Thursday, June 9, 2011

11 Lessons from Weinergate

We knew it was a train wreck when Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said he could not say "with certitude" whether or not that now infamous photo was of him.

Here are some lessons learned from the past two weeks.
  1. Do not take a picture of your junk. If you feel compelled to do so anyway, do not take the photo with your cell phone and do not load it onto your computer -- it's too easy for something unpleasant to happen.  This might seem obvious, but clearly it's a lesson that Brett Favre and Anthony Weiner could have benefited from.
  2. Do not share pictures of your junk. Nothing good can come from it. Doing so is unlikely to get you what you want. And, if you're a public figure, is more likely to make the day for your political enemies and late-night comedians. Even Jon Stewart, who on previous editions of the "Daily Show" has said he's good friends with the congressman, had to take Weiner to task.
  3. Social media is a great way to connect and engage with people you've never met, but limit the nature of the conversations you have with people you don't know. Your parents told you not to talk to strangers for a reason. This is particularly true for the Internet, where no one know if you're a dog. (Apparently in more senses than one.)
  4. If you feel you must respond when a woman says she thinks you're politics are "hot," focus on the politics, not the "hot." It may be flattering for someone to call you "hot," but it's never good for married politicians to respond to those compliments.
  5. If you're not sure if a conversation you're contemplating or actually having is appropriate, it probably isn't. Before you post or hit send, ask yourself, if this is made public, how would TMZ respond? What will Andrew Breitbart do with this content? 
  6. A little flirting may be okay, but persistent over-the-line conversations are not. Keep in mind that those online conversations that you think are sexy and fun will actually look especially sordid and creepy when other people can read them. Keep that in mind the next time you consider engaging in those sorts of conversations.
  7. If a photo or conversation is made public, do not lie and say your account was hacked if, in fact, your account was not hacked. Eventually, the truth will come out, and now people will know, among other things, that you a liar. And a bad one at that. 
  8. Remember: it's usually not the deed but the cover-up that causes problems. True, it would have been embarrassing for Weiner to admit at the start that the photo was his. But had he admitted the truth up front, he would have spared himself two weeks of humiliation. And he would have more credibility.
  9. By not answering questions clearly and succinctly, you actually raise the distraction level. Weiner is an otherwise feisty, smart and astute politician, with a lot of media experience. He should have realized that providing fuzzy, contradictory answers only stoke the scandal's flames (and not in a way he wanted to via his online exchanges).
  10. If you schedule a press conference to finally admit what we all know to be true, do not let anyone else -- especially a political enemy -- commandeer your podium before you get there. Instead, if you're going to be late, at least station a staffer to prevent anyone else from usurping your microphone and airtime.
  11. If you hold a press conference to make a teary confession, do not take questions afterwords. Make your statement, explain that you're sorry you've hurt those closest to you, that you made and learned from your mistake, and then left the podium. There will be no sympathetic of softball questions from the media, like, "Congressman, now that this is behind you, are you glad to get back to focusing on the business your constituents elected you to do?
There's clearly a 12th lesson here, one best illustrated by the Daily Show, especially in this faux press conference.


Check out Don't Be A Weiner for other lessons and a good post on Forbes.com, 5 Tips for Handling a PR Crisis like Weinergate. If you have other lessons from this recent crisis, let me know.

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