There are lots of rules to remember about politics and public relations and the law. Here are ten.
- Don’t brag about hiring private investigators. For example, in the middle of a #MeToo-type full-blown crisis, don’t have one of your people go on a radio program, and say you’ve hired private detectives to do a “forensic” investigation. Because that means you are admitting you are digging through the private lives of various people – your alleged victims, your caucus colleagues, your former staff who had the good sense to dump you – to dig up dirt. It means your strategy, basically, is to try and pull everyone down into muck with you.
- Don’t attack your alleged victims. In the #MeToo era, even Harvey Weinstein – the rutting pig who essentially started the movement – understood that you don’t victimize the victims twice. That is one the best things that have happened, post-Weinstein, in fact: in the court of public opinion, the balance of proof has shifted. More and more of us have a tendency to give women alleging sexual abuse the benefit of the doubt. You needed to remember that. You didn’t.
- After paying tribute to victims everywhere, don’t attack them. For instance, after reading off some talking points your lawyers prepared for you – like: “A safe and respectful society is what we expect and deserve. We need to move forward to eradicate sexual violence and harassment across the province – across the country. Everywhere.” – you shouldn’t then turn around, three weeks later, and disrespect your alleged victims. You shouldn’t do the polar opposite of what you exhorted everyone, “everywhere,” to do. Among other things, it makes you look like a liar.
- Don’t forget the reflection you see in the mirror. That is, guy whose face you shave every morning. In your essence, in your soul, you know who you are, and you know what people have been saying about you in the riding and elsewhere, for years – namely, that you have a zipper problem, and that you follow your little soldier into battle way too often. That you have been too reckless with too many young women. It’s public relations 101: don’t try and change, in 40 days, a perception that has built up over 40 years. It won’t work.
- Don’t attack the media who have told nothing but the truth. For instance, when the country’s biggest media organization has broadcast a story about you – and when you know they’ve been working on it for weeks, and when every word in it has been carefully lawyered, and when they have given you an opportunity to respond – it’s pretty dumb to come out, a full three weeks after you resigned, and call them names. One, they gave you a chance to respond. Two, if they were are as wrong as you claim, then why resign? If it was all a lie, like you say, why quit?
- Don’t be obvious. For example, don’t start bragging about how you are going to launch a public relations campaign with only select media – the ones you have been friendly with, say – and use it as a pretext to attack other media. At the end of the day, media folks will almost always stick together: when you unfairly attack one, they will see it as an unfair attack on all of them.
- Don’t treat a minor misstep like a major war crime. Are the media human? Yes, they are. Do they make mistakes? Yes, like all humans, they make mistakes. So, say, if one of your alleged victims gets wrong her age at the time of an alleged incident – and if that does absolutely nothing to alter the main allegation against you (to wit, acting inappropriately with a young woman) – don’t treat that like the P.R. equivalent of V Day. People understand that sexual harassment and sexual abuse are, for the victims, profoundly traumatic events: they don’t expect “forensic” clarity. When you do, you look even more like an asshole.
- Take advice; listen to others. Your staff and your colleagues defended you, day after day after day. They worked their tails off for you, and defended you against every criticism – including persistent allegations of inappropriate personal behaviour. When your staff all resign on you (on a matter of principle) or your caucus colleagues insist that you resign (ditto), it is bad, bad strategy to start attacking them post facto. Among other things, it’s unfair. And it says a lot more about you than it does about them.
- Pop culture has lessons to give, sometimes. Remember “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to?” Remember that, the big hit by Lesley Gore, way back in the Sixties? That’s what you are doing now, essentially. You are essentially saying that it was my party, and I’ll destroy it if I want to. That is your strategy: if you can’t raise yourself up, you will pull everyone else down. If you can’t be the winner, you’ll make sure no one else wins, either.
- Put up or shut up. It’s been more than three weeks. You’ve called the allegations against you “defamatory,” over and over and over. Well, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is, big little man. Either issue a Libel Notice, or don’t. But if you don’t – and, so far, you haven’t – you are reminding everyone that, mostly, what was said about you was true.
There you go: ten PR tips, free of charge. Haven’t even mentioned your name.
Don’t have to.