What Should Anthony Weiner And John Edwards Do Now?
Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) resigned last June after tweeting lewd photos of himself to various women he met on the Internet.
Senator John Edwards (D-NC) ran for president in 2008 while cheating on his cancer-stricken wife. His affair resulted in a child with his mistress.
Both men experienced the red-hot media spotlight to an extreme that few public figures ever have to endure. They both handled their scandals differently – and as a result, one man might be headed for public redemption while the other one may live out his days as a pariah.
In 2011, I named the Anthony Weiner scandal the year’s biggest media disaster.
When he was accused of sending lewd tweets in June, his approach to crisis management was to: deny the charges and claim his Twitter account had been hacked; say that although he hadn’t sent the photos, he couldn’t rule out “with certitude” that the erect undies shot was of him; hold a tearful press conference to admit he had tweeted the photos while refusing to resign; watch helplessly as a nude photo of his…ahem…member…was released; see yet another batch of sexy gym photos released.
Mr. Weiner allowed the scandal to drag on for two weeks before finally resigning. But since then, he’s remained mostly out of the public spotlight. He hasn’t given any interviews, has been silent on social media, and hasn’t attempted any public rehabilitation.
What Weiner should do now: If Mr. Weiner had asked me for advice back in June 2011, I would have told him to go away for a while. The single best shot he has at public redemption is time and a fickle public – and he has executed that strategy perfectly.
As a result, Mr. Weiner – who is only 47-years-old – will likely have plenty of time for a comeback. He may not serve in public life again (never say never), but there’s no reason he won’t be able to hold a visible position and influence the public debate.
Time may allow him to skip the inevitable “mea culpa” teary television interview. He can deflect questions about the scandal simply by saying, “This incident caused my family tremendous pain. I made some huge mistakes, have deep regrets, and have been working privately to become a better man. But I do not plan to talk about the incident publicly anymore.”
Instead, Weiner might consider the Eliot Spitzer path to rehabilitation by beginning with a series of op-eds about topical issues, followed by making a television appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, since Mr. Maher is a sympathetic host to pols who have endured humiliating scandals.
As bad as the Anthony Weiner story was, the John Edwards story is many times worse. Had this deceptive politician won a few primaries (and he came close in Iowa), he could have become the Democratic nominee in 2008 – while cheating on his sick wife and spawning a child out-of-wedlock.
The National Enquirer broke the story of his affair, but he denied that the child was his during a high-profile ABC News interview (he later admitted that it was his). Edwards’ cycle of lies undercut any remaining remnant of credibility he had left – by January 2010, his popularity fell to 15 percent in his home state of North Carolina, the lowest finding of any poll by Public Policy Polling ever.
Unfortunately for Edwards, he’s been unable to even attempt any form of reputation management. He was indicted last year on six felony charges related to collecting illegal campaign contributions, and he faces up to 30 years in prison. The case is scheduled to go to trial next week.
What Edwards should do now: Assuming Mr. Edwards doesn’t go to prison, he can begin trying to restore his reputation – at least a little bit – after the trial. But it won’t be easy, as Mr. Edwards is in O.J. Simpson territory in terms of public disdain.
There’s not much Edwards can do, but there’s one approach that might yield the greatest long-term results. Edwards claimed he was passionate about reducing poverty. If he was sincere, he can begin by giving large sums of money to charity organizations and working behind-the-scenes with those non-profits.
But here’s the key: he can’t tell anybody about his work or his donations, and he should ask those charities not to talk about his role for several years. Many years from now, when the sordid Edwards saga has faded in the public mind, some third party surrogates working for those non-profits might speak to local papers about the work Edwards has been quietly doing and the money he’s been quietly donating. That might help force the public to re-think its views about Edwards – or at least offer an alternative theory about who the man really is.
Edwards is 58-years-old. If he lives another 30 years, he might be able to live the final 20 of them without still being viewed as a pariah.
What do you think? Do you agree with my recommendations, or would you offer a different path to public redemption? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
This is a great post. I really enjoy these type of “case studies” posts. Maybe it’s because I just saw Scandal on ABC, but reading what high-level communication professionals would do to help restore (rehab?) a person’s image is fascinating stuff.
Keep up the great work Brad.
PS: Did you watch Scandal? Your thoughts on the show would be an interesting read.
Even without the perverse behavior, I don’t want Wiener anywhere near a public policy…ever.
I didn’t like him even before he showed us all his shortcomings.
He will not change his personality by just laying low and waiting for memories to fade.
The best job he should have is an insurance sales job. Even then I think he would fail. How about waiting tables. We could hope that he would not spoil that noble calling.