Crisis Management: Weiner – “Bad answers” signaled lying: Crisis communication
Within eight hours of my writing the following article, Rep. Anthony Weiner D-NY tearfully, confessionally, and apologetically admitted he was lying all along and responsible for sending explicit photos, messages and phone calls to women he met online. In retrospect, we can see him telegraphing guilt with behavior he intended to get him off the hook.
Thank you Congressman Weiner for reminding us of a crisis communication principle: your credibility rests on your ability to answer tough legitimate questions. Slick talking points don’t mean squat if you spin or dodge what you’re asked.
After first stonewalling, Weiner gave hours of interviews to myriad reporters to explain that a hacker victimized him by sending a lewd photo of a man’s underwear to a 21-year old college student and 45,000 other Weiner Twitter followers. However, when asked whether the picture was of you, you ducked. NBC’s Luke Russert: “But that’s not a picture of you?” Weiner: “You know I cannot say with certitude…” Russert: “You will not flat out deny that that photograph is not (sic) you.” Weiner: “Here’s what I will say, I will say that we’re trying to figure out exactly what happened here.” The Congressman danced that way with reporters one full day then stonewalled again and clouded his political future including a rumored run for New York Mayor.
I have liked Weiner for his quick mind and wit, blunt talk, and apparent fearlessness of tough issues. It was dismaying that he would launch a tasteless-Tweet media tour without a direct answer to: “Is the man in the gray underwear you?”
PR 101 says that before meeting the media horde you contemplate worst-case questions. Senior federal officials endure “murder boards”: teams of colleagues who harshly interrogate them to prepare for testifying before Congress. Weiner surely knew the “is it you” question was coming.
Some suggested he should only have issued a statement saying he was hacked and that an investigation is underway. Sorry, can’t do that in public office. He can’t hide. A private company CEO might – might – pull that off but not a public official.
Others said that if he couldn’t answer the questions then he shouldn’t have subjected himself to them. Wrong again. Public official.
Obviously, if Weiner were trying to avoid self-incrimination then that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of smelly fish. When potential crimes are involved then PR is the last thing on your mind because you’re more concerned with jail than appearances. However, if it’s an ethical matter then consider another crisis principle: get it over with! If the Congressman took naughty pictures of himself and a hacker found one and Tweeted it then Weiner should own up to his behavior, admit carelessness, and hope the misstep won’t stick.
Some considered it noteworthy that Weiner did not invite law officers to investigate the hacking, but lawyers. One can lie to media and lawyers without breaking the law but lying to law enforcement is a crime.
Weiner seems tough. I still think lay it out and tough it out is best although the window for that strategy is closing. Maybe Weiner believes that if he never owns up to it then fickle public/media attention will move on as he ducks the photo question ad infinitum. Maybe he honestly believes the photo is NOT him. Well, why doesn’t he say that?
How much less of a hole would Weiner be in if he’d taken this tack from the start?