Posts Tagged ‘rob ford’
I’ve been writing the “worst video media disaster” series since August 2010. This is the first one I’m embarrassed to publish.
The graphic nature of this post makes me uneasy—but personal discomfort aside, this month’s worst video media disaster wasn’t even a close call.
Toronto’s Rob Ford—the crack-smoking, drunk-driving, alcohol-abusing mayor of Canada’s largest city—used vulgar language to deny charges that he had sexually harassed a former special assistant named Olivia Gondek.
“Oh, and the last thing was Olivia Gondek. It says that I wanted to eat her pussy. Olivia Gondek. I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married, I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
It’s important to remember that no one asked the sue-happy mayor that specific question during the media scrum (he was asked about “allegations” in general). He brought the topic up himself and could have chosen to respond in any manner he wanted. The casual nature with which Ford made those stunningly disrespectful remarks show that he probably speaks with similar vulgarity on a regular basis.
A primary rule of crisis management is to never use the negative language of your accusers in your defense, since doing so only reminds the audience of the charge. In this case, he could have simply said: “The charges made regarding Olivia Gondek are false.”
Or, if he had even a single gentlemanly instinct and opted to respect his former aide’s privacy, he could have left her name out entirely: “There are reports out today about something I allegedly said to a former assistant. They are false.”
Ford capped off his 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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Tags: media training disaster, Olivia Gondek, rob ford
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Back in May, The Toronto Star and the U.S.-based website Gawker published the sensational allegation that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was the star of an unreleased video in which he purportedly smoked crack.
Mayor Ford vociferously denied the allegations, attacking his accusers and defiantly pledging to run for a second term.
Here’s the video of his initial denial, just days after those reports emerged:
As I noted at the time, Ford left himself some wiggle room with his carefully parsed statement:
“Notice specifically what he said at the beginning of this statement: “I do not use crack cocaine. Nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” He used the present tense (“I do not use…) rather than the past tense (“I have never used…”), a Clintonesque and lawyerly verbal construction that guilty people frequently hide behind.”
Given that his guilt seemed rather obvious at the time, it didn’t come as a huge surprise to me that Ford finally admitted his guilt today. But the manner in which he did so won’t help him score many sympathy points.
Ford obviously should have come clean sooner. But let’s assume, for the sake of this post, that he hadn’t. What should he have done today instead of giving the defiant and disorganized press conference above?
First, he should have given an interview to one reporter—someone fair but tough—to whom he could have come completely clean. Doing so would have avoided the deer-in-headlights look of a man in the middle of a media scrum who, it should be noted, was whisked away after being asked whether he was high right now.
Second, he needed to convey humility and contrition, not defiance. (Yes, I know that’s not in keeping with his character. But if ever there was a time to debut the trait…)
Third, he shouldn’t have attacked the media. An admission of responsibility must be self-focused, not externally focused. Instead, he incredulously claimed “I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions.”
Fourth, he shouldn’t have re-litigated the wording of the exact question about his crack use from five months ago. The spirit of the original question was clear to any reasonable viewer. Doing so made him look as ridiculous as Anthony Weiner, who claimed he couldn’t say “with certitude” whether pictures of an erect penis in a pair of briefs were of him.
Fifth, if he was going to do a media scrum, he should have made his statement without asking the reporter to first re-ask the question he had asked in May. Doing so made it look like Ford was playing a “gotcha” game in which he was trying to catch a reporter using slightly imprecise language.
Sixth, he should have articulated a plan for getting himself the help he needs immediately.
Seventh, he should have pledged to work with police and spare the people of Toronto additional and unnecessary investigatory expense.
Even with as much baggage as Ford was carrying, today’s admission still offered him one final chance to come clean the right way. Had he done so, I suspect that many people would have felt at least a shred of empathy for a man with understandably human failings. But a politician only gets so many last chances, and Ford blew his.
And if you think that Ford’s “last chance” passed by months ago, think again. A poll released today—TODAY!—found that Rob Ford still has a 43 percent approval rating. According to Gallup, that’s two points higher than President Obama’s approval rating, which stands at 41 percent.
UPDATE: November 5, 2013, 4:55 P.M.
Mayor Ford just issued another statement on camera. The tone of this one was much different. Whereas he appeared arrogant and dismissive earlier this afternoon, he appeared shaky and chastened this time around. He also apologized to the people of Toronto, his staff, and his brother for misleading them.
Apologies aside, he also made clear that he isn’t going anywhere.
Mr. Ford would have been better served by issuing this more humble statement first. As a result of blowing the first admission earlier today, he’s likely to gain less public sympathy than he otherwise might have. Plus, media stories will now focus on the odd contrast of Ford’s demeanor earlier today vs. later today.
In my view, an admission of this sort without a specific pledge to seek immediate help is pointless. Mr. Ford has repeatedly exhibited the behavior of an addict — and unless he receives the type of serious treatment that addicts can benefit from, his verbal pledge to “never” let this happen again is nothing more than a well-intentioned but empty promise.
