Category Archives: Michael Richards

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).

Michael Richards' PR expert

If you were wondering who Kramer would turn to for help during his attempt to rescue his career from almost certain destruction, here is the answer. The “apology” on Letterman was pitiful. The attempt on Jesse Jackson’s radio show was improved but only heightened the opinion that wherever a camera shows up or attention is focused briefly, Mr Jackson will be close at hand. Mr. Rubenstein has perhaps his greatest reputation crisis challenge. Will see what magic he can conjure to restore poor Mr. Richards.

Kramer Loses It, Twice

Kramer, Kramer. Unless you are living on another planet you know that Michael Richards, the much loved actor with the explosive entrances lost it during a comedy routine. Lost it big time–with one of the most digusting racial tirades in the last fifty years. What is it with these celebrities and Hollywood types? YouTube is filled with copies of the tirade and the follow up with the hecklers on the Today Show and then Kramer’s “apology” clearly set up by his friend Jerry Seinfeld on the David Letterman show.

For crisis management purpose I want to focus on two things–the role of online video and Richard’s pathetic apology. There were only a few people in the audience when Richards went nuts. But now millions have seen it. Yes, on mainstream TV, but would they have reported this story they way they did without the unbelievable video? I doubt it very much. It would have been the hecklers’ word and some audience members against Richards and his supporters. Sketchy proof, little story.  And if it were not now possible to “broadcast” that video via YouTube, would the MSM have played it up? Again, I doubt it. Even without the play in the MSM, hundreds of thousands on now viewing on YouTube.

The point is, you screw up and it is on videotape, there is no hiding and no denying. This represents a tremendous change–and gives great impetus to the trend toward transparency. Video plus video sharing on the internet creates a glass window into lives, actions, deliberations, that were otherwise invisible.

Does this increase the risk of reputation damage? Ask Kramer.

Now to his apology. Pathetic. The only good thing one might say about it is that if you doubted his sanity during the “show” you had even more reason to doubt whether he is now operating on all cylinders after watching the apology. Apologizing was the right thing to do. No doubt, his friend Jerry arranged the botched apology. But, Kramer needed more help than getting a live feed to the Letterman show. Jerry should have helped him with the script as well.

Too bad. He screwed up big time then screwed up again. A second apology is never as effective as the first, even if it much more well thought through. We will watch those old tapes of Seinfeld now with a good deal more sadness as we have witnessed the implosion of one of the most unique and creative personalities. Sometimes, no apology and no recovery plan in the world can save a brand. It seems to me that this is one of those times.