THE BLOG

Falling On Your Sword Can Remedy Even The Worst PR Disaster

04/18/2017 11:48 EDT | Updated 04/18/2017 12:20 EDT

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer standing at the door to a United Airlines plane, sipping a Pepsi. If a picture is worth a thousand words, and it assuredly is, then that would be the picture for the recent days.

united airlines plane

(Photo: Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

United Airlines forcibly "re-accommodated" a Vietnamese-American physician out of the seat he had paid for on an oversold flight in Chicago, smashed his face against an arm rest, broke his nose and some teeth, then blamed him for being "disruptive."

When that turned out to be a bald-faced lie -- and when a global backlash resulted in United losing $1 billion in value in just 24 hours -- the airline did a whiplash-inducing about face and apologized, and said it would never happen again, blah blah blah.


Pepsi's in-house "creative team" put together a commercial featuring one of the Kardashian Cretin Crew modelling, then rushing outside to join a passing protest, with lots of knowing nods and fist-bumps ensuing. The Kardsahian Cretin -- famous-for-nothing Kendall Jenner, who later insisted she was "traumatized" by the ensuing mean tweets -- hands a grateful cop a can of Pepsi, and all is well in the world.

Take that, Women's March, Black Lives Matter, et al.: you wouldn't have so many darn problems if you bought the right soft drink! Global backlash, withdrawal of ad, groveling apologies, blah blah blah.


Sean Spicer, the groper-in-chief's liar-in-chief, (a) calls the Nazi gas chambers "Holocaust centres," quote unquote; (b) repeatedly mispronounces the name of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who his boss had just, you know, bombed; and (c) says Hitler didn't use "chemical weapons" on millions of Jews, gays, gypsies and dissidents when, in fact, he had.

Standing before the assembled White House -- all of them agog and agape -- Spicer said: "You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons." Immediately, the Anne Frank Centre and many others demanded Spicer be fired. Spicer retracted, apologized, blah blah blah.


Quite a week, eh? It all reminded me of a long-ago Canadian equivalent. During the 2000 federal election campaign, former Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day -- who, it should be noted, this writer always thought bore more than a passing resemblance to Dan Quayle, of potato/potatoe infamy -- decided to use Niagara Falls as a backdrop to a campaign announcement.

Standing at the falls' edge, Day attempted to draw an analogy between the flow of Lake Erie from "north to south" and the "brain drain" from Canada to the United States. A reporter from the area pointed out to Day that, in fact, the relevant body of water drained from "south to north." Oops!

The lesson is that candidates/companies/communicators should 'fess up, laugh at themselves, then move on.

Missing a golden opportunity to poke fun at himself, and thereby seem as human, Day darkly warned that he would "check the record, and if someone has wrongly informed me about the flow of this particular water, I'll be having a pretty interesting discussion with them." So, not only did Day succeed in making himself look like a dummy, he also came across sounding like a dummy who couldn't take responsibility for his own mistakes.

Such mistakes can have profound consequences, if you don't deal with them quickly. Personally, I am always a big fan of Bible-thumping Republican/Conservative politicians who regularly denounce gays/abortion/infidelity -- and then, subsequently and inevitably, get caught having gay sex/procuring abortions/working with sex workers. Without fail, they end up exposed as sweaty, creepy, debauched nut bars, not self-professed men of God. And regular folks -- as United, Pepsi and the White House certainly discovered in recent days -- punish them not for the sin, but for the hypocrisy.

sean spicer hitler

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer answers reporters' questions at the White House April 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. Spicer said that different from Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Nazi leader Adolph Hitler did not use chemical weapons. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The lesson, naturally, is that candidates/companies/communicators should, if the circumstances warrant, 'fess up, laugh at themselves, then move on. Periodically falling on one's sword is an excellent strategy. Always.

In this writer's experience, voters and consumers are forgiving. They are profoundly aware of the tendency of humans to have human failings, being human beings themselves. And, as long as mistakes are not being made all the time -- cf. Messrs. Day, Quayle and Spicer, above -- they will forgive and forget and move on.

Apologies cost nothing. Retractions are free. Once given -- unequivocally, sincerely, directly and without condition -- they have magical healing powers.

But the best approach, of course, is to avoid making the dumb mistake in the first place.

Sean Spicer, sipping a Pepsi on that United flight to ignominy, would certainly agree.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook

Also on HuffPost: