Category Archives: Don Imus

Mainstream media comment on the risks of the instant news world–its about Time

I found this article about the new world of crisis management interesting. It’s what we have been talking about for years–as any frequent reader of this blog or almost any blog on crisis management knows. And the key points about the changing world and its impact on crisis management and communication were made in the first edition of by book Now Is Too Late. But, Time is reporting on “The New World of Crisis Management”, so it must be news.

Here is the key statement:

But 25 years later, crisis management is proving harder than ever. (Just ask Don Imus.) The biggest change comes from the demands of always-on news. Companies now have to sweat not only the morning’s headlines but endless blog postings and runaway video clips that can (and do) appear 24 hours a day. Even when there isn’t much new information, blogs can keep a crisis alive–and smart companies must pay as much attention to them as they do to the national media.

One more thing–Eric Dezenhall has an impressive press machine behind the launch of his new book, as can be seen by his strong coverage in this Time article. Thanks for the copy Mark Fortier.

About Imus–is silence the better crisis response?

Longtime crisisblogger commenter Patrick Van de Wille sent me some comments about my post on Don Imus. In it, he asks a very important question and so with his permission, I have captured his email as well as my response:

I’ve been invited to do a presentation on reputation crisis management and the Don Imus situation to a group of communication professors here in Chicago. I hoped for some view of yours on your blog, and I’m disappointed that you didn’t address the Imus situation more fully. I have to say I disagree with what you have written, as well as with the gist of the NY Times piece you reference, which I read when it was published. I don’t believe the problem was that the firestorm was not going to subside (although that may be true) – I believe that the fundamental problem was that Imus actually fed the fire by making himself a news item on a daily basis for close to a week. It is the same error that Michael Richards made a while back, and it is a hallmark not of “old paradigms” but of new reputation crisis management thinking, that advises people to apologize, engage discussion, control the message, move the conversation onto friendlier ground, and attack the attackers if necessary. These were some of the elements of Imus’ effort  and they are also some of the things you advise in Now Is Too Late, if my memory is good.

My view is that “news” like this is fuelled by providing an outlet for confrontation between accusers and the subject, and it only remains news as long as the confrontation exists, and the press can maintain its mantle of “fair and objective” by presenting both sides. If, as the subject of a crisis, you continue to participate in the process, you are feeding it, and your detractors’ message consistency (“He should be fired”) becomes a strength. As a crisis manager, the objective must then be to remove one of those elements – namely, your client – from the process. Once that occurs, the press finds itself in a position of pursuing the story with only one side – something they are loathe to do – or dropping the story. In that case, the detractors’ message consistency becomes a liability – it is no longer news.

I’m curious to get your thoughts on this before I present, which is late next week.

Here is my response to Patrick:
My own view on this is that you are raising the stickiest question in crisis communication which is at what point do I, by responding, fan the flames? There are certainly cases where that is a problem and I have made the mistake myself of deciding to take a very proactive position only in retrospect to see that is contributed to the problem. That being said, I am extremely reluctant in today’s complex media environment (including online media) to withdraw from the field. For one, I don’t agree that that means the comments will go away–either from mainstream media or from the blog world. I don’t think the media believes they need the main source to participate in order for them to be fair. Their only criteria for deciding coverage is if the audience is interested. Certainly audience interest can be fed by the participation of the subject, but in this case, I think audience interest would have been there anyway.

In my view, Imus needed to be highly visible to do exactly what he tried to do: apologize, and try to show that he got it. The problem in this case, his comments so violated the public view of good character, that in the same way as Michael Richards (and to a large degree Mel Gibson) the comments revealed in the public’s view a deep-seated racism that is simply unacceptable today. Saying you are sorry does not undo that perception. The only argument that I can see for Imus to quietly go away is to recognize that he was in an absolutely no win situation.

It’s a tough one and in my mind, open for a variety of approaches. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this.
Thanks Patrick.

The End of Imus

It was quite predictable–for reasons I mentioned in a post a couple of days ago. But now it is official. CBS is ending the Imus show.

What I find interesting from a crisis management perspective is this article from the New York Times called Flying Solo Past the Point of No Return.

It shows the grave danger of continuing to operate in the old paradigms, by the old rules. This story provides an excellent case study for crisis managers why there is so much more risk in these days of YouTube, blogs, social media, and a mainstream media desperate to find ways to attract and hold audiences and stay relevant.

Don Imus and Michael Nifong–Two Careers on the rocks

Two interesting situations for crisis managers to think about: Don Imus and the Duke Lacrosse situation.

In the Don Imus situation the news is the advertising boycott. In the Duke situation, it is the dropping of all charges.

Imus is toast, like Michael Richards. The comments are so egregious that it is hard to interpret them as anything other than reflecting some deep-seated animosity and thoroughly unacceptable attitudes–unacceptable to our times and social sensitivities. I find it interesting that when white guys make these kinds of racial slurs that they go to the Jesse Jacksons and the Al Sharptons to make their apologies. One thought–the effectiveness of that is wearing off. While it may have been surprising before, it has suddenly become a habit. That may mean that even more stunning and surprising ways of showing remorse are required. In crisis management terms, apologies and remorse must always be accompanied by actions that demonstrate that you understand the seriousness of the offense and that will give some assurance that it will not be repeated. It is hard to accept any apology in these sorts of situations without the requisite acceptance that the offense is a sign of something quite significantly wrong. And that is both hard to do and potentially damaging. What can Imus say? I recognize that at heart I am an anti-female racist and now I am going to fix it? That’s why these sudden, unexpected, and deeply offensive and very public comments are very difficult to overcome. Michael Jackson is in a similar situation. Forgiveness becomes possible if he would be willing to recognize that he has a sexual problem involving children. But such an admission would be career suicide, but without it, there is little hope for reconciliation with a public that expects better.

As for the Duke situation, what is interesting to me is the white hat/black hat phenomenon. When the story broke, like all similar stories, the media played out the melodrama according to script: the white hat was the prosecutor, the black hats were the lacrosse players (and the university for not monitoring a rogue program better) and the victim was the stripper. As I have counseled in my book, this blog and to clients, some times, in extreme situations, your only recourse is to work to move the hat. Time and the facts apparently have moved the hat here. Now it is squarely on Nifong’s head–and of course the victim is no longer the victim but is now also wearing a pretty black hat. The boys are now the victim and the media may even play themselves as the white hat here.

The lesson for crisis managers is when you have the black hat on you are in a tough spot. In large part because once the media decides the story it wants to sell, it is very difficult to see that they may have it wrong. My answer is you must tell the story yourself. It’s a difficult situation, but if those responsible for communicating on the university’s and the boys’ behalf had been confident of the boys’ innocense (difficult while under the firm conviction of the media in the early days and weeks) they should have told the story as it is now being told. An over aggressive prosecutor who intentionally ignored evidence contrary to what he wanted to believe. A “victim” who was no victim but a malicious liar. And boys, guilty of putting themselves in a stupid and vulnerable position but who ultimately would be viewed as the victims.

Moving the black hat while under the intense pressure of a story that fits the media story telling mold so well, is very difficult. But in some cases, it must be done. And, when you need to do that, you need a crisis manager of the likes of Eric Dezenhall–combative, aggressive, angry, and righteous. (See my previous post).