Ono the Ostrich CRISIS MANAGER
The Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management
Editor: Jonathan Bernstein

"For Those Who Are Crisis Managers,
Whether They Want to be or Not"

2009 Jonathan Bernstein

Volume X, Number 20
December 17, 2009


"Crisis-fueled fear brings out the best and worst in crisis managers."

Jonathan Bernstein


Happy holidays faithful readers!

In the next-to-last issue of this year, I'm pleased to bring you another in-depth piece by Rene Henry, who asks some very insightful "Questions that make you say 'Hmmmmm'" regarding a number of "double standards" he has observed in media coverage.

Thank you to those of you who have read or heard my AP and other interviews regarding Tiger Woods.  Yes, the topic is getting old in some respects, but the situation is also a valuable lesson for crisis managers.  He broke literally each of my "Five Tenets of Crisis Communications," as I told Golf World this morning.

As always, if you like what you see -- please, share it with others and tell them to subscribe!        


My best to all,


By Rene Henry

When it comes to reporting incidents involving athletes, entertainers, celebrities elected officials and prominent public figures, all too often there is a dBCMouble standard of what the media considers news.  If a crisis is involved, expect a media circus.


When it happens, those closest to and responsible for the image of a public figure are either not prepared or are in denial that there ever will be a crisis.  An arrest for a DUI, for example, will be a media headline, but the incident would go unreported it if involved a typical next-door neighbor, and most certainly if a reporter, or publisher of the newspaper or magazine is involved. 


Last year, a former athlete and prominent broadcaster was arrested for a DUI.  Over the course of several months, a sportswriter wrote several articles that each amounted to one-quarter to one-third of a page in the local newspaper.  When asked why so much exposure was given to this story, the writer said it was "news."  However, he did not respond when asked if it would be considered "news" if his editor or the owners of his newspaper were arrested for a similar incident.  This is a double standard and what I would consider to be unethical, biased, prejudiced, and discriminatory.  The DUI incident was not mentioned on local radio or television. 


Another former superstar and broadcaster was put on leave of absence from his job when he was cited for a DUI.  Months later he was found not guilty.  The damage to his reputation was done when the media immediately found him guilty, not innocent until a court decision.


What is considered news about one person may not be news for another.  If a second string lineman or the backup quarterback for a college is arrested for even a misdemeanor incident, it will be put on the national wire and generally used in a roundup story on the sports pages, even though newspapers have severely cutback on news that it is publishing.  More than likely the incident will never be reported on radio or television.


Fairness and Equality


All media should follow the lead of The Toledo (Ohio) Blade.  For more than 50 years, the newspaper reports all DUI arrests, including its own reporters and editors, prominent civic leaders, philanthropists, coaches, athletes, entertainers, and even the plumber next door.  "It continues to be our policy that we treat everyone equal and fairly when reporting arrests for DUIs," says Ron Royhab, the Blade's executive editor.  "We are selective on who gets a story for drunk driving.  We make news judgment decisions every day on all kinds of stories, including DUIs."


The way some newspapers headline stories about athletes, coaches, and celebrities, you have to question whether or not there was malicious intent to destroy the individual's reputation.  The writers of the articles and the editors who provide the space would more than likely be in jail if it happened in England, Canada, Australia, the British Caribbean or any Commonwealth country. 


One also has to question why, when media report a charge of rape or assault, the name of the accuser is withheld but the name of the accused is made public.  The accused is treated contrary to due process and is automatically considered guilty until proved innocent.  The reputation of the accused is immediately tarnished, if not destroyed.  Recently a professional athlete was accused of rape.  Immediately after the news broke, his teammates and team management released statements supporting him and his character.  His agent said the allegations were false and because the player wanted to end a dating relationship with the accuser.  Within a week, the local prosecutor dropped all charges because of insufficient evidence of the rape.


In May 2001, Congressman Gary Condit (D-California) was under suspicion for the disappearance and murder of Chandra Levy, a former intern in his office.  He was alleged to have had an extra-marital affair with the victim.  The media became the prosecutor, judge and jury in indicting and convicting Condit of murder.  He lost his Congressional seat, which he had held for 12 years, in a primary election, and his life was destroyed.


Condit moved with his wife and children to Arizona.  In February 2009, the police charged Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant with Levy's murder.  He had been questioned in 2002 by investigators for attacking two women joggers in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park and later found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison. 


The former Congressman, who was very popular with his constituents in California's northern San Joaquin Valley, received settlements from several media outlets he sued for defamation and libel, as well as for a slander suit brought against Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne.  Regardless of what Condit received from litigation, no amount of money could ever restore his image.


The media had a field day when the U.S. Department of Justice went after Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) for violations of the Ethics in Government Act.  On July 29, 2008, he was indicted by a federal grant jury on seven counts of failing to report gifts.  While always maintaining his innocence and refusing to accept any plea deals, a jury found him guilty on October 27, a week before the election.  A majority of the voters believed what they saw and heard and voted Stevens out of office after 40 years.  He was the longest serving Republican Senator in history.


However, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a Democrat, and the Obama Administration, found serious prosecutorial misconduct by the Bush Administration Justice Department during the trial and dropped all charges.  This led to the court overturning his conviction and supporting his innocence.  It was too late to return the 86-year-old Stevens to his place in Congress and the media attention given his innocence was minute compared to the accusations last summer.  Now the Bush Administration Justice Department lawyers responsible may be prosecuted for criminal misconduct.


Have A Plan In Place and Fight Back


When falsely accused fight back.  Anyone responsible for the image of a celebrity should have a plan in place and be ready to counterattack.  Getting supporting and positive statements of character about the individual are very important, as was done with the professional athlete accused of rape.  These statements should be released to the media immediately after any accusations are made.  In 2006 a Black woman falsely accused three members of Duke University's lacrosse team of raping her at a party.


There was immediate local outrage in Durham.  The incident went national when Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton began speaking out and then met with local community leaders.  The president of Duke, Richard Brodhead, forced the lacrosse coach to resign and cancelled the remainder of the team's season.  A year later, North Carolina's Attorney General, Roy Cooper, dropped all charges and declared the three players innocent and victims of a tragic rush to accuse.  Mike Nifong, the local district attorney, won re-election based on his actions against the players.  In June 2007, he was disbarred for "dishonesty, fraud, decent and misrepresentation" and found guilty of criminal contempt.  Eventually Brodhead apologized for the way he handled the incident.


In February 2008, all 38 members of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team filed suit in against Brodhead and more than a dozen Duke officials, as well as the city of Durham, its city manager and various police officers.  During a media event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. the players reaffirmed their innocence and cited how they were "reviled almost daily in the local and national press."


If a newspaper overkills with a DUI story, get the numbers of how many DUIs arrests there are in the city, county, and state and then ask for a meeting with the writer and his or her editor, or even the editorial board, and present a case for fairness and equality.  Cite what The Toledo Blade is doing.  Use blogs and websites, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, to present the case where there is a double standard of reporting.


Finally, the best way to avoid having to ask for a correction, a retraction, or being fair, is not having a story in the media to deal with.  When a reporter calls to do a story, find out everything you can about the person and especially the types of stories written and whether there has been any bias. 


If I believe the writer would be an adversary and stretch or bend the truth to the extremes of the First Amendment and that anything published would be negative, damaging, or potentially defamatory, I would call John J. Walsh, senior counsel of Carter Ledyard and Milburn, New York.  Often, someone of Walsh's prominence and success in libel cases needs only to call or meet with the publisher or the media organization's legal representative and the story is dead.  In other words, no news is good news!


Rene A. Henry is an author and columnist and lives in Seattle, Washington.  His latest book, "Communicating In A Crisis," has a specific chapter on how to fight back and win.  Many of his widely published commentaries are posted on his website, www.renehenry.com.        


(aka blatant self-promotion)

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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.


JonatJB Headshothan 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 jonathan@bernsteincrisismanagement.com.


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In This Issue
Just a Thought
Does the Media Have A Double Standard
Quick Links