The Three Worst Video Media Disasters of 2013

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 2, 2014 – 5:22 am

It’s not easy to be named the worst video media disaster of the year. Someone has to do something spectacularly dumb to receive the honor.

In 2010, the award went to BP CEO Tony Hayward, who told cameras “I’d like my life back” after his company’s massive oil spill killed 11 workers.

In 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) nabbed the award, for obvious reasons.

In 2012, Senate candidate Todd Akin (R-MO) became notorious for his claim that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Who will join their ranks this year? Read on…

Disaster Strikes

Number Three: Lance Armstrong Rides Into Infamy

After years of denying doping allegations, suing former teammates, and bullying everyone who got in his way, cycling champion Lance Armstrong finally admitted what many people already knew: that he was a dishonest cheat.

Armstrong selected Oprah Winfrey for his on-air confessional, a lengthy interview aired on two consecutive nights. But Armstrong’s carefully parsed and evasive responses did more harm than good, leaving an indelible impression that he was still being untruthful (Oprah even asked whether he was a sociopath). 

For example, Armstrong denied doping after 2005. But evidence presented by the USADA suggests he doped through 2009; if true, he lied during his admission. 


One of his lowest moments came when discussing a phone call with Betsy Andreu, wife of cyclist Frankie Andreu. When recounting the phone call, Armstrong seemed to find it funny that although he admitted calling her “crazy” and “a bitch,” he didn’t call her “fat.” He grinned at his apparent wit, as if he was a mischievous kid who thought his cruelty was somehow funny.

In another stunning moment, he admitted that he couldn’t remember everyone he had sued because he had sued so many people.

A Survey USA poll taken shortly after the interview found that only 17 percent of respondents thought he was being completely honest. Those are probably the same people who tell pollsters the U.S. Congress is doing a good job.

In the clip below, Armstrong tells Oprah that he “deserves” to be allowed to compete again.


Number Two: Paula Deen Cooks Up Trouble

Paula Deen, the Food Network’s southern-cooking celebrity chef, found herself in hot water (or, more appropriate to her style of cooking, a vat of butter and lard) in June after The National Enquirer released details of racist remarks she’s made in the past.

During a legal deposition in a workplace discrimination suit, Deen admitted using the N-word in the past and making racist jokes.

Paula Deen

But the most shocking moment may have come when she admitted that she wanted to emulate a wedding she had recently attended in which the wait staff was made up of  “middle-aged black men.” That wedding, she said, evoked fond feelings for her of a Civil War-era “really southern plantation wedding.”

Deen made the mistake of waiting two days to apologize personally—and when she did, her apology (her first of several) was a mess—one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

A few days later, Ms. Deen sobbed through a bizarre, out-of-control, and uncomfortable interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show.

With better crisis management, Deen could have come through this crisis less scarred. Yes, she would have paid a price—but I’m convinced that her poor crisis response contributed mightily to the magnitude of her disaster, which included the loss of her Food Network contract and several lucrative endorsement deals.

She may eventually redeem herself enough to make a good living again, but it’s unlikely she’ll ever reclaim her one-time success.


Number One: Rob Ford Cracks Up

It’s hard to imagine too many people keeping their jobs after the year Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has had.

In May, the U.S. website Gawker published a report claiming they had seen a video of Ford smoking crack. Ford denied those allegations for months, until finally admitting that he had, in fact, smoked crack.

Rob Ford Pussy Apology Wife

But Ford didn’t simply admit smoking crack. He blamed reporters for his earlier lack of candor by claiming their questions months earlier had been asked using the wrong tense (“Do you smoke crack cocaine?” as opposed to “Have you ever smoked crack cocaine?”)

He also added a new page to the crisis communications playbook by casually blaming his drug use on being in a “drunken stupor.”

But Ford’s lowest moment—and the one I’m naming the worst video media disaster of the year—has to do with his casual mention of the amount of oral sex he receives at home.

During a press scrum, Ford denied charges that he had sexually harassed a former special assistant named Olivia Gondek. But the manner in which he did it was shockingly crass and unnecessarily graphic.


Ford capped off that ignominious day with yet another spousal indignity. He called a press conference to apologize for using such graphic language to describe his sex life. As he stood before reporters, his humiliated wife stood on the side of the stage, her eyes cast downward.

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June 2013: The Two Worst Video Media Disasters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 29, 2013 – 10:44 pm

National security vs. butter. Lies vs. racism. Self-soothing vs. hysterical crying.

This month’s two worst video media disasters couldn’t be more different from one another. One is arguably much more consequential than the other. But both (at least partially) destroyed the credibility of these two well-known public figures.

Without any further ado, here are the two worst video media disasters of June 2013!

