The only thing hotter than the weather is the water that Mel Gibson is in.
I’ll get to Gibson shortly, but I’d first like to bask in the glow of my recent vacation, part of which was spent reading, “Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story,” a book about the implosion of Enron by New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald.
Truth be told, I did not know much about what went down at Enron before I read Eichenwald’s book. When the company was spinning out of control I was busy covering the demise of a tech giant, and I did not have time for much else. Then came WorldCom, and by the time that mess was over, I was worn out where failure and greed were concerned.
Aside from my fascination with corporate greed and scandal, what made Eichenwald’s book a fun read is that he gives the reader some pretty intense insight into what Enron’s public relations people, specifically a man named Mark Palmer, had to deal with.
“I cannot believe that Enron has a PR guy who would come up with a strategy that is this stupid! I will not speak to The Wall Street Journal,” Enron’s then Chief Financial Official, Andrew Fastow, yelled at Palmer, who was trying to defuse one of many stories which helped break his employer’s back.
Later, after Enron actually decided to launch its own investigation into what the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Justice and the media were looking into, Palmer was told by the company’s lawyers that he would have to speak with them before saying anything to the media. Palmer protested, saying that with such a fluid and round-the-clock newscycle, that would be impossible.
“All right, Mark, I want you to imagine the spotlight. You’re in a small room with an SEC examiner across from you, and the light is shining down on you. And he says, ‘Mr. Palmer, when you gave this statement, did you know it was true? How did you know it was true?’ What are you going to say then, Mark?” a company lawyer asked Palmer.
“Mark,” the lawyer continued, “you could be liable if you misled investors. Not Enron, you, Mark Palmer.”
Palmer, after a moment of thought, replied, “Thank you.”
One can only imagine what Palmer went through. If nothing else, the man got some good legal advice at the right time.
Which brings me to Gibson, who has his own legal problems to deal with. The Hollywood star will eventually have to appear in court on drunk driving charges, but that’s nothing compared to the court of public opinion.
Gibson’s much publicized anti-Semitic rant is making headlines all over the world, and Gibson is employing an aggressive public relations strategy, apologizing and asking to meet with Jewish leaders. Thus far, the initial response has been more positive – towards Gibson – than I expected. Of course, anytime you slur an entire religion or culture where forgiveness is an important concept, you’re going to get off a little easy.
The remarks made by Gibson to the arresting police officer were the remarks of a drunken, and clearly troubled, man. Those facts, however, do not excuse the behavior, and no PR can whitewash the fact that Mad Max – at best – had something against Jews that night. Considering statements from his father about the Holocaust, statements that Gibson refused to refute, one could easily believe that the man is anti-Semitic, drunk or not.
It does not matter that Gibson chose to lash out at Jews, or that he did so in what was not originally intended to be a public venue. What matters is that Gibson has now alienated an entire group of people (not just Jews, but people who deplore any bigotry) and that what he said made it into the media. Repairing the destruction from these acts could take years, and some people, including me, will probably never forget what came out of the man’s mouth.
Gibson’s timing could really not have been worse. The summer was moving along pretty slowly on the domestic front, and even rather sensational stories have had a short shelf-life over the past few months. In a short period, however, Israel launched an offensive against Hezbollah, and some lunatic shot up a Jewish center in Seattle, killing one and wounding others. Jews were in the news, and then came Gibson.
When I was reading “Conspiracy of Fools,” I wondered what it would be like to be sitting in the middle of a storm that is absolutely spinning out of control – a storm like the one that Gibson is now in. Hopefully, I’ll never have to find out.
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/.