The Leaderboard

Most Read: National

From the Blogosphere

Jena McGregor

Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Post Leadership
Posted at 12:36 PM ET, 06/01/2011

Anthony Weiner: The best PR strategy is free

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is in the middle of a P.R. crisis, after an incriminating photo was sent out over his Twitter account. (Lucian Perkins/TWP - STAFF)
Anthony Weiner needs a good crisis PR manager, it’s been said more than a few times recently. Someone who would have told him not to do so many media interviews. Someone who would have instructed him to issue a statement via a single press conference, immediately announce an investigation and move on. Someone who could have told him to categorically deny that the picture of those bulging shorts was him, rather than say “I can’t say with certitude” when asked about the photo.

Weiner’s poor crisis management may be the meme of the moment. But it implies that had he done all those things right, he would be in control of the issue and it would already be on the path to dying away.

Granted, that might be true. Undoubtedly, there’s a better chance that the story would have withered away (I’m sorry, but as you’ve probably figured out by now, a big reason the Weinergate blitz exists is that the media can’t resist the chance to use such terrible puns) had Weiner followed this sage advice. If indeed the New York representative’s Twitter account was hacked and that wasn’t him in the photo, a straight news conference, a clear-cut “no” to the is-it-him question and less time in the media glare might very well have slowed the news obsession.

But this is still a story, if you can call it that, about a purported photo of a Congressman’s boxer shorts sent via social media to a young woman. Like it or not, what we’re seeing are ants on a melting popsicle as some reporters and political bloggers go through the early summer doldrums of the news cycle. Even if Weiner had played by all the right crisis management rules, his underwear would still have been the subject of news stories and snarky tweets for several days. Now that he’s gone and made the matter worse by offering up confusing responses, as many have noted, it’s a veritable picnic.

Who knows who’s really behind the Twitter message sent from Weiner’s account, or the photo itself. The recipient’s statement that she doesn’t know the lawmaker, combined with the plausible explanation by Weiner that his account was hacked, could spell a mean-spirited attack against the N.Y. Democrat. But if it is him in the photo—whether he sent it out or not—no amount of PR strategy is going to stop the fire hose of questions unless he addresses it directly.

The instinct among powerful leaders to control everything, including the media, is understandable. But all the pricey communications counsel in the world can’t change the fact that until Weiner answers whether it’s his shorts in the picture (even if the answer is yes), this story is likely to stay in the news. A crisis consultant can offer great advice to leaders which, when followed well, can do a world of good. But in the end, the best strategy—giving clear, simple, honest answers—is something no good leader should have to pay someone to know.

More from On Leadership:

Why we’re really reading the Palin tell-all

Elizabeth Warren’s confirmation debate

Next-generation government

Be in the know on everything we’re covering here at The Post’s On Leadership section. Follow us on Twitter (@post_lead) and “like” our page on Facebook (On Leadership at The Washington Post).

By  |  12:36 PM ET, 06/01/2011

Read what others are saying

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company