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Tags: apologies, crisis communications, rob ford
Posted in Crisis Communications | 8 Comments »
The mayor of the fourth largest city in North America was accused of smoking crack cocaine by three journalists who viewed an unreleased video earlier this month. Not just any mayor, but Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, long known as a bombastic loudmouth who isn’t afraid to go on the offensive.
But in this case he didn’t go on offense for several days. His lack of doing so was noteworthy since it was inconsistent with his previous actions—and it led large swaths of the public to reach the conclusion that he’s guilty of at least something.
Here’s the story: On May 16, journalists for an American website and a Canadian newspaper said they had been shown a “secret” video of Rob Ford appearing to smoke crack. The next day, Ford faced reporters and issued this uninspired denial:
If you were falsely accused of smoking crack, wouldn’t you issue a stronger denial? Eight days later—on May 24—Ford finally spoke to the media again to issue another denial. But trucks could have driven through the holes in his vague statement:
Notice specifically what he said at the beginning of this statement: “I do not use crack cocaine. Nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” He used the present tense (“I do not use…) rather than the past tense (“I have never used…”), a Clintonesque and lawyerly verbal construction that guilty people frequently hide behind. Nor, for the record, had anyone asked whether he was an “addict,” making that statement downright bizarre.
The vacuum caused by Ford’s lack of a solid response led to other charges, including a possible connection to murder. His administration is a mess. His chief of staff, press secretary, and deputy press secretary have all resigned. It will be interesting to see if Ford can survive this scandal—and if so, whether he can get anything done. True to his defiant nature, Ford has pledged to seek a second term.
A note about the Obama Administration’s IRS scandal
The other leading candidate for the worst video disaster of the month was the scandal involving the IRS and its targeting of Tea Party-affiliated groups. The particular moment worth citing was when Lois Lerner, the director of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt organizations office, disclosed at a meeting that her office had indeed been guilty of such targeting.
In addition to other reasons, that moment is worthy of mention because of the ham-fisted way she tried to disclose the scandal. Instead of notifying the press, disclosing everything she knew, taking responsibility and appearing forthright, she tried to slip it out casually during an otherwise routine meeting of the American Bar Association. Worse, she planted the question by arranging for it to be asked by an attendee at the meeting.
Attendees at the meeting were shocked by her bombshell disclosure. Those meetings are usually uneventful; several attendees remarked afterward that it seemed like an odd venue to bring it up.
From a PR perspective, Ms. Lerner used one of the worst possible techniques to disclose damaging information—and in so doing, she diluted her own trustworthiness while increasing the public’s suspicion. This was never going to be an easy scandal for her—or the Obama Administration—to manage. Ms. Lerner made a difficult task even harder.
Rob Ford photo credit: Gawker
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Tags: IRS, Lois Lerner, media training disasters, president obama, rob ford
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In three weeks, a Canadian politician named Rob Ford will be sworn in as Toronto’s new mayor.
Mr. Ford is no stranger to controversy. He’s uttered ethnic slurs, been arrested for drunk driving, and was even ejected from a sports arena for instigating a shouting match.
He agreed to an interview recently with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running radio program, As It Happens, heard throughout Canada and the United States. Ford’s communications director scheduled the interview while the mayor-elect was coaching a football game.
Let’s just say he didn’t do well.
Here are three reasons Mr. Ford failed so spectacularly:
1. He Was Unfocused: Ford interrupted the interview numerous times and admitted he was “being distracted.” That he agreed to conduct an internationally-broadcast interview from an active football field was a staggeringly bad idea.
Let’s look at this in context. Toronto’s baseball stadium seats 49,539 people. Mr. Ford’s radio interview was surely heard by at least that many people. If given the opportunity to address a sold-out crowd at the stadium for three minutes, Ford likely would have given it his full attention. But when given the chance to address the same audience over the airwaves, he didn’t.
2. He Was Rude: When asked about what specific expenses he planned to cut, Mr. Ford said: “I just told you, I’m going to get rid of the $60 car registration tax and land transfer tax, so maybe I’m not making myself clear.” Actually, it was the first time in the interview he had said that, so he didn’t “just tell her” that. And even if he had, he should have remained polite and simply repeated his message.
3. He Lost His Message: Yes, Mr. Ford repeated his message of fiscal restraint numerous times. But the radio audience was surely distracted by his odd behavior. And the tens of thousands of people who watched this YouTube video wanted to hear his bizarre interview, not his message.
As a result, Mr. Ford blew an opportunity to advance his ideas. Worse, it’s tough to imagine that this interview inspired great confidence in investors around the world considering business in Toronto.
I’d love to continue this article. But in the words of Mr. Ford, “I gotta let you go here. I can’t talk to you right now, really I’m on a very tight schedule, so I hate to be rude but I gotta let you go.”
Hat tip: Jeff Domansky, The PR Coach
Tags: media training disaster, media training disasters, radio, rob ford
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