Bernstein Crisis Management. Crisis response, prevention, planning, and training.

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2008 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 15,000+


"It's not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept."

Bill Watterson


Embarrassing a Reporter Can Backfire
By Joan Stewart

Experienced Publicity Hounds know that when a reporter asks you a question you'd rather not answer, one of the worst things you can do is to say "no comment."

It labels you as:

  • Guilty, even when you're not
  • Wimpy and cowardly
  • Unable and unwilling to defend yourself

So what's worse than "no comment"? Trying to embarrass the reporter by asking an unrelated question so preposterous that it's designed to throw him off guard. People who do that usually end up embarrassing themselves.

Sharon Dotson of Bayou City Public Relations in Dallas, Texas sent a link to a video interview conducted by investigative reporter Elliott Davis of WTVI Channel 2 in St. Louis, Missouri back in 2002. Elliott hosts a segment called "You Paid for It" in which he uncovers government waste and corruption.

In this particular interview, he was asking St. Charles County Executive Joe Ortwerth about the battle between Ortwerth and county judges over the new $5.3 million county justice center that had been standing vacant for several months. The judges wanted metal detectors and a full security detail in the building. Ortwerth refused. Taxpayers were left paying for utilities and other expenses while the disagreement wound its way through the courts.

When the reporter asked Ortwerth about the squabble, Ortwerth first said he would answer questions but only if the reporter submitted them in writing.

When Elliott Davis persisted with his questions, Ortwerth asked: "Do you know that Jesus loves you, Elliott?"

"Yes, and I love Jesus," Davis replied. Then he kept questioning Ortwerth. The county executive continued digging a deeper hole for himself with responses and questions related to Jesus.

Instead of trying to embarrass the reporter, the politician ended up embarrassing himself. Not only did his responses make him look guilty, wimpy, cowardly and unable and unwilling to come to his own defense, they made him look clueless. The reporter, on the other hand, appeared cool, calm, collected -- and completely in charge of the interview. That, in turn, gave the investigation more credence.

Judge for yourself by seeing the entire interview here.

Joan Stewart, a media relations consultant and professional speaker, publishes "The Publicity Hound's Tips of the Week", a free ezine featuring publicity tips and strategies for working with the media. Subscribe at her website

Bernstein Crisis Management Turns 14

Just a note of gratitude to the clients, contractors, vendors and, of course, ezine readers who have made it possible for Bernstein Crisis Management to celebrate its 14th year in business this month. Special thanks to my loved ones for sticking with me even when, at times, there was a fine line between self-employment and unemployment, and to Mssrs. Wilson and Smith for teaching me to put first things first.

Editor's Note: Richard Levick returns to the pages of "Crisis Manager" with insight that the Red Cross, despite some obvious challenges in the area of leadership selection, demonstrated great skill in communicating about the dismissal of its latest president.

Ripping Off the Band-Aid:
From The People Who Run To Disasters, Not Away From Them
By Richard S. Levick

When I first heard about the Red Cross' dismissal of its president Mark Everson, I thought, ‘Here we go again.' Five presidents in six years isn't a good track record for any organization and doesn't inspire confidence, internally or externally.

Upon further reflection, however, I've come to more fully appreciate the courage and leadership of the Red Cross - an organization that's been heavily criticized over the past few years (think 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina).Yet despite this litany of highly public criticism combined with their revolving door presidency, the Red Cross Board decided to run to the crisis. How bold of them to rip off the proverbial Band-Aid and suffer the shorter-term sting rather than to set their organization up for longer-lasting suffering.

The Red Cross' board made several good strategic decisions:

  1. They got it over with: Board members understood that by asking for Mark Everson's resignation, they were creating a two-day news story: Day one to announce that he had been dismissed, and day two for the media and public to analyze it. After the initial 48 hours, there won't be too many more stories on the matter. Take a look at the charts below to see what I mean.

  2. They're setting a higher standard: By dismissing Everson in a time when they certainly didn't need any more bad publicity, they're sending a message internally and externally: ‘We have a higher standard at the Red Cross.' It is what you would expect from the people who run to disasters, not away from them.

  3. They understood that Everson wasn't entrenched: The fact that the Everson scandal broke within the first six months of his tenure was, in an ironic way, a lucky break for the board. As far as the public is concerned, Everson doesn't bleed Red Cross red in a way that someone like Elizabeth Dole did. They knew that they could distance the organization from him more easily.

  4. They chose to be the saint, not the sinner: Had the Red Cross known about the allegations and chosen to do nothing, they would have been setting up a ticking time bomb situation. What would have happened if the wife had found out or the girlfriend went public, and the public learned that the Red Cross had known about it and done nothing? Because they decided to face the issue head-on, they got to choose the timing, and the messaging.

Organizations and companies - even those whose reputations aren't as in flux as the Red Cross' - can learn a thing or two from how one of the world's most recognizable charities (and brands) handled this crisis. It doesn't feel like it today, but bravo, Red Cross.

Reprinted from "Levick Stop the Presses Blog." Richard S. Levick, Esq., President and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, protects brands and reputations during the highest-stakes global crises and litigation. Find a comprehensive arsenal of vital communications tools at, including books, newsletters, and helpful articles.


Preview of Coming Attraction: Internet Counter-intelligence CD-ROM

he Crisis Manager Bookstore will soon feature the one-hour recording of SEO expert Diana Huff interviewing Jonathan Bernstein about techniques you can use to prevent and respond to Internet-centered crises, what he calls "Internet Counter-Intelligence." If you want to be notified when the CD-ROM goes on sale, drop a note to

Keeping the Wolves at Bay 3.0 Reviewed

"Keeping the Wolves at Bay" is much more than another media training guide - it is perhaps one of the most concise, insightful, useful and savvy guides to strategic thinking about reputation issues available.

Gerald Baron
Founder & CEO of PIER System and host of

"It's like a Swiss Army knife -- lots of cool tools in a compact package. In case of emergency, grab this."

Steven R. Van Hook, PhD
Publisher, About Public Relations

The spiral-bound print manual is available for $25, the PDF version for $10. Both can be ordered at

Jonathan Bernstein also offers on-site media training worldwide, using this manual as the basis for training. Write to

Disaster Prep 101

Bernstein Crisis Management is pleased to present one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly family preparedness texts available today. "Disaster Prep 101." by Paul Purcell, goes above and beyond the simplistic "72-hour kit" concept and provides simple, yet detailed educational material that will drastically improve the ability of any family to respond to all manner of disasters or emergencies. This preparedness package contains over 400 pages of well-organized, original preparedness material written in an easy-to-understand, non-panic format; 80 pages of family data forms and worksheets (many of which are also useful to the employer); and a 2-CD set containing two interactive and searchable links collections for additional educational sources; all the family data forms and worksheets in softcopy format; and a complete emergency reference library of over 450 additional books and training manuals! US$59.95. Available here.


Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with a number of the services we mention periodically in this newsletter. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of its clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.


Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.,, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to


GUEST AUTHORS are very welcome to submit material for "Crisis Manager." There is no fee paid, but most guest authors have reported receiving business inquiries as a result of appearing in this publication. Case histories, experience-based lessons, commentary on current news events and editorial opinion are all eligible for consideration. Submission is not a guarantee of acceptance.


When I find a site that I think will be useful to my readers or site visitors, I put it on our Links page. If you have a site that would be of specific use to crisis managers and want to discuss a link exchange or other cooperative effort, please write to me,


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Articles in "Crisis Manager" were, unless otherwise noted, written and copyrighted by Jonathan Bernstein. Permission to reprint will often be granted for no charge. Write to