I seriously considered entitling this post “Weiner Roast.” But despite being fun to say, that title would be a little disingenuous because I won’t necessarily be talking directly about the now disgraced congressman from New York.
No, this post is about the other person who took enemy fire and sustained injury over this scandal. And I’m not talking about Mrs. Weiner or the co-ed from Seattle. I’m referring to Congressman Weiner’s press secretary, David Arnold.
At present, many of my public relations peers are dissecting this now sad tragedy of a story from a crisis communications perspective, not unlike what many did with the Tiger Woods situation. I agree, it is definitely a cautionary tale about what to do and what not to do in a crisis situation. Good PR counsel would’ve relieved much of the public disgrace now experienced by Weiner, or at a minimum lessened the blow when the media came after him.
While there is good material to dissect on that front, I’d rather turn attention on the guy who did or should’ve provided said good PR counsel, Weiner’s press secretary. I can’t say with certitude that David Arnold instructed Weiner as to what to do when the story began to take shape (for the purposes of this post, I assume he did). But I can say without hesitation or confirmation what he risked in the process.
A strange thing happens when you go on the record and speak on the behalf of an employer or client; not only are you vouching for them (or at least, the credibility of the message), but also you are staking your professional reputation to say, "I believe in this person/company and you should too." Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve invested a lot in my professional equity and I’m not willing to bankrupt it for any employer.
If an employer out right asks me to lie for them, that’s simply something I cannot and won’t do. I may go right up to the line of questionable practices and look at it briefly (as in the case of “spinning” the truth), but I won’t cross it. Our better PR angels should prevail.
In the case of David Arnold and Anthony Weiner, I’d like to imagine the conversation went something like this:
Weiner: David, I think “we” have a potential problem coming.
Press Sec: Congressman, what’s the problem?
Weiner: Twitter…the damn tweet…it had a picture attached. But I deleted it.
Press Sec: What tweet? What picture? Tell me what happened.
Weiner: A tweet went out to a Twitter follower, a young woman…but it had an inappropriate picture attached. I think I’ve been hacked!
Press Sec: Congressman, I’m going to need you to tell me everything about this…exactly as it occured. If I’m going to help you, I need to know all the details of what transpired. I need to know what “our” options are.
Weiner: My account was hacked David! There was a picture of a man’s bulging crotch tweeted to a young woman! My wife is going to kill me…why did this happen?
Press Sec: Twitter accounts get hacked all the time. We’ll just explain that to the media and let them know that we’re going to get to the bottom of this. We need to get out in front of this before the story gets out.
Weiner: Didn’t you hear me say that I deleted the tweet? What benefit is it for us to tell the media about the tweet or the picture? Doing it your way we’d have to deal with this publicly. Let’s just wait to see what happens.
Press Sec: Sir, I wouldn’t advise that. If we are transparent now, and tell the truth, it won’t be as big of a story and it won’t make you look as bad as if they found out on their own. You know, just because you delete it, it doesn’t mean it disappears.
Weiner: Really? This is just awful.
Press Sec: Congressman, we really need to get out there in front of this. You don’t want to come off looking like that “Tickle Party” guy Massa, or worse, a sexual deviant like Tiger Woods?
Weiner: You’re right. Massa looked horrible trying to explain what happened. And the media crucified him.
Press Sec: Congressman…Anthony…before I go out there and start talking to the media, I’m going to need you to tell me the absolute truth. All of it. If we’re going to do this, I have to know exactly what we’re dealing with.
Weiner: I told you the truth. I think my Twitter account was hacked. I did not send that tweet to that woman.
And with that make believe conversation, the events of “Weinergate” unfolded. The esteemed congressman from the state of New York got Brietbarted™ and then the press feasted on the chum. In an attempt to quell the media, Weiner then sent out his press secretary/communications director like a lamb to be slaughtered.
We all know how this incident ended; Congressman Weiner eventually gave his public mea culpa by way of press conference. But what happened in the days leading may be a different kind of victimization.
Having believed his boss’ story (or totally making it up himself, only time will tell), David Arnold went on the offensive boldly proclaiming the Congressman’s innocence, shifting the blame, touting private investigations and even calling the police to remove one reporter (Marcia Kramer) from the congressman’s office in the middle of reporting.
Arnold, feeling emboldened with the alleged truth, put a lot on the line professionally. He not only jeopardized his reputation/credibility with the media that covers his industry (for lack of a better word) but he will henceforth be associated with a political cover-up (much like G. Gordon Liddy, Scooter Libby and Tricky Dick Nixon).
But was it worth it? Only time will tell how much this incident will cost him.
As usual, I’d be happy to hear other thoughts on this topic.