Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

mark zuckerberg Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had just about enough of the government meddling with his website and spying on his users. So last week he called a pal to complain – President Obama.

Zuck casually mentioned the call in a Facebook page post responding to the latest revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (via activist journalist Glenn Greenwald). The story, which the NSA flatly denies, described how government computers masqueraded as Facebook servers to send malware that infected Facebook users’ machines in order to spy on them. The automated process meant the NSA could target millions of users.

In his post, Zuckerberg said he was “confused and frustrated” by the continuing reports of  government surveillance. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

The White House confirmed the conversation took place but offered nothing more, and nothing will really come of it. Zuck and his tech pals are in the right, of course, but powerless to do anything other than complain – loudly and visibly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Zuckerberg, who, if immobilized, at least needs to show he’s good and steamed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk the walk. In this matter, there seems to be little else that Facebook and other Tech Titans can do, at least publicly. With each new damning revelation, the public trust in sites like Facebook dies a little more, and that directly and dramatically affects the bottom line. When Snowden’s leaks first hit the press, the implication was that Facebook et al were complicit in the spying. That taint has never quite dissipated from the  seemingly interminable storyline. Zuck reached out in an necessary symbolic gesture with his phone call to the President – but it probably ended with, “Thanks, Obama.”

 

 

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

kentucky attorney general jack conway gay marriage 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Jack Conway, the Attorney General of Kentucky who refused to appeal the lifting of a ban on gay marriage in his state. Conway said he could not support this last bastion of discrimination, despite many voters supporting the ban and his plan to run for governor. “There were plenty of people who advised me this is very risky for me politically,” Conway said. “But I talked it over with my wife, and she said, ‘You know what Jack, you really stink when you are insincere.'” This sincere move, which goes against Conway’s Catholic background but aligns with his political ideals, makes him smell like a rose.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the various entities searching for seemingly ill-fated Malaysia Airlines 370. The plane, with more than 230 passengers, was last reported over the Gulf of Thailand. For family and friends, the probable disaster has been compounded by a barrage of incomplete, incorrect and contradictory information about the plane’s whereabouts, how long it was in the air, and who was aboard. It’s true that no one has any answers yet. But a basic tenet of crisis communications is to designate a single point of contact through which all information will flow. That’s no easy feat when there are multiple countries and agencies  involved. By bungling communications, however, an already terrible situation has been made even worse.

barack obama between two ferns 580 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO President Obama, who submitted to a fake interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis last week, to inconclusive effect. Appearing on the “Between Two Ferns” web series, Obama ostensibly came to plug Obamacare to an audience of young people. The appearance was funny enough, but gave even the most passionate Obama supporters pause for its irreverence. His detractors rolled out the big artillery: The dignity of the office, national security and Lord knows what else we hold dear was put at stake, they declaimed. Hardly, but Obama did look like he was doing a B-movie cameo. The joke might be more on a nation that needs its sitting president to play for laughs to promote policy.

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 US Speaker of the House John Boehner, who’s mad as hell – and his anger is translating into PR gold. For the first time, Boehner, a Republican, lashed out at conservative advocacy groups who criticized this week’s US budget deal. The agreement was (pleasantly) out of character for Washington: bipartisan, done early, and with both sides making significant concessions. Yet strict conservatives, who have assailed nearly every negotiation attempted by Republicans, say it doesn’t go far enough to rein in spending. Boehner blasted the groups, some of whom hadn’t even seen the proposal before commenting. “When you … have no idea what you’re criticizing, it undermines your credibility,” Boehner railed. “This is ridiculous.” The news media liked his candor, and pundits pondered whether it might suggest a new, stronger speaker. Time will tell.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

PR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the organizers and security detail at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, for allowing a fake sign language interpreter take center stage with speakers, including President Obama. Mistakes are understandable when a large event must be put together in days by bereaved organizers. But with heads of state in attendance, the fact that a random man who says he was suffering from a schizophrenic episode was allowed to take part in a high-level political ceremony is a serious breach, as well as a black eye on the event.

cruise kingsley 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Hollywood publicist Pat Kingsley, who “finally” talked about her former days repping Tom Cruise and revealed…well, not much. Kingsley, fired by Cruise in 2009, sat for an interview that hinted at  revealing details about her former cleint and his faith in Scientology. The story was billed as an interview with Hollywood’s “once-most-feared woman” who could be expected to dish on the firing and the role Scientology played in it. Alas, while she did describe disagreements she had with Cruise’s religious leaders, no real tidbits were delivered. The conflict with Cruise’s church “was taken care of very early in the game,” Kingsley said. Well, what did we expect from a publicist?

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.

Will Christie’s One-Horse Race Lead to Washington?

 Will Christies One Horse Race Lead to Washington?

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Chris Christie.

Does style trump substance? That was the key question in the race for governor of New Jersey. With Chris Christie and Barbara Buono facing off for the coveted seat, name recognition alone was going to tip the scales in this race.

One needn’t be a resident of New Jersey to know Christie. He’s the man who spoke mostly about himself in a speech meant to introduce Mitt Romney to the Republican National Convention as their candidate for president. He was the Republican who crossed party lines by giving a warm welcome, and thanks, to President Obama in the days after Superstorm Sandy. He’s also the official who opposed same-sex marriage in New Jersey, though he quietly dropped a promise to fight it in the Supreme Court.

