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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 14,000+


The Court of Public Opinion does not require irrefutable facts or legally admissible evidence. To wit: it was the Court of Public Opinion, not a Court of Law, that put Arthur Andersen out of business.


Ken Lay -- A Perpetual Case Study
by Jonathan Bernstein

Long-time readers already know that I've previously outlined lessons learned from the former Enron CEO in an article entitled "How To Avoid Becoming A Ken Lay" currently archived here.

Mr. Lay continues to provide us with "wrong way" communication examples in the wake of his recent indictment. On CNN's "Larry King Live" in mid-July, Mr. Lay had this gem of a statement:

"I don't fear jail, because I know I am not guilty."

Sadly, he subsequently made the same comment to other media, indicating his belief that it's actually a useful key message. He apparently doesn't understand that through his comment he introduced the concepts of jail time and guilt -- completely unnecessarily. Another "I am not a crook" denial. All he had to do was say, instead:

"I have nothing to fear because I'm an innocent man."

Editor's Note: Former newsman turned media trainer Cary Pfeffer visits the pages of "Crisis Manager" for the first time with this commentary on more lessons we can learn from Martha Stewart, bless her instructional little heart.

Martha's Incredible Items
by Cary Pfeffer

On the day of her sentencing, Martha Stewart read from a statement which contained some incredible items. First, she thanked her family, friends and her "beloved" company. Hello? If anything should be "beloved" in that sentence it should NOT be the company, no matter how much you love your work! Then it got worse. After calling the charges "shameful" it almost sounded like she might admit she, at least, had made an error in judgment. Oh no. She meant it was "shameful" that she had to face these charges in the first place.

Even if you disagree with the case against you, you have to publicly face up to your own actions and the charges you've been found guilty of, or anything you say after that will be judged by your inability to accept what you've done.

Finally, to top it off, she then asked people to please buy Martha Stewart products and magazines! If there was EVER a time to NOT say anything about the company she founded, that was it. Martha Stewart's story is one of incredible accomplishment. The person who has done the greatest amount of damage to that story? Martha Stewart.

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email:


Editor's Note: You'll recall that I announced a contest in the July 1 issue, as described here. The goal was to describe, with humor, what it's like to try surviving a crisis without advance planning, trying to be a crisis-related spokesperson without media training, or what happens when you think that crisis management is only about communication.

The good news is that I received some great entries, below. The bad news is that these were the ONLY entries. Not my most popular contest, by far, but you still get to enjoy the results. Justin Cronier and Barbara Davis earn the biggest prizes for submitting multiple entries per category, as per contest rules. They can each receive any two products from my online store,, or one hour of crisis management consulting. Dan Vogler gets an honorable mention for one entry per category and can choose any one product from my store.

From Justin Cronier, Law Student, Vanderbilt University:


  • Driving a car on four flat tires.
  • Trying to juggle monkeys.
  • Taking a test without reading the books or attending any classes.


  • Going golfing without golf clubs.
  • Running a marathon in your bare feet. You MAY finish the run, but it's GOING to hurt.
  • Wearing a red bulls-eye on a white shirt while standing on the "receiving end" of a shooting range full of sharp-shooters.


  • Believing that the tooth fairy actually exists.
  • Believing that the earth is flat.

From Barbara Davis, Access Group Communications (


  • Building a house without a blueprint. But it's okay - you have a good eye.
  • Trying to put in your contact lens while driving.
  • Trying to put on your make-up while riding on the back of a motorcycle. On a bumpy road.


  • Flinging yourself from a (perfectly good) airplane when you've never done so before, never been trained, and you've packed your own chute with knowledge you obtained watching WWII movies.
  • Thinking you can fly a real 747 just because you have the highest score on Microsoft Flight Simulator.


  • Thinking marriage is all about the wedding.
  • Heck, it's like thinking that it's all about matching the napkins to the centerpieces AT the wedding [Editor's Note: Barbara didn't say "Heck" but spam and content filters these days are pretty picky.]

