By: Joseph Havey
If you are into TV culture, we’re sure you’ve heard of ABC’s new show Scandal. If you haven’t, a simple Google search will show you that this show has taken off since its creation last year. Anyone interested in crisis communication will also be interested Scandal, which revolves around the high-octane life of Olivia Pope, a professional fixer in D.C.
Written by Shonda Rhimes (the writer of Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy), the show is true to its name and is ripe with deception and betrayal. However, despite the melodrama, Olivia Pope is based on a real person: Judy Smith. Smith’s laundry list of accomplishments is sure to make anyone feel inexperienced, and her big name clients prove for fascinating case studies in crisis PR.
So, in honor of COM 346, it’s case study time! Look to these examples as the right way to handle a crisis:
What actually happened: In 1997 Lewinsky came to the White House as an intern, which she later described as a “pit-stop” on her way to graduate school. While there, she had several sexual encounters with President Bill Clinton.
A year later, Paula Jones – a state worker from Arkansas – sued Clinton for sexual harassment over encounters in the mid-90s. Jones’s lawyers tried to give Clinton a track record of sexual harassment, and subpoenaed Lewinsky. She denied any affair, as did Clinton.
Yet evidence came to light proving otherwise. Linda Tripp – a friend of Lewinsky’s – brought forth tape recordings of phone conversations, in which Lewinsky admitted the affair. Clinton and Lewinsky were charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. Lewinsky agreed to testify after receiving immunity. She admitted to the affair and brought forth her own evidence – a now-infamous blue dress stained with Clinton’s semen. Clinton eventually admitted to the affair and was later impeached by the House of Representatives.
Where she is now: Lewinsky not only managed to escape any charges by agreeing to testify, but she is also well off financially – reportedly worth $500,000. Smith’s expertise shines through in the way Lewinsky dealt with the massive amount of publicity she received. She was clearly media trained – just watch this interview with Larry King. I could sense her displeasure with talking about her sexual life, but she won me over.
Lewinsky wrote a book called Monica’s Story¸ and HBO ran a documentary in which she answered all the media’s probing questions. She will never be out from underneath the shadow of the Clinton affair, but she successfully divulged rumors that she had an agenda to sleep with the President or that the affair was a one-sided seduction of Clinton. Her reputation – and her financial standing – could be worse.
Senator Larry Craig:
What actually happened: Senator Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho was outspoken on his anti-gay political views. However, in August of 2007, Craig was arrested for “lewd conduct” by an undercover cop, who was investigating complaints about sexual behavior in men’s restrooms.
When the media reported Craig’s arrest over allegedly soliciting gay sex, several men came forward claiming that Craig had previously made advances or stalked them. Craig denied being gay but did plead guilty to “disorderly conduct,” and was fined by the court. He announced his resignation in September, but later reversed his decision. In December several more men came forward claiming affairs with Craig.
Where he is now: Despite urges by his own Republican Party, Craig was able to finish out his term as Senator. His reputation was damaged, and he has been on many lists of conservative politicians caught in a gay-sex scandal.
He now co-owns New West Strategies, LLC, a lobbying group that focuses on green and sustainable issues. He still denies being gay.
What actually happened: Vick was the quarter-back for the Atlanta Falcons, after being drafted in 2001. In 2007, Vick’s cousin was investigated on the basis of drug-related charges. The investigation turned up a dog-fighting business, which Vick funded. The media found out, and the scandal was brought to the attention of the rest of America.
A few months later, Vick and his co-horts were officially charged with operating that dog-fighting venture – known as “Bad Newz Kennels.” Vick plead guilty and served 21 months in prison. He lost his endorsements, later filed for bankruptcy and was unable to return to the Falcons upon his release from prison.
Where he is now: In Smith’s book, Good Self, Bad Self, she advocates actually solving the problem as opposed to covering it up – the golden rule of crisis management. Vick applied this strategy, and after apologizing and proving to the public that he meant it, he is back in the NFL as the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2011, Nike again sponsored him, and he is currently number 50 on Forbes’s list of highest paid athletes.
Vick had always been involved in charity work with The Vick Foundation, but in 2012, he started a clothing line. Part of its proceeds goes to the Boys and Girls Club.
The common thread amidst all of these scandals is that Smith’s clients didn’t deny the issue at hand, but instead took steps to correct the problem. Though media still dumped large amounts of negative publicity on them, their situations could be a lot worse. Vick could still be out of the NFL and out of sponsors. Lewinsky could have gone to prison.
These are good examples of crisis management gone well. Even if you don’t watch Scandal, you can impress your COM 346 professor with all of your PR knowledge.
We wish you luck in your future careers when you have scandals of your own to deal with.