The Spitzer story and the media

March 13, 2008

My job here, as I understand it, is to help communicators look at the media and public information environment that we live in and adjust crisis communication strategies accordingly. And how the media is dealing with the Eliot Spitzer story provides an outstanding case in point.  The news is that one of the most powerful politicians in the nation who built a reputation based on prosecuting white collar criminals, crooks and bad guys, turns out to be one of those kind himself. That’s the news. What is not news is who the heck this prostitute is, who her brother is, what she does for a living, and any of that nonsense. But, guess what is all over the news right now. News coverage is about wives and whether or not the stand by their man in these circumstances. Parade out the psychologists and lets dig into the relationship these poor women have had with their fathers that leads them to these kind of creepy men and why they are so stupid as to stand there with grim looks on their faces while the public humiliation is broadcast to the world.

Then, lets interview (by the way–I’m talking about Anderson Cooper 360 last night because this is what was “news” on his vaunted show) the brother of the prostitute. Let’s find out what kind of person she is–and along the way, let’s laugh about the argyle NY Yankees baseball cap he has one. Let’s show a bunch of pictures about her and see just what kind of attraction she might have offered to make the governor risk everything.

It’s disgusting. Why people aren ‘t flooding the switchboard of CNN (plus all the other channels that mimic or outdo this junk) and letting them know we want news and not National Inquirer programming.

But, as much as I would love to change our media environment, that is not my job. My job is to help you the communicator understand the environment you operate in. Anderson Cooper has one overriding interest: get eyes on the screen. There are few boundaries that will not be crossed to do that. Good taste–yeah right. Legitimate news–uh huh. The question is eyes on the screen and the resulting ad rates that go with those. Cooper’s career depends on it, CNN’s future depends on it.

What is means for you is to first of all, avoid like the dickens anything that they might use to create fear, titillation, disgust or those other human emotions that represent gripping story telling and tv. But, understand what is going to happen if you are caught in it by accident or fault of your own, and prepare now to deal with it. You can’t adequately prepare without fully understanding what will happen. And if you want to see what will happen, fill your eyes with the “news” about today’s prostitutes and the women who stand by their men.

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