From Dan Vogler of Vance Publishing:


  • Flying over the Grand Canyon with the fuel gauge on "Empty".


  • Trying to recite "The Face On The Bar Room Floor" using bullet points.


  • Thinking that pregnancy is only about sex.

Congrats and thanks to all contestants for putting some time into these bon mots!

Reporters - Be Careful How You Deal With Them
by Rick Amme

"Don't pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel" is the timeless warning about arguing with newspaper reporters. A U.S. Government official recently reinforced that notion after she joined another agency in a high-ranking position where she manages a multi-billion dollar budget affecting thousands. This friend said I could tell her story. Out of respect for her staff, I will keep her anonymous.

She learned of a confrontational phone conversation with a trade press reporter. Even worse, no one told her of the dealings with the reporter. She was in charge and in the dark about a disputed matter that could show up in print. This rankled, after years of Washington experience and good associations with the press.

So, she gathered the facts and gently, but firmly, laid down the law to her new charges. First, fighting with reporters is not smart and not acceptable. Second, she said she always wanted to know what was happening with the press. "I want to be in the loop on every contact that we have with reporters," she said. I particularly like what she did next.

She assembled her senior staff and called the reporter involved in the confrontation. She identified herself and said, "I am aware that one of my colleagues had an unpleasant conversation with you

I want you to know that is not the way we will be operating around here in the future. On behalf of my agency, I want to apologize to you for the way you were handled. I have in the past had very good relationships with your (newspaper) and want to continue those relations in my new assignment. Is there anything we can do to help you?"

The reporter seemed dumbfounded. The journalist said she had never received such a call. The reporter then asked if she could profile the senior official. My friend demurred, said she was still getting her feet on the ground, but would be happy to comply in a few weeks. Since the peace offering, the reporter has written several balanced articles about the agency.

The official also extended a peace offering to her own staff. She apologized for not being clear about her news media policies. She told them she was sorry, and, by email, that she wanted to make it clear how the agency will operate in the future.

These are her guidelines for talking to reporters. Ask the reporter 1) who he/she represents, 2) what is the story, 3) what is the deadline, 4) promise to call back, 5) contact public affairs internally and determine how best to handle the situation. I asked my friend to elaborate on her philosophy for dealing with reporters. She said, "Be quick, be honest and be right when you talk to them. Don't tell them something wrong. Being quick is number one in my book. If you are quick, they will believe you do not have anything to hide, and assume you are honest. If you ask the deadline they know you care about helping them. They are trying to do a job, to get a story, and you want to help them to tell (it). They'll presume you are doing the right thing."

I asked, "But what if a reporter unfairly maligns you." She said, "If they are wrong and you quickly get back to them then you can turn them around (into) the correct direction. If the reporting error is serious enough, then we should have a face to face meeting between the reporter and our public affairs staff, someone accustomed to dealing with that particular reporter. We will focus on getting the story right. You have to get down to the nitty-gritty. If you do this you won't end up in an adversarial relationship with the press."

A footnote. Occasionally a reporter is unreasonable, almost malicious and defies peacemaking efforts. Go to senior news management next. If that fails, all self-protection tactics are on the table. Be careful though. True "incorrigible" reporter cases are rare and are actually failures to communicate as suggested earlier.

Rick Amme is President of Amme & Associates, a media/crisis communications company,


Keeping The Wolves At Bay And Other Crisis Management Materials

Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual and other crisis management training materials produced by Jonathan Bernstein are available for sale at There is a 100% money-back guarantee (including shipping costs!) if you are not satisfied with any product you purchase.

Second Opinion And Spot Consulting

While I love to have clients with a wide range of needs, I'm quite willing and happy to provide spot consulting on an hourly basis. It's not uncommon for organizations to want just a second opinion about a breaking issue, or a quick review of their existing crisis preparedness plans. I keep such consulting very simple from a business perspective -- hourly fees for engagements under 10 hours are paid by credit card. Call (626) 825-3838 or write to


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

Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.


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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