Is There a Proper Way to Handle PR Missteps and Come Out On Top: Some Case Studies

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In no particular order:

·      Christian Bale verbally assaults someone on the set of the new “Terminator” movie

·      Chris Brown was booked for beating his girlfriend, Rihanna

·      Michael Phelps had pictures of him smoking from a bong taken, and admitted to “irresponsible actions”

·      Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees golden boy, allegedly took steroids in 2003

·      Roberto Alomar, the former Met, has a lawsuit drawn up against him that accuses him of talking an ex-girlfriend into unprotected sex despite his alleged knowledge that he had AIDS

(ed. Though all of the above are men, to point out only men wasn’t my intention.  Women are equally capable of doing bad and/or stupid things, but if they’ve done so in the last couple weeks, they’ve either been overshadowed by their male counterparts or my Social Media Week fried brain isn’t easily recalling them…)

Now, now, you don’t have to work in public relations to know that all of the examples noted above are not, let’s say, Christmas presents hand delivered by Santa himself.  However, there have been varying degrees of damage done to each person (so far), and some efforts to curtail the damage that’s been done have been more mitigating than others.

Let’s examine:

Christian Bale

Now, personally, I didn’t find his rant to be as offensive as it was entertaining.  Forgetting the excessive expletive use and obviously shallow threats, people, in general, can be really funny when they lose their cool

Take into consideration that Bale was hard at work on a new movie for a franchise that is huge, but possibly teetering on overstaying its welcome (a la “Star Wars” and even my beloved, “Rocky”).  As a talented actor that can become consumed by his work, Bale clearly took out a variety of frustrations out on one poor sap.

However, this is not to say that he should have exploded in the way that he did. 

His response of issuing an apology without aiming to excuse his reaction is probably the best way it could have been handled.  To blame the guy that interrupted his scene, or to refuse comment (which in essence would be the same as refusing to acknowledge that he’s human and capable of losing his cool) would have appeared arrogant. 

For Bale, the situation has already diffused and has become a source of late-night TV and Internet fodder.  Whether or not some of the other folks noted above and their actions had anything to do with taking the spotlight off Bale is questionable, but he will walk away relatively unscathed by this (or, it’s possible, that the movie will get more hype given his outburst.  Who knows?  Only box office receipts will tell…)

Chris Brown

The case for Chris Brown is a sticky one since so much of what happened is speculation.

The facts: there was an altercation between Brown and Rihanna.  The police were called.  At the scene, they tended to a “visibly injured” Rihanna.  Brown was no where to be found, then later he turned himself in for questioning and posted $50,000 bail.

Other than that, everything’s hearsay from “sources” “close to” someone that may or may not actually know anything.

Rumors: Rihanna gave an STD to Chris Brown that was given to her by rapper/mogul Jay-Z.  (Though I’d like to remain impartial while giving this recap, I’m calling BS on this one.  C’mon, people… a scandal like that would be too much for pop culture pundits to handle.)   Another rumor is that Rihanna caught Brown getting sexy texts and when she confronted him, things got physical.  The third rumor operating is that at some pre-Grammy’s festivities, Rihanna was jealous of Brown “canoodling” with other ladies.

Regardless of what the true reason behind the altercation is, physical violence shouldn’t be the answer.

The fallout: Previously known as a squeaky clean, talented singer and dancer, Brown is losing endorsements left and right.  Wrigley’s gum and the “Got Milk” campaign have both dropped him, and radio stations are no longer playing his previously popular music.

My personal issue at hand is that we’re supposed to live in an innocent until proven guilty society.  The LA DA sent the case back to detectives (a move that was probably done in order to make sure the case was an irrefutable slam dunk), as far as I know, no jury has convicted him (except that in the court of public opinion).  Suspend a campaign, or make a public statement that, “should the allegations be true, we will certainly have to re-evaluate our relationship with Mr. Brown,” but dropping him sight unseen is irresponsible on behalf of the companies which sponsor him.

As for Chris Brown not making a comment, it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.  He can’t scandalize the victim as that would put him even deeper into the dog house, he can’t defend his alleged actions as you can’t defend beating someone, and you can’t claim that the allegations are untrue because if it comes out you’re a liar, then you’re not just a violent person, but a liar, too.

Staying silent, consequently, makes people believe you’re guilty, as if you don’t defend yourself, then people assume it’s because you can’t.

Don’t be surprised if pictures of Brown going to church more often or walking into an anger management counselor’s office start popping up; that’d be his best bet at showing remorse without explicitly claiming guilt for his actions.  Also keep an eye out for flowers or conciliatory gifts popping up wherever Rihanna is.

Michael Phelps

This is an interesting circumstance: Phelps took a bong hit (most likely of marijuana), apologized for his reckless actions, and has had a good portion of the public rallying around him.

How did this happen?

Well, aside from us having an ever-growing (no pun intended) constituency of people pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana, Phelps handled himself well.  Without every actually admitting to committing a crime (I mean, being an 8-time Gold-medal winner, even smoking tobacco would be setting a bad example), he openly addressed the controversy, he placed no blame on anyone but himself, and he proceeded to move on.

