Chris Lee Sex Scandal: Great Crisis Response

Written by Brad Phillips on February 10, 2011 – 11:30 am

Two-term Congressman Christopher Lee (R-NY) resigned yesterday, within hours of learning that a website published a shirtless photo he sent to a woman he had met on Craig’s List, along with the accompanying (and rather tame) e-mails.

In the e-mails, the married 46-year-old Congressman claimed he was 39-years-old, divorced, and “classy.”

Since many members of Congress have survived much bigger “sex” scandals (Barney Frank, John Ensign and Larry Craig come to mind), many people are speculating that more sordid details will inevitably emerge about Mr. Lee.

Photo Credit: Gawker

The speculation about additional bombshells may prove correct, but there’s another possibility – one I haven’t heard anyone else suggest yet.

When I speak to a person in crisis, one of the first questions I ask is what their primary goal is. There are many different answers to that question, all requiring a different crisis communications strategy. In a case like this, some of the goals might include:

  1. 1. “I want to keep my Congressional seat and fight through this.”
  2. 2. “I want to reduce the harm to my reputation.”
  3. 3. ”I want to keep my family together.”
  4. 4. “Regardless of whether I remain married, I don’t want to drag my wife and family through hell.”

Mr. Lee’s primary goal was obviously not number one. It could have been any of the other options – and assuming it was, his candid press statement (below) and immediate resignation might represent his best path toward accomplishing those goals:

“I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.”


By stepping down quickly and offering no excuses in his press statement, Rep. Lee did everything he could to reduce the intensity of future headlines. Yes, the political press and 24-hour cable networks will cover future revelations. But they will write and air fewer stories than they would have had he remained a sitting member of Congress.

Mr. Lee is likely not getting many compliments today, and I will not make any excuses for his personal behavior. But despite whatever bad decisions he’s made, his crisis communications response has been near-perfect.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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