Vance McAllister’s Savvy Crisis Communications

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 9, 2014 – 1:04 PM

Married Louisiana Congressman Vance McAllister was caught on surveillance video this week passionately kissing a woman at his local office.

The woman, Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock, was a longtime friend and donor to McAllister’s campaign. Making matters more complicated, the woman’s husband was also a friend and contributor to  McAllister’s campaign; Mr. Peacock told CNN that this incident has “wrecked his life.”  

Even worse, Ms. Peacock was on McAllister’s payroll and was terminated after the video became public.

The Republican freshman has vowed to remain in office, but the messy incident has remained in the news, threatening his young political career.

According to CBS News, McAllister is “reportedly asking for an FBI investigation into the source of the leaked security footage.”

A friend and trusted colleague emailed me today and said, “This seems like a bad idea to me. You cheated on your wife and kids, don’t ask the FBI to find the person who caught you doing it.” 

I understand where he’s coming from, but I disagree on this one. Rep. McAllister is taking a page out of two smart crisis management playbooks: Don Draper’s and David Letterman’s.

Vance McAllister

Don Draper, the fictional MadMen anti-hero, famously said, “If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” McAllister’s request may help shift at least part of the storyline from his steamy kisses onto the person who leaked the footage.

As for David Letterman, he paid a relatively small public price after news of his affair with a staffer became public. He benefited from having a bad guy in the story who was worse than he was—a blackmailer—and that blackmailer took a much worse media drubbing.

I wish McAllister’s crisis management strategy was to apologize, resign, and retreat from public life. But if his goal is to remain in office, his “find the leaker” strategy may help.

UPDATE, April 9, 2014, 5:40pm

Well, so much for that. According to Politico, Rep. McAllister’s staff said the congressman would no longer pursue an investigation into the leaker. It looks like he will have little to hide behind other than the de rigueur “I have let my family down and will try to do better” line.

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Comments (9)

  1. By Brett:

    Perhaps this is the cynic in me… but it just seems a little too convenient every time a politician who’s expressed great faith gets caught doing something completely contradictory, they simply say something along the lines of how they’ve asked their god for forgiveness, or its an issue between them and god. The implication in these scenarios being “well, god’s forgiven me… you should too.”

    I just hope we’re spared the (now traditional) news conference where the dutiful wife has to stand at his side.

    I agree with you that the Congressman should do something significant to signal his true remorse and understanding that what he did was wrong. Not only did he betray his family, but also abused his position of authority by carrying on with a staffer. Taking a leave of absence would be a good start.

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Brett,

    I don’t think you’re being too cynical at all. You’re right that the “I’ve let God and my family down” line has become a cliche used by politicians who preach one line publicly and behave another way privately. I suspect that each subsequent politician who uses that line reduces its efficacy for future politicians — which is probably a good thing.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Brad

  3. By Kevin:

    It’s unfortunate when the best response line becomes cliche, but you are right, it has. The same thing happened to “thoughts and prayers.”

  4. By John Burns:

    Brad

    I don’t think anyone should have to ask somebody to investigate this kind of leak. CCTV is part of life now and it does a lot of good in making us safer and feeling safer. The malicious intrusiveness involved in leaking this footage is unacceptable. Unacceptable on an individual level and unacceptable because of the harm it does to the legitimate use of CCTV.

    Independent of the issue in the tape, the authorities should catch and punish the person responsible for three reasons: because there’s somebody in that organization who has breached trust, because it’s the right thing to do and to discourage others.

  5. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi John,

    Well said. I agree with you completely.

    Thanks for commenting,
    Brad

  6. By Ashley Harris:

    I’m sorry, but I completely disagree. The apology letter was atrocious! How many errors can he have in there? Really Congressman? Your instead of you’re?!?

    This is the most important letter of his political life, and he couldn’t even bother to have it proofed?!?

    Then he asks for an investigation into who leaked the video. Trying to divert attention away from his very blatant disregard for the conservative platform he ran on? At least he didn’t make his wife do the podium walk of shame (yet!).

  7. By Kevin:

    Is leaking CCTV even explicitly illegal?

  8. By Mike:

    You’re nuts and totally wrong. He’s caught on tape, not caught on print. We can see him commit the… lapse in judgement. Blaming the leak does not change the conversation. And he’s a sanctimonious congressman not a late night host – different standards.

  9. By John Burns:

    To Kevin’s question: Is leaking CCTV even explicitly illegal?

    That’s a great question. It would depend on applicable laws, if any. But it’s almost certainly a breach of internal rules and/or Company policy / employment terms.

    What is breached would determine who should investigate. The quality of the internal control system being used where the breach occuredwould heavily influence how successful the investigation would be.

    John

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