Oops Sign


Disaster One: U.S. Director of National Intelligence Defends His “Truthiness”

Back in March, a congressman asked U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if the National Security Agency (NSA) gathers “any type of data at all on millions of Americans.”

Clapper said “no.” But watch his body language when he said that. While answering the question, he repeatedly rubbed his forehead, often regarded as a self-soothing behavior.

When caught in a lie after Edward Snowden leaked information this month that confirmed the U.S. did gather data on millions of Americans, Mr. Clapper offered an extraordinary excuse:

“I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying ‘no’.”

Got that, kids? Next time you’re caught in a lie, just tell your parents that you were answering in the “least untruthful manner” possible.


Disaster Two: Celebrity Chef Paula Deen Cooks Her Brand

In a deposition released this month, celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted using racial language and longing to plan a Civil War-era wedding complete with an all-black serving staff.

The inevitable backlash forced her to respond. First, her staff released a statement noting that Ms. Deen was raised in the south during a different era. Unsurprisingly, that landed with a thud. Ms. Deen then released three videos—none of them good—and canceled a scheduled appearance on The Today Show.

(Click here to see her videos and read four reasons why they failed.)

Paula Deen

Finally, Ms. Deen rescheduled her Today Show interview—after she had already been fired from The Food Network—and proceeded to give a jaw-dropping answer to a direct question:

Matt Lauer: “Do you have any doubt that African Americans are offended by the ‘n’ word?”

Paula Deen: “I don’t know.”

With that answer, Ms. Deen confirmed what a lot of people already suspected: that she just didn’t get it. Many of her sponsors reached the same conclusion, costing her millions – or tens of millions – of dollars. 

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Four Reasons Paula Deen’s Video Apology Failed

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 21, 2013 – 3:33 pm

Paula Deen, the Food Network’s southern-cooking celebrity chef, found herself in hot water (or, more appropriate to her style of cooking, a vat of butter and lard) this week after The National Enquirer released details of racist remarks she’s made in the past.

The Enquirer’s source material—which has since been confirmed by numerous other outlets—is a deposition Deen gave last month in a workplace discrimination suit. In the transcript, Ms. Deen admitted using the N-word in the past and making racist jokes.

But the most shocking moment may have come when she admitted that she wanted to emulate a wedding she had recently attended in which the wait staff was made up of  “middle-aged black men.” That wedding, she said, evoked fond feelings for her of a Civil War-era “really southern plantation wedding.”

Ms. Deen was scheduled to appear on The Today Show in an exclusive interview this morning, but canceled at the last minute, citing exhaustion. She released this video apology minutes ago; you’ll find my analysis below.

This is one of the worst video apologies I can ever remember seeing. Here are at least four reasons it failed:

1. The Format

This apology runs only 44 seconds but is heavily edited. There is no reason she shouldn’t have been able to deliver such a short message in a single, straight-to-camera, monologue. Remember, folks: She’s an experienced television broadcaster. The edits and slapdash quality of this video only served to undercut the sincerity of her message. 

2. The Vagueness

Although Ms. Deen apologized for her “hurtful language,” she didn’t even begin to address the biggest problem — the thoughts behind that language. She needed to address the substance of the charges and make clear that she truly gets why her words were so hurtful before moving on to the apology. She didn’t. As a result, this video underscored the fact that she still doesn’t get it. 

3. The Lack of Speed 

Ms. Deen waited two days before personally responding to these charges. In a statement yesterday, her representatives didn’t help by seemingly excusing her behavior by mentioning her southern upbringing — and her Today Show cancellation gave the impression of someone in duck-and-cover mode. Given the slowness of her response, she heightened the expectation for a quality video that tackled these issues head on. This did not come even close to that standard.

4. The Begging

I am willing to accept at face value that this incident has humbled her. But her begging came across as rather pathetic and reminded me of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who tearfully proclaimed “I have sinned!” after getting caught with a prostitute.

UPDATE: June 21, 2013, 4:20 p.m.: Paula Deen has now released another video.

I’m not sure whether the first one leaked out inadvertently or not. This video is better than the one above (which isn’t saying much) but still lacks focus and polish, and does not accomplish what she needed to. Plus, her claim that the media distorted her comments (which are allegedly on tape) in some way seems to blame others instead of taking full responsibility. 

UPDATE, June 21, 2013, 4:45 p.m.: She’s out.

According to multiple sources, Paula Deen’s contract with The Food Network will not be renewed when it expires next month.

UPDATE, June 26, 2013, 8:30 p.m.: My interview with WTOP-FM about Paula Deen’s Today Show appearance.

Click here to listen. 

 What do you think of Deen’s apology? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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