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April Fools Come Early

It’s only March 1, but it might as well be April 1, because everywhere I look, I see fools.

Fool #1: The United States Government

First, there was Vice President Dick “Shotgun” Cheney and his staff’s handling of what should have been your average everyday hunting accident.

Next came the White House’s handling of the “selling of America’s ports,” where the President appeared to be the only person in America not the least bit concerned about the issue.

This week brought yet another governmental disaster, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s subpoenaing of three journalists in relation to an investigation into an investment research firm and a hedge fund. The chairman of the SEC said he didn’t know anything about the subpoenas, and he quickly led the agency in a backtrack, saying they would not be enforced. The only problem was that his number two at the Commission, the woman in charge of enforcement actions, had indeed signed off the subpoenas. No matter, the damage was already done.

We expect our government to look out for our best interests, knowing full well that the people who make up the government also have their own interests in mind. What we don’t expect – at least not in this day and age – is outright obfuscation and incompetence. Wait, strike that – I think we do all expect that from our government (it doesn’t matter the city, state or nation), so I guess it’s just business as usual in my hometown of Washington, D.C.

Fool #2: H&R Block

Imagine a police station being robbed, a fire station catching fire and a PR person getting bad publicity. Roll that all up into one bag of treats and you have H&R Block.

It’s bad enough that the nation’s largest consumer tax-preparer is having a slow tax season (TurboTax anyone?), but the company topped off a recent financial announcement by disclosing that it will have to restate two-and-a-half years worth of financial statements because of – drum roll, please – tax problems.

Indeed, the company that so many Americans rely on to do their taxes admitted that it understated its income tax liability by $32 million over the past ten quarters. Making matters worse, the company said a software glitch recently meant that about 250,000 clients were unable to be served. Did I mention that H&R Block ratcheted up its ad spending this year to promote a new online tax filing service? Oye ve!

In this situation, there’s not much a PR person can do except hope that the phone doesn’t ring.

Fool #3: The American Athlete

Skier Bode Miller did it his way, which apparently means not winning any medals, partying a lot and shooting a series of bizarre commercials in which losing is fashioned as cool. I’m not saying I could have done a better job on the mountain, but I certainly could have done a better job myself in the glare of the cameras. Miller, at least, flew solo with his PR disaster. Speedskaters Chad Hendrick and Shani Davis, meanwhile, were the dynamic duo of dilettantism.

Hendrick and Davis each won gold, but neither melted hearts with their in-fighting. Some in the media said that the bickering was good for the sport, but I don’t think anyone could argue that bringing back personalities like Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair wouldn’t help the sport more.

Give us humility, give us grace, give us talent – don’t give us gruff. There were, of course, pleasant stories about American athletes, but the negatives outweighed the positives.

Hockey player Mike Modano griped about not being played in the third period of America’s loss to Finland. Isn’t hockey a team sport? And then there was the American snowboarder who blew a gold medal just feet from the finish line by hotdogging it. Luckily, only people who follow snowboarding are going to remember her name.

Americans did not turn out in droves to watch the Olympics, and I’m not surprised. NBC’s tape delays took the fun out of the games. Tape delays and the Internet: not exactly a match made in heaven. At least we got the curling medal.

Fool #4: Google

When Google’s chief financial officer opened his mouth on Tuesday, all of Wall Street was listening. Unfortunately, they didn’t hear good news.

Speaking an investor conference, George Reyes made what most people in the investment community would regard as a “material statement” about the company’s “future prospects.” This is all well and good, but Google did not warn anyone that such statements would be made. As a result, Google shares plummeted -7 percent, and CNBC and other media outlets had an absolute field day discussing how Google made a big Wall Street mistake.

The irony with Google is that the company has said from day one that it’s not going to play games with investors, or coddle up to Wall Street. The problem is that by playing by its own rules, Google has gotten itself into trouble time and again. Even before the company went public, it had two problems that almost sidetracked its initial public offering. These days, the company is not just being accused of playing coy with investors, but playing dumb.

The big question for Google is, after years of garnering great press, how is the company going to handle negative press? They better figure it out fast, because that’s all they’re getting these days.

Fool #5: Vince Young

I really do feel bad for Vince Young, the star quarterback from the national champion University of Texas.

Young was in Indianapolis last week for the NFL Combine, a veritable meat market where pro football coaches, scouts and general managers poke and prod the best college players in the land in an effort to determine who to draft. One of the components of the Combine is a twelve-minute, 50-question exam called the Wonderlic Test. Young, depending on who you talked to, either did poorly, or absolutely bombed.

Reports first surfaced late last week that Young scored a 6 test, which is bad considering that a score of 20 denotes an IQ of 100, and a score of 24 is average for a NFL quarterback. (Offensive tackles score the highest with an average of 26.) Young’s agent, apparently unaware that every pro football guy in Indy was walking around calling his client a dunce, took two days to do anything about the test. In the meantime, plenty of NFL executives were publicly defending Young, saying that his test score wasn’t really a 6, and that an administrative error was the problem. The Associated Press now reports that Young scored a 16, which still isn’t great.

Young was done in by an inexperienced agent, whose main job should have been promoting and defending his client. But Young also hurt his chances in the draft by not doing full workouts or drills, something that some top prospects don’t do, but something that he certainly should have done considering the questions surrounding his ability to play in the NFL, and his apparently less than stellar performance on the test.

Vince Young is a talented, and by all reports, very nice young man. He is lucky that the media, for the most part, has been kind towards him, with many columnists questioning whether the Wonderlic Test is appropriate. Nonetheless, he’s now going to have to prove himself on the field, regardless of where he’s drafted, and he’ll need some good pre-draft PR in order to get that chance.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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