AT&D #22. Public Relations in the News

In watching videos of a Jerry Sandusky interview and a story involving a MassWildlife official, what PR advice would you have given Sandusky, Dr. Deblinger and Deblinger’s boss?

NOTE: The second story involved my college instructor who happened to be a news journalist on an active, live report.

The PR advice that I would give Sandusky first and foremost is to refrain from sounding “suspicious.” Immediately, one minute into the interview, Sandusky tells Bob Costas that he is innocent and follows up with, “Well you could say that I have done some of those things [referring to the allegations].” That to me was worded poorly and is going to make Sandusky look like he is admitting wrongdoing when he is trying to defend himself. The media can easily tear him apart for those words alone.

One other advice I can give is to avoid being at a loss for words as well as to avoid being terse as demonstrated by the line, “I don’t know you’d have to ask him.” Sandusky said this when he was asked what were the motivations of a suspect lying with regards to an alleged act of sexual confrontation that he was part of. Sandusky not admitting to why this exchange had taken place obviously tells the audience that he is hiding something and wants to quickly frame someone else and put the pressure of off him.

As for Dr. Deblinger, what ensued was a classic case of “I don’t have anything to say / I’m unable to talk about that” / walk, look down, and not talk, etc.” The silent treatment was what specifically occurred and is especially damaging to one’s public perception if at the center of investigative questioning. By not responding to any of your questions (and maybe perhaps ending the story right there), the investigation had to go to the next level where his dishonest lifestyle became very public — more than it should have been. Either way, my PR advice would be to answer questions and refrain from continuing activities perceived as suspicious as doing so (seemingly in carelessness) is more bait for reporters to catch up on clues and find answers the other way.

Regarding Deblinger’s boss, it was clear that he was embarrassed and showed this by pausing frequently and not knowing what to say to defend the integrity of his company and himself for being responsible for an employee such as Dr. Deblinger. My advice for him could have been to owe up to his irresponsibility of supervising Deblinger more confidently and being upfront; doing the opposite (as he did) now makes the public wary of the ineptitude of how supervisors and managers can really be (which unfortunately, is not exclusive to this company, but perhaps many more out there).



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