is wildly off. As local news outlets reported, census data list median salary in the city at $74,000 as recently as 2012. (It’s about $61,000 for California and $53,000 for the nation.) Upwardly revising the number also rebrands the middle class to embrace the tech block to whom Lee is beholden. Et voila! What middle-class exodus? What’s more, our six-figure friends need government help!

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, for floating a tone-deaf talking point seemingly crafted by a tech sector lobbyist.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Build a ring-fence around your credibility. This is especially true for would-be mediators. The middle ground is the hardest to defend and the slightest tip of the scales one way or the other compromises one’s impartiality and hence effectiveness at bridging gaps. Lee’s infraction of this rule is seemingly minor, but San Francisco is tightly bound, constrained geographically (by water) and politically (by tradition). Like the city’s endemic earthquakes, even small political ripples can do damage and escalate rapidly to major catastrophe. Keep your friends close, indeed – but your facts closer.

Former Secretary of Defense Declares War

 Former Secretary of Defense Declares War

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Could PR get any worse for the Obama administration after the HealthCare.gov debacle? Last week, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates released Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, which reads like a secretary declaring war on a sitting president.

Highlights include Gates writing of a meeting on the war in Afghanistan in March 2011. “I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his… For him, it’s about getting out.” Similar candor was used to describe Congress and US Vice President Joe Biden.

Why write a scathing memoir about a sitting president and a war in progress? The media’s verdict is that Duty could be retitled Betrayal.  In interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Gates obliquely said, “My objective was to…try and provide a non-partisan look at the kind of issues that have riven our country and riven our government for the last number of years.” Which doesn’t explain the need to do it now as much as another statement: “Why was I so angry all the time? …because getting anything done in Washington was so damnably hard.”

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Candor guarantees media time. While Gates has been criticized for the harshness and timing of his book, he has dominated the media. In a sea of watery apologies from politicians, Gates comes off as a strong and outraged voice. He may inflame, but if nothing else he’s seen the trend of growing impatience with politics and has acted on it. Right or wrong? Immaterial; the answer is, effective. 

 

The “Selfie” Seen ‘Round the World

 The Selfie Seen Round the World

PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for President Obama

If President Obama wasn’t suffering enough PR damage lately, a seemingly thoughtless gesture during the memorial service for anti-apartheid crusader and former South African President Nelson Mandela sealed the deal.

Acting as though they were at a party instead of a memorial service, Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt took a break from the eulogies to snap what is known in today’s tech parlance as a “selfie”. Unfortunately for them, someone else was snapping their photo at the same time – and the photo immediately went viral.

Everything about the photo induces a wince, from the trio crowding their heads together like goofy teenagers to a possibly furious Michelle Obama appearing to ignore them. Sadly, the selfie seen ’round the world became more newsworthy than Obama’s own moving and powerful speech about Mandela’s life.

Is there a silver lining here? Possibly. The faux pas also overshadowed Obama’s other gaffe that day, an  “unplanned” handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro that forced the White House to reiterate the president’s “grave concerns” about human rights violations in the Caribbean nation.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for President Obama.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Public figures are always on display, never more than when the chips are down. In late November, a poll suggested a majority of Americans don’t think Obama trustworthy as his advisers sought to divert attention from the PR debacle associated with the rollout of Obamacare. Using his exceptional oratorical skills at Mandela’s memorial service might have been a way to remove some of the tarnish. Unfortunately, forgetting that he must always be presidential cost him that opportunity.

Has Rush Limbaugh Gone Too Far?

 Has Rush Limbaugh Gone Too Far?

PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Rush Limbaugh.

While it may seem that there is nothing politically conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh won’t say, his recent rant against Pope Francis may have just crossed a line.

On his radio show, Limbaugh railed against the Pope’s recent 50,000-word Evangelii Gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel,” in which the pontiff laid out his interpretation of the Catholic Church’s mission. Pope Francis urged his followers to relinquish obsessions with issues like same-sex marriage and contraception and instead return to the fundamentals, e.g. helping the poor. He denounced “the idolatry of money” and criticized “trickle-down economics …[which] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

The Pope’s words thrilled many Catholics who have felt the church has strayed from its core values. But his clear dig at more capitalist societies irked others, including Limbaugh. In typical fiery style, he called the Pope’s views “pure Marxism” and said the Holy See was “dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.” He also struck a paranoid note, wondering if someone “got to him” (God, perhaps?).

A sticky wicket for Limbaugh. His listeners are conservative, but so are many Catholics –  and a lot of Catholics really, really like their new Pope. Is Limbaugh really asking his fans to pick sides?

PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Rush Limbaugh, who risks alienating an important segment of his fan base.

PR TAKEAWAY: Even if your job is to be controversial,  avoid sacred cows. Indeed, Limbaugh seemed to acknowledge as much, saying “I gotta be very careful” during his tirade. We know how much Rush hates to be referred to as “an entertainer,” but the truth is that’s exactly what he is, and insulting a wildly popular Pope is about as PR un-savvy as it gets. Rush doesn’t have to endorse everything that Pope Francis says, but he would be wise to temper his papal tirades – lest he find some of his flock straying.

Congressman Hits All the Right Notes in Apology

radel Congressman Hits All the Right Notes in Apology

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for US Rep. Trey Radel.

The public mea culpa is an essential PR exercise.  The offender seeks to lessen the sting of a misdeed and engender sympathy not scorn. For the V.A.P. – Very Apologetic Person – it’s never too late to say you’re sorry.

The latest example comes from US Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL), charged Tuesday with cocaine possession after he allegedly purchased the drug from an undercover agent. The self-styled  “Hip Hop Conservative” is the first sitting congressman in 30 years to be arrested on a drug charge. He quickly pleaded guilty Thursday and was sentenced to probation.

Radel issued a statement immediately after his arrest. He blamed alcoholism, which led him “to an extremely irresponsible choice” to buy drugs. He invoked his wife and young son and vowed to get help “so I can be a better man for both of them.” Finally, he noted the “positive side” of his arrest, which offered him “an opportunity to seek treatment and counseling” and a chance to set “an example for other struggling with this disease.” If there’s a note he missed, we’re not aware of it.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Trey Radel, who wasted no time singing every verse of the mea culpa aria.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Respond quickly and own your misdeeds. Had Radel delayed, the initial news story might have dealt only with his arrest. A follow-up would present his apologia, keeping the story alive. He executed well, copping to a lesser offense of alcoholism rather than a problem with illegal drugs. He proffered his “husband and father” bona fides and turned his arrest into an opportunity – a role model for recovery. He also took a near-instant plea, closing his legal proceedings out neatly. Next step? Take a quiet turn in rehab and emerge with  a personal story of  redemption to earn leniency in the court of public opinion.