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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 02:28 PM ET, 11/16/2011

Jerry Sandusky case: More nonsense on PR ‘handling’


Jerry Sandusky faces several felony sex-abuse charges. (Andy Colwell - AP)
We heard all this nonsense just a couple of weeks ago: Pundits everywhere, focusing not so much on the allegations about Herman Cain as on his campaign’s “handling” of the crisis. That was the real worrying thing.

Now — what do you know? — we’re hearing the same garbage vis-a-vis the Penn State child abuse scandal. The garbage delivery vehicle, in this case, is an article in USA Today addressing how Penn State officials have responded to the whole thing.

Steve Manuel, a Penn State “senior lecturer” on public relations, takes the podium in the story, driving the notion that the school could have managed the PR more expertly. Here are two critical graphs:

[W]hen the news broke, including claims of perjury against Penn State athletics director Tim Curley and senior vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz, response from the university was slow in coming. Then [President Graham] Spanier’s first statement was to express unconditional support for Curley and Schultz.
“The golden rule of public relations is you have to get something out in the first 60 minutes,” Manuel said Tuesday during a guest appearance in professor Mike Poorman’s class, “Joe Paterno, Communications and the Media.” “And mentioning the victims always comes first.”

There’s little that can compare to the criminal allegations in this story in terms of offensiveness. Yet obsessing over the “handling” of the scandal surely registers on my outrage meter.

Who cares whether the university didn’t respond as quickly to the news as it could have? Who cares whether the university got ahead of the story, as PR geniuses would counsel? Who cares — well, who cares about this other offensive-in-this-context quote from Manuel?

“Bad news doesn’t get better with time. When you cede the message to (critics or adversaries), you lose the battle.”

This “battle” was lost long before there was any message to craft. It was lost when, as the state alleges, Jerry Sandusky started raping children or, as Sandusky says, horsing around in the shower with them and touching their legs. It was then lost again when no one did anything meaningful about these things.

Little good can come of all this terrible news. Yet if these dark episodes can convince people to concern themselves with things that actually happened, and not with how suits respond to the news of them happening, then a tidbit of positivity just may surface. Down with our PR-obsessed culture.

By  |  02:28 PM ET, 11/16/2011

 
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