Cleopatra’s press secretary must have pitched a fit when he heard Marc Antony was spotted lurking about the palace, confirming that the Queen of the Nile had taken up with yet another Roman overlord.
We public relations types wake each morning to the prospect that our clients in business or government, the captains of industry or the politically powerful, may present us with news so scandalous that it could end their career, fell a government, or plunge a stock price.
We say that no problem is too big to be handled, and we see time and time again that no scandal is too small to topple the mighty. A while back David Patraeus ran into a salacious public relations moment that turned out to be personally embarrassing but not publicly significant. He might not need professional public relations counsel so much as a chat with Bill Clinton. Clinton had an affair in the White House and two Speakers of the House lost their jobs. Well done sir!
What’s amazing is not that public people do stupid things. David Patraeus, grown godlike in stature, turns out to be as human as Cleopatra turned out to be. It might seem puzzling that public people don’t, as we say, learn from history.
But this is to be expected. We are dealing, in crisis, with people, and their families, and their friends and colleagues, and their bosses and employees, and in some cases history. It is hard to pivot from behavior, to recognition of transgressions and disclosure, to fighting against or embracing stonewall depending of circumstances, to apology and, we hope, closure, with recognition that closure is never permanently afforded public indiscretions in this internet age, and in fact warrant a delicate handling in one’s obituary.
With all of this, we can all benefit from a template of responsibility and contrition, designed for any betrayal of the public trust, at no charge to you! Please feel free to adapt to your specific transgression. (all references are based in actual political transgressions):
I’m standing before you today because it’s best to come clean, and part of that is being honest by telling you that my media handlers have told me it’s best to come clean.
So, I’m sorry. I’m particularly sorry that I asked my wife and children to stand with me today in front of all these cameras. It seemed like sound advice at the time. The stress of having to appear today and deal forthrightly with my failings had made me lose all faith in my judgment. But I now realize that I have indeed compounded my transgressions. Honey, I’m sorry, and as I continue, if you and the children want to take baby steps back and off the stage, I understand. And I’m sorry.
First, let me apologize to my daughter for leaving her in that bar alone after lunch. I know voters have a right to ask, if I can’t do a simple head count of the children while leaving a restaurant, how can I keep accurate account of the public finances? It’s a valid question, but let me assure you it was enough of a scare that I will always check twice.
Of course, this episode, so shortly after making the mistake of posting a picture of my school mascot tattooed on my backside on my twitter feed when I thought I was texting it to my dermatologist so he could check several new moles compounded the problem . For any children following “my school is the best in 140 characters or less” twitter contest, well, let me just say that if you’re going to get drunk and honor your school with a tattoo on your left buttock, maybe pick a school without a turtle for a mascot.
So, I will also no longer start public meetings with a magic trick, and if you weren’t a direct victim of one gone horribly wrong, but found it creepy, well, I get that now. I’m also sorry that I am in no physical shape to even think about sending naked pictures on purpose to constituents. I will go to the gym three times a week, and I apologize in advance for breaking that promise in the near future.
Nor will I ever call voters morons, even when doing so is not technically a mistake on my part. And to the gentleman who was highly offended when I wore my brown suit with black shoes, well, I really don’t know what I was thinking there.
I do know that I will never apologize for enriching myself at the public’s expense. I will never say I’m sorry for betraying those who have put their public trust in me. I will never have to second guess that my actions as an elected official were always motivated by a sense of civic and community service, and a belief in giving back to my community because I have gotten so much from it.
I know I will never apologize for any of that, because I will never need to. On that, I am rock solid.
But I do hope that, standing here with my loving fam…. well, standing here by myself, I can regain your trust in me, for all the other things, and for anything I may actually do in the future. Now, does anyone know how to change a twitter profile?