Quoted in U.S. News & World Report

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Susan Milligan reports in U.S. News & World Report about the state and effect of the Trump brand in politics. I am quoted at the beginning of the piece.

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Sexual Harassment and Assault—The Perpetual PR Crisis

(Photos: AP)

Sexual harassment and assault charges against some of the most powerful men in media, politics and business have changed discourse on these topics. With new revelations coming at a remarkably steady rate, crushing the careers of seemingly unassailable figures, we are witness to a new phenomenon: the perpetual PR crisis.

The roots of this perpetual PR crisis are in other long-term news stories that have generated massive media interest with their high-profile players and strings of disclosures—Watergate, the OJ Simpson murder trial, the Mueller special counsel investigation. The differentiator is how this crisis engulfs unconnected parties. The throughline is the uncanny similarity between reports of abusive behavior.

Many of those accused have admitted misdeeds; however, denials, avoidance, and/or disagreements about the most serious accusations, including rape, have punctuated statements of contrition. Critics have called US Senator Al Franken’s apologies vague. Actor Kevin Spacey worsened his position by combining his apology with a coming-out statement. “Today” anchor Matt Lauer acceded to “enough truth” in the accusations against him.

Employers have moved swiftly, firing or suspending the accused. While such prompt action is generally in accordance with best PR practices, it remains uncertain if employers will shield their reputations amid questions about sexual harassment and assault previously tolerated under their watches. Politicians accused of sexual misconduct have enjoyed a buffer since their employment rests with election cycles or discipline by their colleagues—infrequent events. President Donald Trump, Rep. John Conyers, and senate candidate Roy Moore have all denied allegations against them.

The current call against sexual harassment and assault—crystalized in the #metoo movement—has been bottom up, with the victimized and outraged finding voice and leverage in social and traditional media. Comedian Hannibal Buress called Bill Cosby a rapist in a clip that was widely viewed in social media, redrawing attention to the star’s 2006 settlement with Andrea Constand. In turn, Cosby faced decades-worth of new sex crime accusations and stood trial in the Constand matter. Susan Fowler, a former software engineer at Uber, blogged about sexual misconduct at the company, content that went viral and led to the removal of founder Travis Kalanick as CEO. Investigative journalism, a mainstay of traditional news media, made the case against Harvey Weinstein.

Public relations professionals must be neither helpless nor complicit during the perpetual PR crisis. We must cope with the insatiable appetite for scandal as audience bloodsport and noble crusade have become inseparable. We must ensure apologies are complete and unequivocal. We must push back against secret settlements with accusers as such coverup intensifies future exposure. We must champion institutional cultures based on truth, fairness and safety. Impossible? Naive? Then let the dominos keep falling.

POSTSCRIPT:

Rep. John Conyers resigns.

Time name the “silence breakers” of the #metoo movement the “Person of the Year.”

In a follow-up piece entitled “Weinstein’s Complicity Machine,” The New York Times reports people and actions that contributed to Harvey Weinstein’s process of sexual misconduct and coverup.

Six women file suit against Harvey Weinstein, claiming coverups of sexual misconduct constitute racketeering.

A group of US Senate Democrats call on Sen. Al Franken to resign.

Sen. Al Franken announces resignation.

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Zapruder Nation

Originally published in November 2013 for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Reposted now to coincide with the release of previously withheld files on the assassination.

It is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The resultant reverence, pain and doubt have remained in the American psyche since November 22, 1963. It was a turning point for history, media and public relations. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan considered the Kennedy assassination and aftermath definitive of his concept, the global village: “The Kennedy funeral, in short, manifested the power of TV to involve an entire population in a ritual process.”

Media became omnipresent within minutes of JFK’s death, a constant we take for granted today. Paradoxically, there was a gap in coverage: the actual assassination in Dealey Plaza. There were no TV cameras along the limousine’s Elm Street route, although they were in place two days later at Dallas Police Headquarters where Jack Ruby ambushed Lee Harvey Oswald.

The best record of John F. Kennedy’s assassination came from Abraham Zapruder, a spectator filming the President with an 8mm camera, the “posterity device” of the time, associated with countless Thanksgiving dinners and school plays. Wired calls Zapruder’s half-minute filmone of the 20th century’s earliest and most significant pieces of user-generated content.”

One man had to be improbably in the right place with the right technology to make the world witness to the death of a President and the transition of eras. Today, we are all Zapruders, ready to record and even broadcast history. Nobody has to wait for the film to develop. Nobody has to wait for Walter Cronkite to remove his glasses and make an official announcement.

Authority became dreadfully mortal and chronically mistrusted after November 22, 1963, after Zapruder’s film created more questions than answers. Media and public relations both grew to fill the void of there being no more “final word” from our leaders. Technology has vaulted ahead to relieve the pundits and practitioners of the final word as well. Mobile devices outnumber and outpace minicams. The man/woman on the street crafts the message.

Fifty years ago, triggers squeezed in Dealey Plaza–rifle and camera–destroying what we knew and how we came to learn it. Today, the Zapruder nation, the well-equipped global village, is ready to give the final word–again and again and again.

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