It’s often said when people make mistakes that the cover-up is bigger than the crime. Bill Clinton comes to mind. His “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman” quote will follow him through history.
Likewise, oftentimes the follow-up is bigger than the original error. In the case of both Paula Deen and Anthony Weiner the contrast in post-disaster strategy is stunning. First, you have Paula Deen who used the “N” word in the ‘80’s and once envisioned a party featuring slave wait staff. Then there is Anthony Weiner who famously photographed his stuff for the world to see and reluctantly resigned from Congress.
How each person has behaved since there mistakes is a study in public relations strategy.
In Deen’s case, she’s clearly come unhinged. First, she made two terrible makeshift videos. That immediately resulted in termination of her contract by both the Food Network and Smithfield Foods. After an appearance that can only be described as a disturbing emotional mess on The Today Show this morning where she looked like an emotional train wreck, she was immediately dropped by Caesars Entertainment and Walmart while QVC is “reviewing” her relationship with the company.
Then there is Anthony Weiner. He made his mistake and disappeared for a while. He could have tried to justify his behavior somehow as a “lots of people do it these days” argument (kind of like Deen saying that most Southerners use the “N” word), but he didn’t.
Instead, his announcement video for his candidacy for Mayor of New York was no nonsense and contrite. He didn’t make any excuses but instead said that he knows he made a mistake but hoped the voters would be willing to accept his apology and move on. The result? He’s now in the lead in the mayoral race.
If Paula Deen had followed Weiner’s model, she’d probably be well on her way towards redemption in the public eye. Instead, she’s clearly coming undone. She looked and sounded so unprofessional in both her videos and this morning’s appearance that it was actually painful to watch.
In Deen’s case, she looked like a woman on the verge of being committed while Weiner seemed like someone who is thoughtful about his image. He made a convincing case for forgiveness. Paula Deen’s effort so far is about as bad as it could get.
There is still hope for Paula Deen. She didn’t become rich and famous simply by frying everything in sight. She also has a personality that appeals to lots of Americans. She could use that same Southern homespun persona that won her so many fans across the country to win them back again.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where social media is everything and impressions are made for good or bad in an instant. If you want to be in the public eye, you have to be willing to accept and deal with the good and the bad. Some days are likely to be really bad. If you’re prone to fall apart at criticism, you probably should stay out of the spotlight.
In this case, Weiner’s follow-up effort gets an “A.” Deen, so far (it’s early yet) gets an “F” for fiasco.
We’ll see what Deen does going forward. If she can’t take the criticism directed at her s better than we’ve seen so far, she should probably take herself completely out of the public eye. As the saying goes, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.