The interesting backlash comes not against Phelps, but against the sponsors that have opted to not renew his contracts.

At the time this is being written, Speedo, Omega, Visa, and Nike are standing by their man.  Which is smart, because the backlash Subway and Kelloggs are suffering doesn’t seem worth dropping Phelps.

Yes, the jokes have been made about the irony of two food companies (that stoners love to eat while high) dropping Phelps as a sponsor after he was caught smoking what could be a drug that enhances ones desire to eat.  And those jokes are funny.  But they’re also sad since it shows what a disconnect people have between their product and their customers.

Fine, Kelloggs is a wholesome family food (as well as a wholesome food for hungry stoners).  Do you think that a parent believes that by buying their kids some Corn Flakes that they’re sending their 5-year-old the message that it’s ok to smoke pot?  Tony the Tiger is not saying “Ganja is Grrrrreat!”  And even if he were, parents having an open and honest dialogue with their children about the dangers of drugs should be able to combat a cartoon tiger.

Personally, it makes me laugh that these morally superior folks are the same ones that clamor for Oprah’s book club, one that touted and achievements of someone that posed as a reformed drug addict and criminial. 

8-medal-winning Michael Phelps is more damaging to our children than parents that stock their libraries with Oprah RECOMMENDED reading that’s laden with drugs and other illegal behavior.

Where are the hypocrisy police when you need them?  Oh, oh, that’s right; they’re busy arresting the kid that tried selling the (alleged marijuana) bong Phelps smoked from on eBay.

Seriously, people….

At this point, I think it’s the sponsors that dropped Phelps that need the PR guidance and not Phelps himself. 

A-Rod and Roberto Alomar

We’ll turn this into a Subway Series of our own.

Mets scandal v. Yankees scandal.

Alex Rodriguez failed a steroids test in 2003.  What I want to know is: why didn’t we know this in 2003?

Yes, this fact now tarnishes everything he’s ever done and what not, but this was 6 years ago.  Alex Rodriguez wasn’t a Yankee then (he was then pulling the wool over the eyes of the Texas Rangers).  So all this chatter about the Yankees needing to drop him is bunk (at least in my opinion.  And I’m a Mets fan, so watching A-Rod have the door hit his bottom on the way out wouldn’t break my heart).

Additionally, I would have to venture to say that there is a statute of limitations on reprimanding/punishing them for such a crime (though, admittedly I don’t know if there is or what it would be).  And if no criminal charges are being pressed, and if Rodriguez hasn’t come up tainted in 6 years, then there is no reason for this story to be news, other than to sensationalize the scenario.

As for Alomar, the charge against him is socially reprehensible (though, I’m not sure if it’s legally punishable).  The accusation that he knowingly coerced a girlfriend into unprotected sex while knowing that he had AIDS is just mortifying. 

The civil suit for $15M by his ex-girlfriend three years AFTER the discovery of his illness is a bit of an eyebrow raiser.  One article in the Daily News notes that a move to Cleveland, Alomar and his girlfriend, Ilya Dall got tested for HIV.  While Alomar came back positive, Dall did not.

What gets me is that, with all the warning signs the suit claims—thrush, foaming at the mouth, purple skin, ED, a persistent cough, cold sores and more—this woman still chose to have unprotected sex with him. 

Now, Alomar, if he KNEW that he had AIDS, certainly placed her at risk.  But I do believe that there should be some personal accountability for Dall.  If she didn’t believe him, despite all the health ailments that she’s listing in the case, then she shouldn’t have gone along with the unprotected sex. 

The other thing about the suit that winds up making the victim look suspect is that she’s wants $15M for emotional distress and the exposure of the disease to her children.  The suit claims, “He jeopardized the health, well-being and life of the plaintiff, which caused her to have a fear of contracting AIDS, often referred to as AIDS phobia.”

My issue what this is: there are millions of people living in this country with AIDS.  The person that pours your coffee in the morning may have AIDS; the person that teaches your children could have AIDS (my 6th grade Social Studies and Language Arts teacher passed away from AIDS in the middle of the school year); the person that washes your hair at the hair salon may have AIDS.  If you were to find out that one of them had AIDS, would you sue them for not disclosing that information?

Granted, when you’re involved in an intimate and sexual relationship with someone it’s different, but if you ever had a shadow of a doubt that your lover was sick, just don’t have sex with them until you get a definitive answer.  The plaintiff in this case is presuming that her own ignorance is a case, and perhaps I’m being callous, but she wasn’t proactive enough to make me truly sympathize with her.

With respect to the PR handling of this, the victim should have kept her mouth shut.  She should not have a spokesperson.  She should be handling this with some class, particularly if her complaint is that Alomar didn’t handle their relationship with any.


With respect to high profile folk winding up in the media spotlight for negative reasons, navigating the most politically correct approach to remedying a situation is tricky.  But something that seems to get lost is the fact that people on the periphery of a situation also need to be careful about their (mis)steps, as they may wind up damaging themselves in an effort to damage someone else.

Jackie for



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