Here is what to do when you are caught cheating, using drugs, beating your girlfriend, or stealing - from the top PR experts.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, October 13, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Celebrity Apology Rule Book
David Letterman's performance in apologizing to - who was he apologizing to in his first televised confession to having sex with employees, in which he didn't mention his wife? - reminds us of other apologies (John Edwards, Chris Brown, et al.) . There is a playbook created by publicists for these situations. It goes like this:
- Get out in front. This means admitting you've done something wrong before the media break the story or an impending legal case does. Letterman got that far in front. But by the time they got before a camera, Brown had already been sentenced for beating Rihanna, Edwards had been photographed meeting his mistress, and former Senator Larry Craig had pled guilty to soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. Still, your PR person will tell you, get on television as quickly as possible - once you're found out - to put your version of the story forward.
- Spin, spin, spin. Never, ever detail your wrongdoings. Nothing distinguishes a PR apology from a genuine therapeutic apology (say in marital counseling) or religious confession, where you must enunciate your sins, than this opaqueness. In the PR apology you are as vague as possible about your transgressions (David Letterman - "I had sex with people who work for me," rather than "I had a long-term affair and cheated on my wife," or "I had sex with a college student intern"), deny them (Larry Craig - "I'm not gay"), minimize them (John Edwards - "I'm not the baby's father"), or claim blackout (Chris Brown - "I don't remember how I beat Rihanna").
- Have the wronged party next to you. Craig, Senator David Vitter, former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, former President Bill Clinton (the first time, when he denied an affair with Gennifer Flowers on 60 Minutes), even former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey (whose wife subsequently threw the kitchen sink at him during their divorce proceedings) did so. Of course, sometimes this is impossible: Letterman couldn't get wife Regina Lasko to perform this service and Rihanna didn't appear with Brown in the interview where he soft-soaped beating her.
- Caution: Don't let your wife speak! Don't get carried away, just because she's standing up there with you.; Think of her as a prop, not a human being - certainly not as an irate spouse. If you consider what she's feeling, it will just throw you off your game and distract you from what you're up there confessing to. Who knows what kind of crazy questions the press might ask if she's allowed to speak? "How long have you been aware your husband was cheating on you?" "When was the last time you slept with him?" "How did you explain what he did to your kids?" You can see this is impossible!
- Seek treatment . Enter treatment for sex or alcohol addiction, or seek other therapy or spiritual guidance, after you're arrested for public intoxication (Wilbur Mills, Mel Gibson), doing something illegal or kinky sexually (Michael Kennedy, TV personality Pat O'Brien), taking drugs (Marian Barry, Patrick Kennedy), beating someone (Brown). Don't specify what the treatment or spiritual guidance comprises (use Congressman Patrick Kennedy as your model - despite repeat visits to the Mayo Clinic and periodic confessions-apologies, to this day no one knows what he is addicted to or has been treated for). Just look soulfully at the camera and ask the forgiveness of "everyone you've hurt" including your "supporters" and "your family" - and especially your wife - to show how you are morally cleansed.
- Move on. Say this is the last you'll speak about your deeds publicly and immediately bury yourself in your work, claiming the only concerns you have are to make amends to your family and to do the job you were elected/are paid to do. If you're lucky, it'll blow over - possibly because someone else will be caught doing something bad and they'll forget about you.
Ah, it feels so go good to unburden the soul and purify the spirit and psyche - don't you just feel like going out for a drink and picking someone up for casual sex? (Repeat above as needed.)