PR firm that represented disgraced general puts itself up for an award

August 14, 2014

Then-Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair leaves the courthouse at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., on March 4. A public relations firm that aggressively represented him has submitted itself for an award, and a company official says Sinclair “remains a friend of the firm.” REUTERS/Ellen Ozier/Files

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair found himself under the bright lights of the national media after he was charged by Army authorities with forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct and other crimes in 2012. It came at a time when the Pentagon already was under scrutiny for its inability to stop sexual assault in the military, and marked the rarest of occasions: a senior officer facing criminal charges.

The Army prosecuted him for nearly two years, but dropped the most serious charges in March as part of a plea deal in which Sinclair admitted having an affair with his female accuser, a captain who worked directly for him during deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Awkward details about their volatile relationship spilled out publicly– she had called him “Poppa Panda Sexy Pants” before their relationship soured. Sinclair, a married father of two, avoided jail time, instead receiving a career-ending reprimand and a $20,000 fine.

Five months later, a public relations firm that assisted the general in the case is in contention for a prestigious award. MWW, of East Rutherford, N.J., nominated itself in the crisis management category in the Platinum PR Awards, an MWW official confirmed. Doing so highlights their work in a case that confounded some legal experts who believe Sinclair got off lightly.

“He made out like a bandit,” said Eugene Fidell, a professor of military justice at Yale Law School, of Sinclair in March in an interview with Reuters. “This is a baffling denouement to a disturbing case.”

Josh Zeitz, a senior vice president with MWW, defended the firm’s decision to put itself up for an award. Doing so is common in the public relations field, and MWW is proud of its work on the case and still consider Sinclair a “friend of the firm,” he said. MWW reviewed the facts in the case, and decided that it could help “create due process where due process was missing,” Zeitz said.

“We’re very proud to have worked for him, and I don’t think any discussion of the case after the fact diminishes the fundamental truth here, which is that the facts were on his side and the Army had a very weak case,” Zeitz said.

MWW was initially hired to help the general in 2012, Zeitz said. They launched a now-defunct website – www.sinclairinnocence.com — that insisted Sinclair’s relationship with his accuser was consensual and published text messages that showed the relationship ran hot and cold as the affair progressed.

Those text messages, published by Army Times, show that the captain grew angry when Sinclair distanced himself from her.

“Please just stop [expletive] pretending that you care at all and just be honest with me,” she wrote in one. “yoy [sic] are a selfish [expletive] that cares only about you and your family and yoy [sic] dont give a [expletive] about how you have emotionally destroyed me, you plan on using me until you can move on as if nothing happened because I mean nothing to you…”

Sinclair’s website drew 47,000 page views in its first week, Zeitz told PR Week in April. MWW officials said they were “dead set against” making it a campaign against Sinclair’s accuser, and maintained her anonymity.

The Army’s case on the more serious charges came apart earlier this year after a judge ruled that there was evidence that the Army allowed politics and pressure from Capitol Hill to influence its handling of the case.

Sinclair retired as a lieutenant colonel this month, Zeitz said. Army Secretary John McHugh said in June that Sinclair would retire at that rank because he did not serve satisfactorily as a one-star officer or as a colonel, ranks he held while his affair was ongoing. A service member typically retires at the last rank he or she held honorably for three years.

“Sinclair displayed a pattern of inappropriate and at times illegal behavior both while serving as a Brigadier General and a Colonel,” McHugh said. “I therefore decided there was sufficient evidence and cause to deny him those benefits.”

Retirement pay is based off an officer’s retiring rank. Base pay for a brigadier general with 28 years of service is about $11,599 per month. Base pay for a lieutenant colonel with 28 years is about $8,313.

In the competition, MWW is competing against:

  • Airlines for America, a trade organization that launched a “Don’t Ground America” campaign ahead of Congress passing emergency legislation in April 2013 to prevent furloughs for air traffic controllers;
  • Kristen Daly, who represented a hero, Carlos Arredondo, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013;
  • Weber Shandwick and yogurt maker Chobani, who launched a “#freeChobani” social media campaign in February 2014 to draw attention to Russia’s decision to block yogurt deliveries from the U.S. to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The awards will be announced at a luncheon in New York on Sept. 16.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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