Tag Archive: Crisis Communication

“Not disclosing the DUI on my terms may have been the single costliest political mistake I ever made … I may have just cost myself the presidency.” – President George W. Bush

“We should have brought it (DUI arrest) up at a time and place of our choosing. I should have made a more convincing case for doing so. Instead I helped George W. Bush keep a secret that almost cost him the White House.” – Karl Rove, Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush

How could a Maine drunk-driving arrest in America’s bicentennial year lead to the infamous hanging-chads election debacle in Florida 24 years later?DUI

As virtually all of us know, George W. Bush used to drink. And with the consumption of alcohol, sometimes more than one or two beers too many,  the probability of a drunk driving arrest increases. That’s exactly what happened to Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine on Labor Day weekend in 1976.

Serving as Governor of Texas two decades later, Bush was asked by reporters if he was ever arrested for DUI. He didn’t tell a fib, but he also did not tell the whole truth about his 0.10 blood-alcohol level DUI misdemeanor, paying a fine and having his license suspended for 30 days.

Instead, he confided that he did not have a perfect record; he engaged in foolish activities as a youth; and he urged fellow Texans to not drink and drive. Having the vantage point of history, we know now this response while technically correct was an opportunity lost.

Reflecting back on his evasive answer, Bush realized that he could have held an event with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – and use this backdrop to disclose his own DUI – putting out the negative news at a time and place of his own choosing … and over time making the 1976 Kennebunkport arrest ancient history.

A specifically timed disclosure was exactly the advice of his aides, Rove and Karen Hughes, and conceivably others on the governor’s staff, but Bush stubbornly would not agree to get the DUI out in the public and on the record. Instead, this DUI magically came into the public consciousness exactly four days before the closest-ever 2000 election.

Rove contended that even if this DUI revelation moved 2 percent of the electorate to shift from Bush to Al Gore or from Bush to not voting that would have cost the then-Texas Governor 2.1 million votes. Translated: Instead of razor-thin wins in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa and Oregon – all four of these states ended up in the Al Gore column – Florida’s electoral votes may not have been necessary and history would have been different.

Tell the Truth, Tell it All, Tell It Fast, Move On

I’ve oftentimes said that years ago I made some mistakes. I drank too much, and I did on that night … I regret that it happened, but it did. I learned my lesson.” – Governor George W. Bush to reporters four days before election-day in 2000bushdui

The mantra in effective crisis communications is first-and-foremost to tell the truth. Tell the complete story, tell it as fast as possible (not four days before a national election). Move on quickly, hopefully preventing the story from having “legs.”

Let’s face reality here. Almost DailyBrett has seen cases where personal pride and human nature cause good people to sweep unwanted remembrances underneath the rug, hoping they will never be heard from again. Darn it, these stories have a habit of slithering out just when you least expect them.

We watched in amused horror as former presidential candidate John Edwards denied repeatedly that he had an affair and a love child (e.g., Frances Quinn) with videographer Rielle Hunter while his wife Elizabeth, was fighting a losing battle against cancer.

After days of kicking and screaming, Edwards came clean about the affair with Hunter, but still denied the love child, but even this revelation was not the whole truth. Eventually, the National Enquirer got a story right, complete with photos of Edwards, Hunter and their lovely offspring.edwards1

Did someone say something about Tell the Truth, Tell it All, Tell it Fast and Move On?

Does anyone give a rat’s derriere about John Edwards anymore?

Manage or Be Managed

“The news of the arrest came out at the worst possible time, with only four days to go in the campaign. Many have suggested that I would have served my candidate better had I insisted he disclose it earlier; maybe so.” – Karen Hughes, Counselor to President George W. Bush

When it comes to the most important public relations and brand/reputation management of all, our own personal PR and our own brand and reputation, we all have a choice: manage or be managed.

The campaign apparatus of George W. Bush conducted opposition research on their own candidate, which is standard practice as one knows the other side of the aisle will be digging into the weeds looking for “good dirt.” The Bush campaign oppo research did not discover the DUI, even though it was buried in the public records in scenic Kennebunkport. The erroneous conclusion: The coast was clear.

Instead, the storm clouds with no coincidence came pouring in at the worst time possible for the Bush campaign and with it a sudden break of momentum and the potential loss of more than 2 million votes

We could have been spared the one-month legal spectacle of hanging chads in Florida.









Virtually everyone in the PR world knows the predictable clichés…Ya can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube…Ya can’t un-ring the bell…or the lovely…Ya can’t put the bullet back in the chamber.

These clichés obviously apply to relatively new social media. China is trying desperately to prevent the dissemination of certain kinds of revolutionary information by blocking Twitter www.twitter.com, Facebook www.facebook.com and YouTube www.youtube.com. This heavy-handed censorship is ultimately going to fail. There are simply more than 1 billion Chinese and millions-and-millions of PCs/servers and thousands of miles of fibre optic cable. Do the math.



You would think the University of Oregon Athletic Department www.goducks.com would understand the folly associated with blocking the viral spread of a downright clever….and entirely appropriate rap video “I Love My Ducks” by three Oregon students, Michael Bishop, Brian McAndrew and Jamie Shade http://blog.oregonlive.com/pac10/2009/11/pac-10_insider_oregon_gets_it.html. But there it is, an easily avoided public relations shiner in black-and-white in the Oregonian with more newspapers, electronic media reports and blogs to quickly follow.

The real issue here is the use of the Oregon Duck mascot, who looks likes Donald Duck. In fact, the University of Oregon was authorized to use Donald as the mascot decades ago by none other than Walt Disney. “At issue here is the mascot, a copyrighted Disney figure, used by the UO athletic department with special permission of Disney Enterprises,” wrote Ken Goe and Mike Tokito of the Oregonian. “It’s unclear why the use of the mascot in this video possibly could offend Disney. The lyrics aren’t objectionable.”

Unfortunately, the unauthorized use of the Duck did not sit well with Angie Sit, Oregon’s assistant athletic director for  Marketing, who demanded that the video be taken down. The net result: the video spread like wildfire.

“This is more like Godzilla deciding to squash Bambi,” the Oregonian bloggers wrote. “And in this case, Godzilla missed. We live in the information age, and bottling up a video that already has entered cyberspace is like trying to bottle sunshine.”

Why didn’t the PR Department at the University of Oregon take the preemptive step of calling the Legal Department at Disney Enterprises and explaining: “We want you to know about this video put together by three of our students without our knowledge. We have reviewed the video and it is not objectionable. It includes footage of the Donald Duck mascot. We did not approve the use of the mascot. We are going to allow this video to run its course and we appreciate your understanding. This was not intentional.”


As Henry Kissinger would say, the statement above has the added advantage of being the truth.

In addition, the school could spend some quality time with “The Duck” and without being overbearing make that costumed waterfowl clearly understand that the use of the mascot has to be consistent with cheering for the university’s teams. This would be a good thing to tell Disney, reassuring them that steps have been taken to prevent reoccurrence.

There are literally thousands and thousands of PR professionals who claim to be experts in crisis communications, but what happens when the PR experts create the crisis? This is one crisis the University of Oregon Athletic Department easily could have avoided. The result? The “I Love You Ducks” video will get more attention and more play than if it just passed away with the passage of time. http://www.sportsnipe.com/main_sportsnews/1037122/i-smell-roses-video.html

This has been a Dow Jonser of a year for the UO Sports Information Department starting with the continuing saga of YouTube sucker punch star LeGarrette Blount and now the football team is on the doorstep of the Rose Bowl. And yet, another controversy involving three very bright students and one rap video…one that could have been easily avoided. You just can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

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