A Disturbing New Trend In Crisis PR Apologies

Journalist Nir Rosen, a fellow at NYU’s Center For Law and Security, stepped down under pressure today after sending a series of offensive Tweets.

Shortly after CBS announced yesterday that correspondent Lara Logan had suffered a “brutal and sustained sexual assault,” Mr. Rosen wrote the following on Twitter:

“Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson [Cooper]. Yes yes its wrong what happened to her. Of course. I don’t support that. But, it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too…jesus christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger…look, she was probably groped like thousands of other women”

Charming. Predictably, Mr. Rosen backtracked and apologized, offering the following:

“As someone who’s devoted his career to defending victims and supporting justice, I’m very ashamed for my insensitive and offensive comments.”

Mr. Rosen, like others who have Tweeted offensive remarks, hid behind his previous good deeds. He’s not alone. Kenneth Cole did the same thing after Tweeting a crass sales pitch during the Cairo uprising:

“I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”

In their statements, both men tried the old, “Hey, come on, guys, I’m one of the good people, can’t you see?” defenses. Their statements suggest that they both think they deserve a pass – after all, it’s not like some asshole said those things, they imply, it’s just me, and I made a rare and forgivable slip.

I’m not sure why this approach – linking two unrelated things (an offensive comment and previously good deeds) – seems to have taken hold in crisis PR. What’s wrong with simply admitting responsibility, acknowledging critics, and pledging it will never happen again?

My sense is that by linking those two things, both men managed to simultaneously look defensive and cheapen the value of their earlier good deeds.

Note: In an interview with Fishbowl DC today, Rosen made at least two more mistakes. He said: “Like many men, I made a tasteless joke, more than tasteless of course, deeply offensive and hurtful when perceived to be sincere or when read by victims.” Instead of taking full responsibility, he lumped himself in with other men, hoping to inoculate himself from criticism. He also blamed misinterpretations on people who “perceived” his words “to be sincere.”