Anthony Weiner is out of public life but he’s still the subject of late night comedy one-liners. It’s a shame. He was building a public persona with a strong, distinctive voice and it’s a loss to the public conversation.
I’ve left it to others to fathom the psychology of his self-inflicted downfall. But in a more practical vein, his do-it-yourself media management will become a case study in how not to do it. His press conferences went so badly that even as I found his behavior totally unacceptable, I had to feel sorry for his public humiliation. Had he been guided through a media strategy that was more carefully developed, he could have saved himself and his family some of the embarrassment, and perhaps saved his career.
Weiner’s media management was terrible. He was never really in control of his own story, and he lied from the outset, inviting further scrutiny. Any media-savvy person would have told him this is the worst possible course. He invited the media and his detractors to dig deeper with his vague answers and waffling from the get-go.
He might have avoided his forced resignation by admitting his indiscretions at the outset, apologizing and entering himself into therapy. More than a few celebrities have followed this course and emerged to reclaim their reputation and rebuild their public image. Some of his political colleagues have survived even worse offenses by following this path.
Weiner chose to play out his apologies and resignation in full public view, apparently with no backup. He didn’t even control his own news conferences, giving his worst detractors a platform to heap insult on injury. Not once, but twice.
Media management is not rocket science but it does require strategy and training. In the media environment today doing less than thinking and acting strategically when dealing with media is equivalent to stepping in front of a moving bus and hoping the driver will see you and stop before flattening you. Weiner got flattened.
He had an even steeper hill to climb because his indiscretion involved images that were all over the Internet. His first lie–that his Twitter account was hacked–was improbable and left us scratching our heads. His refusal to deny that the photos were actually of him raised the level of skepticism. He lost control of his own story almost immediately and when he finally owned up to his behavior he was already out of options. He had to tell the truth.
The first thing any media consultant would have advised is to be truthful from the beginning. Admit to having a problem, apologize for the harm caused and tell how you are seeking to rectify the situation. He would still have been embarrassed, but he had a much better chance to frame the story and limit the damage. Instead, he invited wild speculation and humiliating questions.
If this episode has any redeeming value, it may be to remind us that crisis communications management is not a do-it-yourself project. It requires both skills and a set of actions that are based on the firm foundation of truthfulness and responsibility. You can’t wing it. And you shouldn’t lie.
You have to anticipate how to manage crises before they happen and keep a plan at the ready to implement when they do.
In this case, however, it’s pretty simple; don’t post lewd photos of yourself on the Internet and not expect to get caught.
(A similar perspective from a public relations writer at PR On The Run.)