As the owner of a Public Relations agency, my PR firm has worked with many high-profile people, including politicians, celebrities and CEO’s. Experience has taught me that the public-facing media “object” is often different than the reality of the person which exists in his or her private life.
It’s possible, for those who are unfamiliar with the affect of media on a person’s life and the media cycle, to read headlines and see many of these high-profile people merely as “objects”. The media rarely considers personal circumstances when reporting on breaking crisis stories – It may dampen the sensationalism and hamper the resulting self-righteous indignation that sometimes follows.
Take Congressman Anthony Weiner – who until a few weeks ago was regarded as the leading candidate for Mayor of NYC, an outspoken Democrat, skilled at playing to the cameras – that’s the “object.” Meanwhile, the person spent hours “sexting”; and we now know that the crisis escalated in part because he lied to his wife and close friends when the story was incubating. Had the husband Anthony told his wife the truth on day one, the story may have been curtailed (she’s still standing by him) – and perhaps we wouldn’t be seeing the brash outspoken Weiner being broken before our eyes in the media.
We all wonder why he handled the crisis so poorly. I’d venture one of the reasons is he told his wife that he didn’t do it, and then had to stick to that story publicly. The busy couple may not have had time alone since the story exploded to discuss the situation and allow the whole truth to come out before the story erupted beyond his control. Few in the media think of the human effects of crisis PR situations. The person, Anthony Weiner, lied to his wife, and the character, Congressman Anthony Weiner didn’t come clean.
Want to know a primary reason that thus far Weiner is refusing to quit despite the calls for him to do so from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, NY Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign committee and others? A big reason is he simply cannot afford to. His world has been turned upside down overnight, and the nation’s politicians are incensed by it – but it really comes down to the fact that his finances don’t lend many options right now.
As The NY Post reported “Weiner doesn’t have a business or even a law degree to fall back on. He made $156,117 in 2010, and owes between $10,000 and $15,000 on his American Express card according to his most recent financial-disclosure forms.” Anthony Weiner, the man, has never had another job since starting in politics at the age of 21 in 1985. The future career possibilities for the 46 year old “object” Anthony Weiner aren’t too bright these days.
It’s not limited to Democrats – on the Republican side, Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who could be a leader for the GOP nomination, and is the host of a daily radio show and a weekly TV show on Fox News said “If I run, I walk away from a pretty good income,” and “…frankly, I don’t have a lot of reserve built up.” Do you think the man Mike Huckabee wants his family asking him why he walked away from a great income to satisfy the “object” (and perhaps ego) of politician Mike Huckabee? Care to be a fly on that wall?
It is not just men; Sarah Palin stepped down from her position as governor of Alaska in the summer of 2009, leaving behind a prominent political career in which she could have bolstered her image as a serious politician. While to some it seemed mysterious, she left her job as Governor at $125,000 to make an estimated $12 million last year. Before that came along, she had tremendous financial stress.
I have a close friend who’s a high profile figure, and he was amazed when a longtime friend of his, and major donor told him he’d donate a major sum, but with the condition that he take his wife away on specific days. That donor is a great friend to be giving money, and is the rare person to care about the life of the person and not just the “public-facing character.” The public, and the media don’t pay enough attention to the human element in a crisis PR situation – Weiner hasn’t quit yet because his wife is away, and they haven’t yet had the chance to sit face to face – and he seemingly can’t afford to quit.
If you want to solve the political crisis surrounding Weiner and make the case to him to resign; offer him a job and he’ll exit the stage much easier. High-profile “characters” are people – with emotions, desires, and families that account for decisions and actions as much as any other “public reason”. The next time there’s a public relations scandal, don’t just review the headlines – study subtext and the human effect of PR crisis, and you may garner a much greater insight.
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