But did Christie ever really have an opponent? Christie made a memorable stand during Sandy and has kept a high profile since, staying on brand as a straight shooter, poking fun at himself on Letterman and undergoing weight loss surgery as he dealt with media criticism over his appearance. Christie has done it all publicly, with a PR plan that has made everyone think this was a one-horse race.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Chris Christie, returned as governor of New Jersey and possibly a future in Washington DC.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Stand out from the pack, and stay there. At a time when approval of government and its elected officials is at an all-time low, Christie differentiates himself fearlessly. He ranges from being a man of the people to being a brash trash-talker, but everyone knows his name. This is no accident. Find a way to step apart from the pack and then do what it takes to make sure yours is the only name remembered.

Shutdown, Tragedy, Looming Default: Welcome to Washington

 Shutdown, Tragedy, Looming Default: Welcome to Washington

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the United States government.

The fictional town of Sunnydale was the site of the Hellmouth in the popular TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but it’s starting to feel like the true location of the portal to Hades is Washington, DC. Look at the events of the past week alone. First, the government shut down. A few days later, a delusional woman went on an automotive rampage near the Capitol and was shot and killed by Capitol police – who were receiving no pay at the time due to the shutdown. Earlier this week, a man self-immolated on the Washington Mall, motives unknown. And next week, should Congress fail to come to terms, America will hit its debt ceiling and go into default. End times, or what?

The game of high-stakes poker between Congress and President Obama saw much sweat on the Republican side and no blinking from the Oval Office. As of yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner said “I’m not drawing any lines in the sand” about budget issues – a far softer message than was broadcast merely one day ago.

Meanwhile, Congress and the government in general are coming under increasing pressure to get past this problem. Citizens are shouting at their representatives. Petitions to put Congressional paychecks on the same freeze as those of government workers are gaining signatures. And the stock market is flattening as a result of the impending default. How deeply will Washington peer into this abyss?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the United States government. They would have earned an “F,” but we’re saving that for next week.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Remember who you’re fighting for. While Democrats say they’re trying to give Americans affordable health care, and Republicans are saying Americans don’t want it, both sides are receiving substantial paychecks, unlike some of their constituents. The longer the standoff, the more Americans become united – in their increasing ire at their own elected officials. Seems likely that, come voting time, Congresspeople will have hell to pay.

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 PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

cnn 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to CNN, for its measured but pointed response to political posturing by the Republican National Committee. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus threatened to bar both CNN and corporate sibling NBC News from the 2016 Presidential debate process, in response to a mini-series on Hillary Clinton being produced by CNN Films, another affiliate. Priebus said the program amounted to an “in-kind donation” for Clinton, a likely Presidential candidate, and her fellow Democrats. One can certainly debate the suitability of airing such a program, given the corprate connections and timing. But in a statement, CNN noted that the project is in its early stages, called on the RNC to reserve judgment, and noted, correctly, that the only people to be harmed by the RNC’s threat would be voters.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersLOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to summer blockbusters with bloated budgets. July may have been one of the hottest months on record  – but not at the box office. Movie studios are facing huge losses after a string of big budget releases tanked at the box office, including Pacific Rim, White House Down, After Earth, and, most notably, The Lone Ranger. Disney suffered a shellacking on that film, spending anywhere from $200 to $400 million when all the marketing was said and done, and taking in a relatively embarrassing $175 million. Star Johnny Depp blamed bad pre-release PR, Steven Spielberg prophesied the blockbuster implosion, and moviegoers merely stayed home and binge-viewed Orange Is the New Black on NetFlix. The upside? Maybe Hollywood is finally done with sequels to Transformers.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO President Obama for canceling his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the impetus for which clearly was Russia’s “disappointing” asylum-granting to Edward Snowden, the American secret-leaker. But to what end? A few weeks ago, Obama said he wouldn’t “scramble jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Now, he’s refusing to meet with world leaders over him. By canceling, the President himself has elevated The Snowden Affair to a whole new level. Instead of a tête-á-tête with the Russian president prior to the G20 summit, the White House announced, President Obama will head to that geopolitical hotspot, Sweden. Boy, Putin must be shaking in his fur-lined boots.

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 Edward Snowden, the American intelligence analyst-turned-global fugitive who reportedly walked out of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday a free man (for now). Snowden’s improbable mission to expose secret American surveillance programs will see another chapter writ after Russia granted the 30-year-old temporary asylum for one year. During his five weeks in the airport’s transit lounge, Snowden stayed away from cameras and stressed, through statements and spokespeople, that his quest is about the American people. The aura he’s created is one of honest motivation and cool determination. Folk hero, anyone?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: F (FULL FIASCO) to Barbara Morgan (at left, with Anthony Weiner), communications director for the death-spiraling Anthony Weiner campaign who – not realizing she was on the record – went on a profanity-filled tirade to a journalist. Anthony Weiner, of course, is the delusional mayoral candidate for New York City who has repeatedly sent photos of his crotch to young women. It was in commenting on one of them that Ms. Morgan unleashed her verbal assault, calling former intern Olivia Nuzzi a “slutbag,” a “bitch,” and several other unprintable epithets. In a shocking development, Weiner said he’ll stand by her.  The only thing missing from this circus is a clown car.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to the Obama Administration, for over-promising on releasing new details about the government’s domestic electronic surveillance program. The not-so-big reveal came as Administration officials again appeared before Congress to testify on the legality and necessity of the surveillance program. But the three – yes, just three – documents were heavily censored and clarified “nothing of importance,” as the New York Times editorialized. Testimony before Congress also produced nada of substance. Meanwhile, events continue to blow past the Administration’s efforts to contain the damage: UK newspaper The Guardian published more spying program details, and a day later, Russia granted secret-leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum.

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.